Do you feel yourself getting hot and bothered when the person in front of you at the coffee shop is taking forever to order? Do you rage over slow cars in the overtaking lane? Do you want to throw your phone at the wall when a website is taking an age to load? Maybe you could benefit from taking a deep breath and flexing your patience muscles.
Patience, the ability to keep calm in the face of disappointment, distress or suffering, is worth cultivating. It’s been associated with positive health benefits such as reducing depression and other negative emotions. Research has also found that those with more patience tend to exhibit other prosocial behaviours such as empathy, generosity and compassion.
The often-cited Stanford ‘marshmallow experiment’ is a great way to put this into perspective. Psychologist Walter Mischel, who first conducted the study around 40 years ago, offered children one marshmallow immediately or two if they could wait 25 minutes for the researchers to come back into the room. When the original participants were revisited, it was found that those who were able to wait longer as children had grown up to be more patient adults. They also achieved higher exam scores, had lower body mass indexes, and a slightly lower divorce rate.
The good news is that patience can come with practise. Research has found that patience is a mix of nature and nurture.
The biological roots of impatience include an overactive fight or flight reflex, which kicks in as a survival mechanism during stressful situations or when you’re feeling anxious or depressed.
But the nurture component is key too, and patience is something that you absolutely can cultivate. In fact, with a little know-how and effort, everyone can learn to wait out delays with a smile.
How to cultivate patience
We often talk about patience as if it’s something we hold. Phrases such as “I’m running out of patience” or “I’m losing my patience” are common but inaccurate.
Patience is a feeling; you don’t start the day with a certain amount that depletes over time. It might be easier to think of the trait as a mix of persistence, acceptance and calmness.
Here are some strategies to help you become a more patient person.
Identify your triggers and reactions
Try to recognise when you’re feeling impatient and identify the situations and emotions that come along with it. Are you angry that you can’t get to your destination faster? Are you anxious that you’re not going to make it to your appointment on time? Do you feel sad that you won’t get to finish all your errands on your lunch break?
Figure out which situations set you off and you’re already on your way to taking control.
Counteract those feelings
Usually, when you’re feeling impatient, there’s some belief you hold or something you’re saying to yourself that is triggering the emotion. Once you identify what you’re feeling in that situation you can work on suppressing it. Addressing the feeling can interrupt the stress response cycle and keep you from entering that fight or flight mode.
Repeating a mantra such as “I’m in no rush at the moment” or “I’ll get there when I get there” can help you to take a step back from the situation and look at it objectively.
Is waiting in this long line inconvenient? Sure, but in reality, the time will soon pass, and, in all likelihood, you’ll forget it ever happened.
Next, question whether the outcome will be a life or death situation. Almost always the answer is no. Thinking about it like this can relieve your tension and allow you to take a breath.
Don’t expect immediate results
Just as those training for a marathon can’t expect to complete one on their first day, patience won’t come immediately.
“You want to train, not try, for patience,” says Dr Sarah Schnitker, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience. “It’s important to do it habitually.”
She suggests practising patience during less intense, even silly situations when the stakes aren’t so high. Reappraise a situation next time you notice you’re feeling short-tempered, practice mindfulness meditation or say your own custom mantra.
“It’s like any other skill,” Dr Schnitker said. “If you do it on a daily basis and then also connect it to that bigger picture story of why it’s important, it can grow and develop just like a muscle.”
Practise gratitude and mindfulness
Patience is all about perspective and how you look at the world. Are you someone who is always looking at the negatives in life? Or can you often find the beauty and positives in every situation?
People who lack patience tend to skew more on the negative side, so try to slowly implement gratitude in moments you begin to feel impatient.
Meditation has been found to promote wellbeing by promoting emotional regulation. MRI imaging has found those who meditate regularly can tune out anxious thoughts more easily than those who don’t.
Consider lifestyle changes
Now you know your triggers and are training yourself to stay out of fight or flight mode, some simple lifestyle changes can help reduce stress further. If you detest traffic, leave for appointments earlier, if you hate crowded supermarkets, try ordering online or visiting the store during off-peak hours.
Cutting down on caffeine can also help as it has been found to exacerbate stress in some people.
If you enjoy our content, don’t keep it to yourself. Share our free eNews with your friends and encourage them to sign up.