Patience is a lifelong spiritual practice as well as a way to find emotional freedom. It’s opposite, frustration, is not the key to any door.
Before starting this article, I told a couple of people that I planned to write about patience. Their immediate question was “Do you have patience” and my immediate answer was “No”. However, having now learned how to increase my patience and the benefits thereof, and with some effort, I expect to improve. I hope you will also find it useful. Let’s give it a try..
Frustration is a feeling of agitation and intolerance triggered when we get something we do not want and/or 2) we don’t get something that we want. In those instances, we have a sense that things are not going our way and that’s when our egos kick in. It’s tied to an inability to delay gratification.
We’ve become so used to immediate results that anything else is unacceptable. Emails zip across the globe in seconds. Parents text messages to their kids to come in for dinner instead of yelling from a front porch. You can get the temperature in Kuala Lumpur or the Malibu Beach surf report with a click of a mouse. So, when our free flow of information and movement is interrupted, we become annoyed. Another long line. Telemarketers. Crazy drivers. A goal isn’t materializing “fast enough.” Slow computer and glitches. People don’t do what they’re supposed to. My blood pressure goes up just thinking about it.
Expressing frustrations in an effort to resolve problems is healthy, but it must be done in a non-irritable, non-hostile way. If not, your desire to force an outcome alienates others and brings out the worst in them. A general frustration with others can cause you to treat spouses and friends as disposable instead of devoting the necessary time to nurture love and invest meaningful time in a relationship without giving up or giving in. When you unleash frustration against yourself, you become our worst taskmaster. Patience allows you to step back and regroup instead of aggressively reacting or hastily giving up on someone who’s frustrating you.
A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense. (Proverbs 19:11)
Impatience makes us tense and kills our sense of humor. I can attest that frustration leads to procrastination as I put things off to avoid the annoyances involved. Conquering frustration allows us to make better choices in handling daily hassles and stresses.
The challenges to our flow have us feeling more vulnerable, possibly afraid, and we have an automatic response to protect ourselves, our values and anything else that’s “ours.” That’s when we feel the energy charge behind our likes and dislikes. Buddhist’s call that charge Shenpa- the heat behind likes, dislikes, opinions, and values. You know it. It’s the urgency, the pressure to make things go your way.
Frustrations Equals Anger
Let’s go a step further. Be honest…impatience is anger. Expressing the energy of anger can be addictive. Why? Well, for one thing, there is an immediate, though short-term release of the distress underlying the anger. This is the same reason drinking when one is scared or eating when one is lonely works…. for a few minutes.
Aggression separates us from others and blocks our access to our inner wisdom. As we run our seemingly endless loop of “story” we are no longer present to ourselves or others. “I can’t believe she did that again! After I told her it bothered me. How does she get along in the world acting that way? Maybe I’ll just never agree to meet with her again . . .yada, yada, yada.” Who could notice a rainbow or hear the voice of wisdom within while preoccupied with spinning the tales of woe and wrongdoing?
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:12)
The everyday irritations and judgments that we experience in relationships may be subtle. We may not even quite recognize that we are being impatient. But those lesser irritations can be destructive to maintaining the trust we all want in our most intimate relationships.
When everything is going along fine in our relationships, no problem. But then somebody makes us wait when we are ready to leave, or makes a snide remark, or talks over us, or criticizes our parents, or calls us stupid and we’re off to the “nobody’s going to treat me like that” races. And so, the cycle goes.
A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel. (Proverbs 15:18)
The Escalating of Anger
Anger can be addictive in that the more often we dig the hole of impatience, the “habit” becomes more entrenched. Think of how an alcoholic develops a tolerance for alcohol. The same with anger; the more we let ourselves stay there, the more the neuronal pathways deepen. And as we age the irritability just increases.
When frustration is triggered, we can mindlessly, automatically, escalate from minor irritability to full-fledged fury. And we are usually in denial about the effects of our anger on others-as well as on ourselves. This rising tolerance for angry expression explains the fact that domestic violence may start with contemptuous remarks, and over time escalate to more and more dangerous physical attacks.
Well, if you want to escape the endless cycles of irritations and build your character at the same time, there is a way out. It’s working at developing that old-fashioned virtue of patience.
The Benefits of Patience
First, let’s look at what patience is not. It is not watching the other person and being angry inwardly, while trying to maintain an appearance of dignity and not showing your inner tension.
Patience recognizes the “Shenpa” that urges us to DO something in reaction to our trigger points. The urge might be to criticize, to defend one’s self, to overeat, to use a substance or activity to get away from the uncomfortable energy of the anger underneath that urges you to act.
Having patience is often difficult yet utterly indispensable for accomplishing great works. It defends us against foolish, impulsive behavior, gives us time to consider our options carefully, plan appropriately, and execute effectively.
Patience is an expression of power. It’s an emotionally freeing practice of waiting, watching, and knowing when to act.
In an article in Psychology Today, Judith Orloff MD, defines patience as an active state, a choice to pause until intuition says, “Now is the time.” It means waiting your turn, knowing your turn will come. Once you’ve set the steps to reach a goal, it entails trusting the flow. At that point you have learned to delay gratification for something that is worth waiting for.
How to Grow Patient
So, what is the purpose of cultivating patience in yourself. In a word, happiness: better relationships, more success. Well worth the effort, I’d say. But it indeed takes effort.
Jane Bolton Psy.D., M.F.T. tells us that we can all work to develop more patience. An important idea here is that developing patience is just that. Developing a skill. We aren't born with it. Think of a hungry infant, shrieking with all its red-faced, rigid-bodied impatient demand for satisfaction. After all, we can't just sit down at a piano and play it without ever learning to play and practicing, practicing, practicing. That practicing includes 1) paying attention to when we are not patient, 2) being kind to ourselves for not being "perfect" already, and 3) changing the automatic judgmental, critical thoughts and feelings.
One path to turn the tables on frustration is to find a long, slow-moving line to wait in. Perhaps in the grocery store, bank, post office. Lines are an excellent testing ground for patience. To strengthen this asset, I highly recommend standing in as many as possible.
And here’s the switch: Instead of getting irritated or pushy, which taxes your system with a rush of stress hormones, take a breath. Tell yourself, “I’m going to wait peacefully and enjoy the pause.” Meanwhile, try to empathize with the overwrought cashier or government employee. Smile and say a few nice words to the other beleaguered people in line. Use the time to daydream; take a vacation from work or other obligations.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-8)
Realizations to Ponder and Develop the Patience We Desire
- Have the self-confidence that you can win. The more certain you are that you can achieve your goal, the less you’ll worry over the possibility of failure and therefore the better you’ll be able to tolerate not achieving your goal right now.
- Recognition that your goal isn’t crucial for your happiness. No single goal, no matter how important it may be, no matter how badly you may want it, can ever create the entirety of your happiness. Reminding yourself of this even as you strive toward your goal with all your might helps to calm the sense of urgency you feel about obtaining it.
- Be determined to advance one step at a time. Recognize the need to break large tasks into smaller, manageable ones enables you to focus on doing today’s work today and tomorrow’s work tomorrow. Add up enough of those days and you’ll find yourself standing right in front of your dream.
- Get in touch with the addictive quality of the opposites of patience — anger, irritation, blaming, shaming. Usually, it starts with a slight discomfort and tensing in the stomach area that goes along with the interpretation that things are not going your way. Then the storyline of thoughts appear. “I have never seen such incompetence … how could they … don’t they realize … did they do it on purpose or are they just ignorant … blah, blah, blah.” You know the rants. We all have them. And you can grow beyond them. “Don’t bite the hook” as advised by Pema Chodron, acclaimed Buddhist teacher and writer. When the storylines of abuse start in your head, just stop it and move on.
- Upgrade your acceptance of discomfort and pain. So many of us have the belief that being “comfortable” is the only state we will tolerate. Learn to say to yourself, “This is merely uncomfortable, not intolerable.” It helps enormously to break the habit.
- Don’t go astray with the “solutions” that changes the other person, situation, or thing that we think is causing our discomfort. It is not the outside thing that’s the source of our pain, but how we think of it. No matter how bad or good the outer thing is, it’s our mind that has the aversion or attraction. It’s our mind that is the cause of discomfort, not the outer circumstances. In the mind-training model of dealing with the pain of irritation, the idea is to reduce the pain and suffering that our impatience gives us and to increase our ability to act in a way that has a higher probability of achieving our goals. So, the solution to pain is an inside job. Get curious about what’s happening in the moment inside you.
- When you are impatient or irritated with yourself, you can remind yourself that you are growing, and that, “Sure, this is understandable, this is what happens to me when I’m bothered.” You can say to yourself, “It’s true, I don’t like this, this is uncomfortable, but I can tolerate it. And, “I can be tolerant of my own flaws and inadequacies.”
Just imagine how it would feel if we never felt rushed or hurt by another’s impatience with us. And how it would feel if we were never (or rarely) irritated or impatient with someone — either someone else or ourselves. What would that be like? Is it worth practicing patience?
How to Actively Manipulate the Subjective Experience of Time
Here is one more suggestion that you can utilize when you have chosen to work on your patience by waiting in line. Our subjective experience of the passage of time tends to accelerate when we’re immersed in an enjoyable experience and slow when we’re bored or in pain. For this reason, viable strategies for subjectively speeding time up, when waiting, might help.
- Immersing yourself fully in the action you’re taking. Allow yourself to live in the NOW. Lose yourself in it and cast off your tendency to look beyond the present moment.
- Distracting yourself. If you’ve already taken all the action you can and must now wait, wait actively rather than passively by distracting yourself with another engaging activity. Make it something vitally interesting in order to lend it the power to tear your mind away from your urge to hurry.
- Vividly imagining you’re already enjoying what you’re waiting for. Anticipation can create impatience, true, but also great enjoyment. Savor the waiting, fully explore in your imagination what it will be like when your goal is achieved. In fact, anticipating something good is sometimes even more enjoyable than having it happen.
- Advanced to an even greater degree of belief in the inherent goodness of people. Strike up a conversation with those around you.
Whether impatient with a person or impatient to achieve a goal, I try to remember that every person wants to be happy and every goal worth achieving takes time—and that if I’m patient and take each step as it appears before me I can count on the “gravity” of my efforts to pull me in the direction I need to go to achieve victory, whether that means helping another person rather than being short with them or accomplishing a goal. And even more importantly, I can enjoy the process of both. Alex Lickerman M.D.
Practicing patience will help you dissipate stress and give you a choice about how you respond to disappointment and frustration. When you can stay calm, centered, and not act rashly out of frustration, all areas of your life will improve.
I’m also struck by the fact that every world religion sees patience as a way to know God. That gives me an incentive to practice it, and perhaps it does for you too. While frustration focuses on externals, patience is a drawing inward towards a greater wisdom. Many actually use the practice of patience as a spiritual tool for growing compassion and getting karma points. Ultimately, our relationship with patience depends upon why we think we are on earth, and what we choose as the purpose for our relationships.
Lastly, patience doesn’t make you a doormat or unable to set boundaries with people. Rather, it lets you use the situation to get a larger, more loving view to determine right action. Patience, a gift when given or received, moves within reach when you can read someone’s deeper motives.
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Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Romans 12:12)
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. (Ephesians 4:2)
Judith Orloff M.D. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/experts/judith-orloff-md
Jane Bolton Psy.D., M.F.T., https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-zesty-self/201109/four-steps-developing-patience
Alex Lickerman M.D. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/happiness-in-world/201002/patience