I want to be more a more patient person. And I want to be a more patient person right now.
That about sums up my attitude toward patience.
I know I want it. I see countless moments every week—between work and my children alone—when I wish I was a more patient person. And yet, every time an opportunity to be patient comes along, I find myself just as annoyed as ever.
I want to be more patient, but I don’t want to become more patient. Oh, the irony.
But you can’t be more patient without becoming more patient, so here are are five simple strategies for growing in patience.
1. Learn Your Warning Signs
Quick breathing. Tense muscles. Clenched fists. Fidgeting fingers or tapping feet.
These are some of the most common signs that you are reaching a boiling point. You and I both have some sign like this, a symptom of our growing annoyance or anger.
If you think that being a patient person means you will never feel angry, annoyed, or anxious again, you are sadly mistaken. Patience isn’t the ability to avoid or eliminate these things; it’s the ability to endure or even thrive in spite of these things.
What’s your warning sign?
Think about it: Are you upset with yourself that you were annoyed with your child’s behavior, or are you upset with yourself that you snapped at him in anger? Are you upset with yourself that you were annoyed with your coworker’s mistake, or are you upset with yourself that you belittled her and made a snap decision about the project?
The goal of patience isn’t to avoid these situations, it’s to be able to endure them and thrive. So learn your warning signs.
You probably already know what you do when you are upset. For me, I know that I stop breathing. Literally, I will just stop breathing, and then about every thirty seconds I’ll take a giant breath. When I catch myself doing that, I know I need to employ some strategy to avoid the outburst and endure whatever is testing my patience.
What’s your warning sign? If you aren’t sure, pay attention to what happened physically right before you lost your patience. The more aware you are of the warning signs, the easier it will be for you to avoid the breaking point, when you lose your patience and do something you really regret.
2. Harness Your Power to Choose
You will never have the ability to control anything outside yourself as much as you can control yourself. I’ve written about this before, and I’ll write about it again, because it’s just that important.
You can’t control the actions, thoughts, or words of someone else, you can’t control the weather, and you can’t control the traffic. You will never be able to control your circumstances.
But when you lose your temper, you are essentially sacrificing your power to choose and handing that power over to your impulses and emotions.
“Patience takes root, Pope Francis tells us, when we learn to love people just as they are, not as we want them to be.”
Love Is Patient, but I’m Not by Christopher West
In truth, when we lose our temper, it’s usually not an intentional choice. But if you learn the warning signs so you know you are approaching a boiling point, you can reclaim that moment of decision and harness your power to choose by taking a different path.
Maybe you choose silence.
Maybe you choose to walk away.
Maybe you choose to smile.
Maybe you choose to take a deep breath and count to ten.
Maybe you choose to take a break to reset yourself.
The point isn’t what you do, the point is that you have the power—instead of your emotions or your impulses.
3. Practice Slowing Down
Rushing always tests our patience. No way around that. Rushing puts patience at DEFCON 1.
So how do we build our immunity to the rush? We practice slowing down.
Rushing always makes you jump at least three levels on the scale.
Think of patience like a 1 to 10 scale, where 1 is perfect calm and peace, and 10 is the breaking point where you lose your patience. Rushing always makes you jump at least three levels on the scale. So if you are normally a 6, the minute you are in a rush you will jump to a 9. That means it’s just going to take one more little thing—someone cutting you off in traffic or just missing the next light—and you will blow.
When you practice slowing down, you lower your baseline. So instead of normally being a 6, now you are a 2. When you get in a rush, you jump to a 5. You are still pretty far off from losing control, and you are all the better for it.
Practice mindfulness, do a deep breathing exercise, spend ten minutes everyday in silence and solitude through prayer. You can do whatever works for you, but make the time, every single day, to slow down. The peace that comes from this exercise will leave you better prepared the next time you inevitably find yourself rushed.
Find a specific time, a specific place, and a specific routine for you to practice slowing down every single day. Build this habit into your life, and you will find within yourself a deep reservoir of peace and calm to pull from in the midst of every test of your patience.
4. Practice Being Uncomfortable
We live in a comfortable world. Comfort isn’t bad. I like comfort just as much as the next guy. I love it when I get upgraded to first class on my flight. But discomfort tests our patience. So arm yourself against losing your patience by practicing being uncomfortable.
Choose discomfort. Then, when you experience discomfort in life, it will not have as great an effect on you. The more you experience discomfort, the more you will be used to it, and the less of a negative effect it will have on you.
Turn off the air conditioning on a hot day. Take the long way home. Turn off all the screens, televisions, and music. Sleep on the floor one night a week. Take a lukewarm shower one day a week. Skip your morning coffee every now and then.
I have a hundred different ways to practice discomfort on a daily basis. I don’t need to do all of them, and I don’t need to do the same thing everyday. You already know the comforts of your daily life. Pick a few small ways to begin practicing discomfort. This daily practice will help you to endure the inevitable discomforts and annoyances that test your patience.
5. Delayed Gratification
This one is similar to being uncomfortable, but instead of training us to endure discomfort, practicing delayed gratification trains us to endure waiting. And the abilities to wait and delay gratification are just good for your patience—they are keys to finding happiness.
Training myself by intentionally choosing to delay gratification builds my ability to wait when I have to.
Waiting tests are patience. It’s simple and undeniable. Whether it’s waiting at the doctor’s office, waiting in traffic, waiting in a line at the grocery store, or waiting for an answer from a boss, waiting causes us to slowly climb the patience scale, building towards that boiling point.
How do we train ourselves to endure the wait? By introducing a little bit more waiting into our lives.
Again, there are a thousand different ways to train ourselves to wait, but the best is to delay gratification. I’ve got a thousand different wants, and when I want something I usually want it right away. Training myself by intentionally choosing to delay gratification builds my ability to wait when I have to.
Here is what I try to do: The more expensive the purchase, the longer I wait to make it. So if I want to go to someplace for dinner, maybe I’ll wait and go tomorrow. And if I want to buy a new pair of jeans, maybe I’ll wait a week. But if I am going to book a vacation, I might wait three months, or if I’m going to buy a new car, maybe I’ll wait six months.
Sure, sometimes you can’t wait. When car breaks down and you need a new car, you go buy a new car. But, most of the time, you can choose to wait. And choosing to wait will give you the ability to wait when you really need it.
Everyone wants to be more patient. Few people want to become more patient. Using these five strategies will help you in the moments when your patience is truly tested.