One of my biggest daily challenges is with patience. How about you? Did you ever stop to think just how often you're called on to be patient?
Lest you need a reminder, here are some impatience-triggering circumstances we humans commonly face:
Waiting on lines at the store, gas station, or at a traffic light.
Dealing with irritable and unruly children or aging family members.
Working on our taxes or a dealing with home repairs.
Coping with difficult co-workers.
Dealing with slow, fast, rude or oblivious drivers.
Anxiously awaiting the results of medical test.
Facing complicated or malfunctioning technology.
The list goes on and on. Patience is a frequent topic of discussion in my office and I'm regularly reminded that any of us can remain unruffled in one situation while going ballistic in another.
Jake, a long-distance runner, is incredibly patient about developing the skills and endurance required to excel at his sport. On the other hand, he reports having little patience with his children and sought my help to improve his relationship with them.
Meanwhile, another client, Maggie, has tremendous patience in coping with her serious and painful illness but has difficulty dealing with employees who don't meet her standards.
Although patience comes easier to some than to others, the good news is that impatience is not a fixed personality trait. Instead, cultivating patience is very much like strengthening an atrophied muscle; it can be developed over time. Here are some steps you can take to improve your tolerance and forbearance:
Identify the areas where you already demonstrate patience, even if it's only with the family dog. Pay attention to what you tell yourself in these situations that make patience a natural and easy response. Chances are good that it is something positive, empathetic or forgiving.
Now identify those areas where impatience comes all-to-easily to you. What are you telling yourself in these situations? Most likely, there are negative thoughts triggering your impatience such as "Life isn't fair" or "I shouldn't have to put up with this." Whatever the dialogue in your head during situations where you lose your cool, realize that, with practice, you can change it.
In situations where your impatience is with others, take a moment to recognize that you have no idea what may be going on in their world. Are they simply distracted with no intent to do harm? Or are they wrestling with a painful problem that keeps them from thinking of those around them? In any case, assuming the worst of them will only raise your blood pressure and ruin your day.
Further, remember times when you've been thoughtless or selfish because of your own self-absorption. A little humility will quickly change your thoughts and feelings about the other person.
Realize that worrying or obsessing about upsetting or seemingly unsolvable problems won't change them.
In fact, getting caught up in these emotions may actually prevent you from seeing an obvious solution or, at the very least, enjoying the present moment.
The bottom line is that we all face daily circumstances that trigger our impatience.
In the words of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
Keeping this wise adage in mind will go a long way toward conquering the monster of impatience. Make it your computer screen-saver, write it in lipstick on your mirror, or simply commit it to memory.