patience impaired

p

i’m not innately patient. i’m not sure whether it’s nature or nurture, but i know my impatience is a problem. i used to think i was good at being patient, meltdowns while driving notwithstanding. it didn’t truly come home to me that i was piss-poor at waiting until my pod-style coffee maker broke. waiting five minutes for the coffee to brew? intolerable. i was raging.

it was then that i realized my skill set was not so much patience as procrastination, an offshoot of perfectionism.

who knew that this would be all about the letter “p”.

i’ve heard “be patient” my whole life. we all have. we’re all guilty of giving that admonishment as well, especially to the children in our lives. “be patient. you have to learn to wait.” we expect grace with the waiting, however. is that what patience is, waiting with equanimity?

the dictionary says patience is “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.” we tend to forget that last bit. instructions regarding the latter are scant indeed. we tell people they have to wait but we aren’t taught how to do that without getting angry or frustrated.

we hold patience up as a good thing and it probably is, most of the time. after all, what’s the point in getting enraged by a traffic jam or a long queue at the grocery store. our ire doesn’t change anything for the better externally, and internally, our anger can have some seriously negative consequences. road rage is just one example of that.

anger and stress are hard on us mentally and physically and they don’t help us achieve our goals. they don’t help us to be better people. it’s trite but finding the upside to forced delays or challenging circumstances really is good for us. waiting in traffic lets me listen to the radio, sing along with songs i like, or chat with my passengers. waiting in line at the shops gives me time to think deep thoughts, skim magazines i don’t really want to pay for, or people watch. the last is particularly good for me; it helps me challenge my anxiety and my instinctive avoidance of others. perhaps we should take the time to point out what we can gain by waiting when we trot out the “be patient” quote when those around us are frustrated, impatient, and abrupt.

patience is vital in the development of our skill sets; it takes time to develop our talents. we aren’t innately good at most things; developing expertise takes repetition and practice. it’s patience and perseverance (another “p”) that gets us there. becoming an expert means working at it. expecting brilliance instantly without effort it leads to frustration and abandonment.

patience helps us in our dealings with other people. i’m never frustrating or unreasonable or difficult, of course, but sometimes other people can be. if i respond instantaneously, if i shoot from the hip without thinking things through, i can cause hurt feelings and harm. it’s far better to take time to reflect on what was said and think about the person and the relationship before saying something that’s difficult to walk back. i wish i could go back in time and convince my younger self of that fact.

the tricks and tools that help us develop and hold onto patience are familiar. there the same ones that show up when you look at lists on how to be mindful, or how to reduce stress. there are even overlaps with the tools i use to deal with anxiety.

  • take deep breaths and count to ten. this slows down the physical reactions and makes us more open to ideas and solutions. it’s funny, but this is the same advice that my grandmother gave me years ago on how to deal with my emotions when i’m angry – i’m a slow learner at times.

 

  • when we get impatient, our stress climbs. when our stress climbs, our bodies get tense. tense bodies make it harder to think clearly and thinking clearly when situations are challenging is vitally important.

 

  • be mindful of your emotions. examine what you’re thinking. examine the internal dialogue that’s playing. see if what you’re thinking is truly accurate. is that person in the line behind you at the grocery store who can’t stop passively aggressively sighing and shuffling forward into your personal space really doing so with the specific intent to make you crazy? are they truly a useless and annoying jerk? or is there a better way to think about them and the situation?

 

  • slow down. act the way you want to feel. acting calm engenders feelings of calm. i use the same trick when i’m out in social situations. i act like i’m okay, like i’m not terrified and intimidated and overwhelmed by the people around me and by doing so, i mitigate the feelings of panic. fake it ‘til you make it.

 

  • accept that you won’t be perfect. you will get impatient, you will get frustrated, you will snap and possible flip off the driver that cut you off and neglected to use a turn signal. that’s okay. perfectionism doesn’t really allow for progress.

 

  • find your triggers and start dealing with them in advance. i do this with my eating disorder. i mentally practice how i’m going to deal with situations like eating at restaurants, dinners out at friends, and shopping for clothes. addressing them in advance allows me to hold onto my calm during and calm is a far better state of mind.

(july 18, 2018)

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