Patience = Peace of Mind

Developing more patience has been a long-time personal pursuit. There’s no formula I can recommend. It takes diligence. It takes commitment. It takes attention.
Mostly it takes remembering.
Lately, I noticed I’ve been sliding back into some old habits of impatience. On closer examination, they’re predictable.
I’ve often written about the power of patience because I have experienced that impatience is a form of chaos I bring upon myself.
Sharing this with you, I assume that barring deeper emotional or physical impediments, we all have within us, the nascent ability to be more patient – and consequently, more peaceful. Few of us can get there “naturally.” If we want more of this easiness in our lives, we have to do the heavier mental and emotional lifting that identifies what stands in our way – and what allows more of our calmer nature to emerge.
While habits of thought and behavior activate our impatience, it’s emotional triggers that route our patterns of impatience. Certain emotions are particularly likely to enable impatience.
Here are some of mine:

  •  Irritation/Frustration.  These can range from small, unpredictable events (like not being able to quickly fix a computer problem) to more durable, predictable patterns, like a co-worker’s communication style or the traffic we encounter on our way to work.
  • Anger. While impatience, frustration, annoyance and irritation can all (quickly) lead to anger, I find that anger leads right back to impatience. Because these feelings arouse the limbic response, they’re hard to disengage.  This aggravated physiological state alone is a good reason to avoid getting to this point in the first place.
  • Anxiety/Fear. Fear’s a little tricky to directly track because it can often be insidious. Fear masquerades as many things, but if you look closely, it’s often the trigger for impatience. For example, social discomfort (which is fear-based) often shows up as impatience.

What’s important to note is that these emotions have to do with a sense of feeling in/or out of control.  When I am feeling patient (and peaceful) I feel very much in control; in other words, safe. What shows up on the surface of our experience – impatience – is evidence of unmet core needs.
And while we tend to think of impatience and irritation as those pesky, uncontrollable and unpredictable feelings, they can be patterns that are reflective of deeper emotional roots. Knowing and understanding how those patterns are interconnected is critical to making changes in our routinized habits of impatience.
Our arguments with reality are often rooted in how much time we spend in past and future thinking.  Because much of past/future thinking is driven by what we don’t want, impatience easily arises.
While there is nothing wrong with remembering the past and considering the future, the cognitive skill comes from knowing where you now are and why. Habituated thinking patterns typically move into past and future comparisons and block being present to what is happening now. Often this is an unconscious process, driven by emotional discomfort.

Start with What You Believe

Buddhist Monk and author, Thich Nhat Hahn, wisely reminds us there is no magic bullet to acquiring patience, “Every day brings a choice to practice peace or practice stress.” Too many of us believe that remaining calm in the face of life’s stressors is an insuperable task. There’s just too much going on to even expect a balanced response to life’s curve balls.
If we accept the idea that our responses to whatever comes our way are, in fact, choices we constantly make – we need to consider what knocks us off-balance so easily.
A useful analysis of what undermines our choices, then, has to start with our beliefs about why we respond the way we do – and what is possible if we take more responsibility for the control we have.  Too often we act as if we are victims of circumstances, stripped of choice in terms of managing our emotional and behavioral responses to events outside of our control.
The bottom line is that to build cognitive strength, we have to clean up our beliefs.  What we believe about our ability to be peaceful will set the stage for our experience.  If we believe peace isn’t possible, weak, for monks only, or reserved for spa vacations, we won’t make much progress.
If you truly want to practice more patience – these factors will support you immeasurably.

  • Slow Down. For some people, this may be the hardest assignment. There’s an epidemic of busyness and rushing in today’s world. While you can’t slow the world down you can bring your attention back to noticing how you typically move through your day. Are you literally rushing from the time you wake up till you go to bed? How often do you forget one task and move on to another, rarely staying present to what you are doing.
  • Stop Constantly Measuring Your Productivity. Everything we do does not need a planned outcome.  Your response to the question, How was your day, does not have to be followed by a progress report.
  • Physical Discomfort Enables Impatience. Tiredness, aches, pains, muscle tightness, temperature and what we’re wearing (there’s a reason many people throw on their PJ’s the minute they get home)  all contribute to our feelings of impatience. Get more familiar with your bodily reactions to outside stimulus. Every thought, feeling and action is registered in your body.   You don’t have to be in a sitting lotus position to relax your body. Your body is talking to you all the time.
  • How You Breathe Modulates Your Mind and Body.  This cannot be overstated. Start relearning how to breathe. Short, choppy breathing creates a climate for impatience. Feeling impatient?  Here’s some quick relief –  Stop what you are doing and start slowing down your breath and focus on the feeling of breath going in and out of your body. Nothing fancy, just steady, calm breathing. Repeat throughout the day. Often.
  • Spend More Time in Nature. What’s sitting next to a tree have to do with cultivating patience? Well according to recent studies – even a “40 second micro-break” can recalibrate the senses and help us to refocus our attention.
  • Unplug. Create More Distraction-Free Spaces in Your Day. Distractions are endemic in most cultures today. Digital distractions provide “dopamine hits” that many psychologists believe operate like other behavioral addictions.  The brain responds to an incoming stimulus (like a text message) and says, “There might be something good there, I’m going to check it.’” At that point, the mesolimbic dopamine circuits are activated, and a small surge of the neurotransmitter is released in the brain.
  • Apply Liberal Doses of Self-Compassion. Impatience with self is highly correlated with impatience towards others. The things that aren’t “right,” can consume some of us with impatience. One powerful antidote, I find, is the more empathy and compassion I extend towards myself, the larger supply I seem to have with others.

The reality is that very few of us aren’t impatient – the question is what we do when that happens. Like all emotional triggers, there are usually behavioral outcomes, often unhelpful.   Author John Baldoni   explains, “Patience unfairly is perceived as a passive act. In reality, as we know from the Buddhist tradition, it is all about self-mastery, and that requires absolute control over one’s thoughts, words and deeds.”
While few of us are able to master absolute self-control, we can do more to be less reactive. Baldoni accurately points to a common perception of patience as soft or even, weak.  This is not uncommon in cultures that tend towards aggression
The more I practice, the more I realize that peace is a choice.  It’s not the absence of conflict or inner chaos or drama, but the choice not to engage in it. I often worried that making the choice would make me apathetic. The opposite is true.
Cultivating greater patience has given me more freedom than I ever imagined possible.

Louise Altman, Intentional Communication Consultants
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