Do you remember a time when you were irritated, and some bright spark in the peanut gallery advised you to be patient? After that ‘wise’ reminder you were expected to become serene and understanding? Yet, the best response you could muster was to grit your teeth and squirm? Is that how it was?
When we are impatient we can’t simply switch off the frustration we feel and replace it with serenity. That’s not how emotions work. Yet that’s what people ask us to do, bless them.
They mean well. After all, being patient is far more pleasant than being impatient. And, the actions of a patient person are more likely to be balanced and well considered. Further, a patient person will have a calm demeanour other people will notice and find attractive.
Yes, it’s good to be patient.
But telling us to be patient in adverse circumstances isn’t helpful. We don’t have much control over our emotions, and asking us to manufacture patience when we are distressed is unreasonable and naive. My advice is: when you are irritated with something or someone, don’t try to be patient. Instead, deal with the emotion you already have – deal with your impatience.
The other day I found myself in the Post Office behind a queue of ten people, and if the staff had been moving any slower they would have been statues. I was impatient.
I did something: I became aware that I felt impatient, and labelled it.
Often we don’t notice our impatience; we are too busy focusing on the problem. I also reminded myself that the slow-motion staff were not making me impatient; I was making myself impatient. (Key 18)
What else did I do?
I can’t remember. I must have drawn on my resources, which is the natural result of becoming aware of what’s going on.
When we become aware of our impatience, AND recognise that we are creating it and not the other person, we draw on our resources to deal with it.
In short, don’t try to manufacture patience out of thin air. Instead, become aware of your impatience and figure out how you are going to cope with it. You might want to employ one or two of the tips below.
1. The golden rule: become aware of your impatience.
Label your emotion. Say to yourself something like, Hey, I’m impatient. (It might sound trivial, but consciously acknowledging an emotion is a big step.)
2. Remind yourself that:
– the incident is not making you impatient, you are. (Again, Key 18) Therefore, the solution to your distress rests with you, not with the other person.
– And remind yourself that dealing with your impatience will make you mentally tougher.
3. Ask yourself any of the following questions:
(A few were found in Richard Carlson’s helpful book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.)
- Why am I irritated? What buttons is this incident touching?
- What’s the worst that can happen as a result of this? (You will usually find that the consequences are inconsequential.)
– How important will this be to me in a minute from now? An hour from now? Or a year?
- Out of 10, how awful is this?
– How important is this incident? Is it worth getting upset about?
4. Or employ Edward De Bono’s shrug, which is so helpful it has a chapter of its own.
5. If relaxation techniques such as taking deep breaths work for you, use them.
A guitar shop had a sign on its door: ‘Strumming Stairway to Heaven is prohibited.’ Presumably the sales staff were weary of hearing budding guitarists test guitars with the Led Zeppelin song.
I would like to know how many sales were lost because of that prohibition.
The staff could have made a secret game of it, so that every time they heard the tune a staff member would benefit in some way. Had they dealt with their impatience in a more constructive way everyone: shop owner, staff and customers, would have benefited.
Q. ‘Practising patience’ and ‘dealing with your impatience’ require the same techniques, don’t they?’
They probably do. The difference is: when we try to be patient with someone we try to create a warmth, a tolerance, towards the other person; our aim is to be magnanimous. Trying to tolerate or suffer another person’s behaviour might end well, but it might also foster in us resentment and disdain. However, if we forget about the other person and focus solely on what we are feeling (our impatience) then we are more likely to succeed.