How Can I Improve My Patience?
Some people seem to have been born with all the patience in the world, don’t they?
They never seem hot and bothered by the traffic, by the lines in the grocery store, by the waiter who gets their order wrong, or by the coworker who complains all the time while doing so little. It’s like nothing. and no one, ever fazes them.
I’m—unfortunately—not one of these people. I let things get to me. I snap at people from time to time. And sometimes I get so frustrated I let my emotions swell until they explode.
But over the years, I’ve learned how to be more patient—with myself, with others, and with life.
And in this article, I’m going to share with you a few great lessons I’ve learned about patience, along with some tips that have helped me become a more patient person.
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Lesson #1: Patience is a Skill
I once thought patience is a characteristic you either have or you don’t—and there wasn’t much you can do about it.
Until I realized how much potential we human beings have in growing, adapting, and changing ourselves—from our physical capabilities to our mindset and attitude. There’s a book called “Mindset” by renowned psychologist and researcher Carol Dweck that delves deep into this topic, if you’re interested.
As soon as I started to view patience as a skill I can improve on, I worked on getting better at it instead of brushing my impatience off as “who I am”. Sure, people are born with different dispositions and some may be naturally more impatient than others, but that doesn’t mean we are fixed in stone—we can always make progress towards becoming more patient.
Lesson #2: Nobody is Making You Impatient
“I lost my patience because he’s not listening.”
“I lost my patience because she’s taking too long.”
“I lost my patience because the situation is just too frustrating.“
Most of us have said something along these lines before.
But like I reflected in this article about anger, nobody but ourselves is at the helm of our emotions. Nobody else but ourselves can make us lose our patience. Sure, there are all kinds of frustrating moments and people we encounter in our lives, but how we choose to respond has always been—and will always be—up to us.
Lesson #3: Patience is Not About Bottling Up Your Emotions
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should “suck it up” and put on a strained smile no matter what happens to us. My idea of patience is not about bottling up emotions or being a doormat.
In fact, I believe bottling up our emotions can be counter-effective to our patience-building efforts. I tried doing it for a while and it just made my eventual burst of emotions that much more explosive.
Instead, I believe a more healthy way of handling our impatience is to become aware of our emotions (for example, “I’m becoming restless waiting in this traffic”) and let them out in more productive ways (“let’s groove to some good tunes on Spotify!”).
Now you must be thinking, yes these lessons about patience are great, but what can I actually do to improve patience?
Here are some tips.
6 Practical Tips on How to Develop Patience in Life
1. Be Aware of Your Impatience Triggers
The first step to becoming more patient is knowing what makes you impatient.
What are the things that particularly get on your nerves? Do you have moments in a day when your patience level is especially low—for example, just after you wake up, or near the end of the workday, or when you’re hungry? What situations make you feel stressed (since stress is linked to patience)?
Start building a list of your impatience triggers. Did anything surprise you or make you go “huh?” Do you recognize any patterns?
2. Create Plans on How You Will Cope With Triggers
Now that you have a list of your impatience triggers, you can start creating contingency plans on how you can cope if a trigger comes up.
For example, if someone repeatedly interrupts me in the middle of a conversation, that really irritates me. Instead of showing my frustration in an unproductive manner (not saying anything until I can’t take it anymore and blow up and walk away), I’ve created a plan that if I encounter this situation, I will speak up and let the person know that I’m not finished and ask politely but firmly that I would like to finish.
And better yet, you can create plans on how to avoid your impatience triggers or lessen their impact. For example, if you know your patience runs thin when you’re tired, don’t leave the most difficult or time and energy-consuming tasks (like teaching a tough procedure to a new co-worker) towards the end of the day.
3. Learn to Reframe the Situation
Laura didn’t expect the lineup at the passport office to be this long. Judging by the sheer number of bored faces sitting in the waiting room, she could tell this was going to be a half-day, if not all-day affair.
Anyone in her situation would have said this:
“This lineup is so long it’s going to take up so much time. I’m already so busy as it is. This is ridiculous!”
And that was exactly what popped into Laura’s head at first. But then, she quickly changed gears and thought this instead:
“Why don’t I use this time to catch up on some reading? It might be a good thing because I can’t seem to find the time to read.”
What Laura did is a perfect example of reframing. Reframing is a technique that helps you look at a negative situation in a more positive light. And when you’re able to view a not-so-great situation from a more positive angle, you’ll accept it—even embrace it—with a more patient attitude.
So start practicing reframing. It may feel unnatural at first, but when you do this technique enough, it becomes easier and easier to reframe a bad situation into a more positive one.
4. Do These Activities to Increase Patience
What if I told you you could have fun while building your patience?
There are a variety of engaging activities and games out there that can help improve your patience.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Cooking (baking bread especially)
- Building a terrarium
- Online escape games (these games from Rusty Lake are my absolute favourite, full of patience-exercising puzzles and unexpected twists!)
- Painting (hate painting from scratch? Try a “paint-by-numbers” kit)
5. Practice Delaying Gratification
When you delay gratification, you’re saying no to instant pleasure in order to achieve a long-term goal or gain an even better reward up ahead. When you resist the lure of instant gratification, not only are you exercising your patience muscles, you’re giving your self-control a good workout as well.
So what are some ways you can practice delaying gratification in your daily life?
- Get a pack of your favourite snack and hold off on eating it until a special occasion—like finishing a big work project.
- Plan a vacation months, or even a year ahead.
- If you have a hobby you really enjoy, hold off on doing it until you’ve finished chores you don’t like to do.
6. Practice Empathy
It was Jason’s first week on the job as a customer service representative for a phone company. As he fumbled to look up the customer details while on his third call of the day, it was obvious that the call was derailing.
“What are you doing? I’ve waited so long in the queue already, why are you taking so long to look up my account?”
The customer complained. Jason was feeling the heat.
“I’m sorry sir, please bear with me just a bit longer. It’s my first week on the job and I’m still learning the system.”
And just like that, there was a shift in the air. The customer’s voice softened as he said: “Oh, in that case, take your time.”
By telling the customer that he was new to the job, Jason evoked empathy in his impatient customer. Everyone’s been there—navigating a new environment, having to learn new things under pressure, and feeling like a fish out of water. In that moment, the customer could relate to how Jason was feeling, and that strong sense of “I can understand what you’re going through” helped break the customer’s impatience circuit.
Empathy helps us see things from someone else’s point of view and understand where they’re coming from. It not only makes us more tolerant, but also more compassionate towards others.
The next time you start to feel impatient towards someone—like how the customer was feeling towards Jason in the story above—try to put yourself in their shoes. Maybe they’re new and feeling overwhelmed, maybe it’s been a really tough day for them, or maybe they’ve just received some unsettling news and can’t concentrate.
Practice empathy and your patience will grow.
Do you have any other tips on how to develop patience? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!