Never cut a tree down in the wintertime. Never make a negative decision in the low time. Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come. Robert H. Schuller
For some reason, the topic of patience has come up a lot lately in conversations with family members, colleagues, clients and friends. I’m not sure if it’s because we were coping with the rush to prepare for Thanksgiving, the fact that many of us spent time with seldom-seen family members for the holiday, or because the novelty that is “September” is over and we’re into routines. Whatever the reason, we seem to be bemoaning a lack of patience–for others, for ourselves, for life.
What is Patience?
The Oxford on-line dictionary defines ‘patience’ as “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious”. While this description may apply accurately apply to our experiences around the Thanksgiving dinner table, I don’t think it’s what we’ve been talking about. Instead, the context of the ‘patience’ that I’m hearing about has to do with the ability to wait. How do we cope when things are not happening as quickly as we would like, or think they should?
Delayed vs. Instant Gratification
We live in a very fast-paced world. With each new technological development we expect that we’ll be able to accomplish things quicker than ever before. For example, I remember when communicating with others far away involved sending a letter or paying for an expensive phone call. We didn’t expect quick responses, and there was a sense of anticipation about receiving one (delayed gratification). Now, with ‘instant everything’, we’ve lost our ability to wait. In fact, we get anxious if we haven’t received an immediate reply to an email or text (instant gratification).
This desire for instant gratification affects not only our desire for communication, but every aspect of our lives. And, this lack of patience is supported by our society. Want to lose weight? Mainstream media will provide lots of diet plans that tell you how to lose 10 kg in 10 days! No exercise required! Not to mention, all the ‘get rich quick’ schemes, self-help gurus that provide advice that will solve all your problems in three easy steps…the list goes on…
We are in a state of hyper-drive all the time.
The Gift of Time
Some things take time. Their progress can’t be rushed. Take an oak tree…we can provide the acorn with the best nutrients and elements it needs to grow, but we can’t make it grown any faster. The same restrictions apply to the growth of a child, relationship, business or learning a new skill. In fact, when we try to rush some things, the results can be hard to manage at best, and disastrous at worst.
According to medical knowledge, losing more than 1 kg a week isn’t a good idea. Think tortoise rather than hare…weight loss is more healthy and successful when the progress is slow and steady. When we jump down two sizes in two weeks, chances are that we’ll be back up three sizes in six months. Managing this up and down, is difficult and ultimately hazardous to our health.
When we think about relationships, not giving them time to develop can be dangerous. According to Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq., and Megan Hunter, MBA–authors of Dating Radar: Why Your Brain Says Yes to “The One” Who Will Make Your Life Hell; one of the warning signs at the beginning of potentially unhealthy/dangerous relationships is that they move very quickly–‘love at first sight’. By not taking our time in a new relationship, we don’t allow ourselves to get to know someone in different ways, allowing us to spot potential problems.
Sometimes it takes hard work (and self-compassion).
One definition of patience is the ability to persevere. To me, this means endurance. To keep going when it gets tough. To ignore the siren song of instant gratification and hold steady for the rewards that comes from waiting, struggling, falling down three times, and getting up four.
However, when we are in pain, discouraged or exhausted; this is easier said than done. Enter self-compassion. When we are attempting to do something difficult, and it’s not going as quickly or well as we’d hoped, these feeling are normal. Why would we feel anything else? This is when we get to take care of ourselves.
- Recognize the challenge of what we are attempting.
- Forgive ourselves for what we see as our failings.
- Take a time-out for self-care so that we can come back tomorrow with renewed energy and endurance.
Patience From the Perspective of Mental Health
When we are dealing with a mental health challenge, having patience is really hard. We’re in mental pain that often translates into physical pain because our mind and body are connected.
Sometimes people come into therapy thinking that they’ll feel better immediately and get progressively better from there. They believe that therapy is somehow magical! Sorry to disappoint, but therapy is hard work. It’s often two steps forward and one step back. There is progress, and it takes time and work.
Let’s look at anxiety. When a client starts working on anxiety, we look at ways to decrease their discomfort level through the use of breathing exercises (see here for a downloadable version), changes than can be made to improve diet, exercise, sleep patterns, and social interactions. It takes time to see results from these activities, and persistence in practicing them. At the same time, we are looking at thought patterns and body sensations that trigger anxious moments. Like a scientist observing a phenomenon, we are collecting data. The more information we have, the better, personally-focused tools we can create.
This process requires the client to have patience and be willing to continue to tolerate discomfort and trust that their hard work will pay-off in improved mental health.
Final Thoughts on Patience
Sometimes the search for patience is like looking for the mythical unicorn. However, unlike the unicorn, patience does exist. We all have it, and like a muscle it requires regular use to make it stronger. Here are easy ways to flex that muscle!
- Send someone a letter and ask them to ‘write’ back. You can even provide the stamp!
- Allow yourself extra time to get somewhere. This will make you feel less rushed and give you the opportunity to show patience to others.
- Send someone a text and then mute your phone. See how long you can go before checking to see if they responded.
- Sit with discomfort. Watch it. See how long it lasts. What does it feel like mentally and physically?
- Don’t give in to instant gratification. See how long you can hold out! Find positive distractions.
And now…here’s some wisdom on this topic from Amanda Lambert…. Enjoy!