Who knew that Guns ‘n Roses could espouse such a noble human quality. But this song was released in 1988, when the virtual world had not yet taken hold, when you still couldn’t access anything you wanted with a click of a button, and when waiting patiently was a common daily necessity.
You see, we are not born patient—this is clear when you see a baby screaming his head off for food (“Feed me now!”). Patience is a skill, learned over time, to enable us to adapt to our environment that has, for most of human history, required patience to survive, and indeed, thrive. Do we still need patience in our current fast-paced, demanding, and instant access existence?
The answer is “YES!” Patience is still an essential skill that has both personal and prosocial benefits. Patience helps us endure hardships, tolerate others’ differences, persevere in response to life’s challenges, and remain calm and reasonable in frustrating situations.
If you’ve lost your patience, there is hope. Just like any skill, strengthening your patience skill requires practice. Here are the steps to a more tolerant, resilient, calm, and yes—virtuous existence:
Monitor your impatient thoughts, feelings and behaviours
How frequent are your impatient experiences? Make a note of every time you feel frustrated, or have thoughts like, “Why are you SO slow!”, or when you roll your eyes, clench your teeth or say something rude to someone so they know how much they have wasted your time. This information gives you a baseline to start from and helps you understand your level of impatience and the specific situations in which you are the most vulnerable.
Decide to be patient
Now that you know when you are not patient, you can make changes to how you respond in these situations. You can do this by modifying your physical responses, your thoughts and your behaviours.
Physical responses: If you tend to clench your hands, notice this response, and then purposefully unclench them; if you feel tightness in your chest, take a deep breath; if you grimace, try to smile—these physical actions on their own are very effective at reducing levels of anger and frustration.
Thoughts: Say to yourself, “It’s fine”, “It’s not the end of the world if this takes longer”, “I can cope with this”.
Behaviours: Choose to behave in the opposite way to how you would normally behave, for instance, instead of yelling or rolling your eyes, be extra polite and warm to the person who is causing you delay.
Seek out opportunities to practice patience
This is for you thrill-seekers out there! The more you practice this skill, the better you will be. So challenge yourself regularly by putting yourself in situations that would normally lead to impatient responses—wait in the longest line at the grocery store, make sure you are assisted by the brand new employee, drive behind a car with an “L” plate, teach your child a complex board game, talk to your most long-winded friend.
Before you know it, you will be a patience expert, and you and society will be all the better for it!