Being Patient

Is there a more resourceful, useful and enabling emotion than patience?

The act of being patient is most definitely behavioral – and it requires skill.
But patience is also a feeling state – one with very specific (and beneficial) physiological markers.

When we are patient, our mind is relatively clear. It is the opposite of a confused, jumbled state of thoughts. You can’t do patience when your thoughts are racing in what Buddhists often refer to as “monkey mind.”
One of the great enablers of the state of patience is your breath.

Awareness of how you are breathing sets up the body – and consequently the mind to be calmer. It allows you to consciously choose how to think about the object of your impatience.   To be patient requires an ability to be internal (self-aware) while being keenly observant of the people and things in the external environment.

There is rarely one object that triggers your impatience (for example, the traffic that is slowing you down from getting to your destination – or even thinking about the traffic that may slow you down later).  Usually the momentary thought that seems to escalate our impatience is just one of many that are we are carrying around.

Impatience, like many other emotions can become habituated. Recent neuroscience now shows that all thought creates neural networks and emotions like impatience can become one of our default states when triggered by external – or internal (your thoughts and feelings) events. When things are not going the way we want or expect, our thoughts signal our brain to feel a particular emotion because we’ve now got them hooked up to certain recurring experiences.

Impatience can also be problematic because it is one those springboard emotions to other feelings like frustration, annoyance, resentment and anger. In other words, impatience can be a very slippery slope.
In our work we often meet people who say their lack of patience as an impediment to maintaining positive communication with others – especially at work. “Developing more patience” is often at the top of the individual and team lists when defining goals for building better relationships – in every part of life.

What stops us from being more patient?

Ah…a critical question. We’ll say what we usually say when asked about what stops us  from doing anything – that is – our beliefs.  Here are a few of the belief stoppers we often hear:

  • I’m not the patient type, too Type A or whatever
  • I don’t have time to be patient
  • It’s not about me – it’s about them (other people) or It (the traffic) why should I be the one to have to work at patience?
  • Patience is endurance, resignation, compromising, accepting, condoning and forgiving.  (These old Calvinistic ideas are part of the collective story of how the “virtue” of patience has come down through the ages) Ultimately, they do not have to have anything to do with the act of practicing patience.

“Our patience will achieve much more than our force”.      Edmond Burke

Learning to practice patience is a very practical skill to develop. It will serve you in every single area of your work – and your life beyond work.
Being more patient with things outside of you will bring many gifts. You will sharpen your focus, become a better listener and accomplish more with less frustration. But most important, being more patient with yourself will give you the greatest gift of all – peace of mind.

Louise Altman,  Intentional Communication Consultants
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  1. Karen Hirsch says:

    Dear Louise and George,
    Superb blog posting re Patience! Plus,
    I love the visual spaciousness and reader-friendliness.
    You offered very valuable info. re nervous system factor (especially for deeply embedded patterns of reacting to triggers – external Or internal). And, I’d really like to read more re the nervous system and emotions in your blog.
    So, from a nervous system/neurologically embedded pattern perspective, even when someone intentionally Changes a belief to something that generates attitudes and thoughts that are More patient, one’s physiology may still be stuck in the old neurological pathways.
    So, especially if whatever triggers impatience is Strong, an equally strong “impatient reaction” can happen Immediately – while the conscious belief thoughts take longer to kick in. For example, there are instances when I’m strongly triggered and out comes some reactive comment – alas before I have the wherewithall to stop and consider the consequences of my words.
    What I consider an “improvement” upon this is when I can “stop” before reacting (verbally) to a strong trigger. Even then, there are times when despite this, my body is feeling Very Impatient and takes a while to catch up with my well-intentioned thinking/beliefs.
    Would love to hear your thoughts re the above.
    Keep up the great work and here’s to your blog in 2010 reaching more and more of the people you want to become readers – and Fans:-).
    Karen Hirsch

  2. Hi Karen,
    THANKS for your very wise and thoughtful comments.
    While recent neuroscience has dramatically illuminated how emotions and the brain work – we are still “stuck with” the fight or flight response, which causes us to “react” within seconds to a trigger. The only way to mitigate these undesired, auto-pilot reactions is to create even a tiny bit of space between the trigger and the reaction.
    Conscious awareness of what triggers us, coupled with regulating our breathing seems to be the most effective way to slow down the process. Over time, as we work with de-coupling the activation, new neural pathways can take root, freeing us to eliminate or at least, lessen the grip of our emotional triggers.
    Cultivating more patience is a good place to start because its more “doable” than fear and anger.
    We’ll be exploring emotions in more depth in future posts – and look forward to your insights.
    Louise & George

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