by Andrea M. Darcy
Often feel frustrated? Or known for giving up or changing your mind? How to be more patient if it’s not your natural state of being?
The art of patience
Patience is the art of staying calm and waiting it out, even when we are frustrated or are facing obstacles.
Having patience is desirable because it can mean being:
A small study involving university students looking at how patience works as a virtue ended up connecting patience to greater wellbeing, less neuroticism and depression, and even less health problems.
Are you as patient as you seem?
While we might have ‘behavioural patience’ down pat, meaning we can appear calm in, say a conflict with our boss? If inside we are seething, and plotting our revenge, then we do not have ’emotional patience’.
We might achieve our goals through our faking, but our relationships will be plagued by passive aggressive behaviour and codependency, and we will still exhibit symptoms of stress.
How to develop patience
So what can help us develop patience if it’s not a natural for us?
1. Make it about more than you.
If we are impatient, we are convinced of one perspective — our own. Our colleague is talking too much about themselves as they are vain. The queue at the grocery store will mean bad things for the rest of our day.
Meanwhile, the other person might be upset about something and talking too much as they desperately need the connection. That queue might delay us, but it might also mean we miss out on being in a traffic accident, or have a moment to come up with a new idea.
If we learn to see a bigger picture, we tend to be more patient. We recognise that the cashiers are doing the best they can, that older people are slower at checking out, and that one day we, too, will be old. These kind of thoughts connect us instead of separate us from others, and we feel less stressed.
2. Cultivate compassion.
Recognising that a situation we are in involves others means we are cultivating compassion.
And it starts with ourselves. If we are impatient with others, it is often as we secretly judge ourselves, then project that on those around us. We don’t like they way we ourselves communicate, a lot of what we say we find silly, so we then decide our colleague is annoying when they talk.
Self-compassion is the art of learning to treat ourselves as a friend, which then creates room for us to extend that compassion to others. There is even a type of therapy formed just around this art, ‘compassion-focused therapy‘ (CFT).
2. Clear out your backlog.
Why do strange things make us so darn antsy when others don’t? Why do we feel furious if someone is five minutes late, but not care if our doctor is half an hour behind?
Sometimes it’s about past experiences that we never resolved. We transpose those experiences onto the present. We hate people being late because our father was always late to pick us up for our weekends with him, for example.
Clearing out our backlog, both by letting ourselves remember experiences that upset us as well as feel the emotions we repressed, can mean we react less in the present. Journalling can be a great tool here, as can talk therapy.
Research back in the 1980s tried to assert that everyday hassles were more of a negative effect on mental health than stressful life events. That is, until further research pointed out that the way we react to everyday stressors is directly related to and informed by our bigger traumatic life experiences.
4. Cope with your core beliefs.
One of the things you might discover working with a therapist are assumptions about yourself, others, and the world that you have mistaken for truth. These are called core beliefs, and they can certainly cause you to be impatient.
A classic example is the belief “I am not worthy”.You impatiently leave a waiting room, telling yourself it’s because your interview was supposed to be ten minutes ago. When really your impatience stems from your belief that you are unworthy, meaning you are driven to sabotage getting the job.
5. Get present.
Impatience is often about the past or future. We are annoyed about the queue as we are worried we’ll get a parking ticket or not get our work done for the day (future). Or because this store always has a queue (past).
Mindfulness is a popular tool that helps brings us fully into the present moment. We become more aware of our thoughts and feelings, meaning we can take better charge of them. We notice what is going on here and now, including what is going right, not just wrong.
It takes time to become good at, but it’s easy to learn – use our free ‘Guide to Mindfulness‘.
Why am I not good at being patient?
We might be more genetically inclined to be impatient than patient, or vice versa. Research shows that anger control, for example, has a genetic component. And a 2020 Japanese study, while only carried out on mice, has connected patience to our brain’s serotonin levels, which other research shows might have a genetic connection.
But patience is also a skill that we learn (or don’t). If you didn’t grow up with parents who were patient, you might have learned instead how to be demanding. But if you choose to learn to be patient, you will likely be successful.
A small study in Turkey on 30 university students, aiming to teach patience, found that most did then exhibit more patience.
But what if you really try hard to be patient, but muck it up every time? If you speak and act before you realise what you are doing, only to feel ashamed later? Then it might be a mental health issue at play that needs dealing with first.
Mental health issues that affect patience
This can include ADHD, the autism spectrum, borderline personality disorder, and other personality disorders.
Adult ADHD means that our brain is set to high speed. We tend to speak and act impulsively, only realising what we are doing when we are mid process.
PTSD and c-PTSD are caused by a marked trauma or a series of ongoing difficult experiences over time, respectively. They can mean you live life on edge, scanning for danger, and always ready to react.
Autism spectrum disorder includes what was once called ‘Asperger’s syndrome‘. If you are on the autism spectrum you will struggle to understand emotions, and can feel very frustrated by others who are being emotional.
Personality disorders mean you see the world in a way that is very different than the norm. So the inability of others to understand you might lead to impatience.
Borderline personality disorder means you fear rejection and are more emotionally sensitive than others. If you do sense someone might reject you, your emotions might get so overwhelming you can’t be patient, and instead lash out.
Need help to stop sabotaging your life with a lack of patience? We connect you with a team of handpicked, expert London talk therapists. Or use our booking site to find a UK-wide therapist or online counsellor now.
Andrea M. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing expert, who has done some training in person-centred counselling and coaching. She often writes about trauma, relationships, and ADHD, and advises people on how to plan their therapy journey. Find her on Instagram @am_darcy