Me writing a post on the topic of ‘patience’ is kind of funny for this reason: those who know me closely, know that my patience isn’t one of my most admirable attributes. I don’t enjoy waiting around for people and I’m impulsive as hell—for big decisions too. My patience (or lack thereof) has prevented me from taking the time to sit down and really think through difficult problems pragmatically. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my relationships, business, and life because of my impulsiveness and this need to always rush through things.
But, on the other hand, my impatience can be a strength—in the sense that when I have an idea, I like to take action right away. If I’m out for a run and I get an idea for a blog post, I’ll stop mid-run and jot down my thoughts in my Notes app. Later that morning or the next day, I’ll start the write-up. If I don’t act immediately (in some way), the idea becomes stale and loses the initial energy that was attached to it. I don’t act on all ideas, but the ones that come through strongly, I never hesitate. So in that sense, my lack of patience can be a good thing.
I think patience doesn’t necessarily have to have a negative connotation associated with it. Not hesitating and acting on instinct can be very beneficial to us—propel us forward in our goals in life. On the other hand, patience is indeed a virtue that needs to be developed and harnessed because anything we want to achieve that’s worthwhile in life takes time and consistent effort. Small every day actions compound over time and materialize into big results over the long term. Short term bursts of intense effort typically lead to burnout or quitting altogether—especially when palpable results aren’t evident.
So here’s how I approach the topic of ‘patience’: it should indeed be developed, but more so managed. Some of us are too patient—waiting around too long for something to happen to us: for someone we like to text us after the first date or waiting in line for multiple people to use the piece of equipment we want to use at the gym. Sometimes it’s better to embrace a little impatience: text that person after the first date: tell them you enjoyed your time together and you want to see them again. Use another piece of equipment until the one you want becomes available. Follow-up on the email to a prospective client you sent last week.
The kind of patience we do want to harness, however, is the kind that gives us a long term view of the attainment of our goals: putting away money every month for the house we want to buy in 5 years, committing to our workouts and nutrition plans every day knowing we won’t see any transformative changes for months (sometimes even years), slowly building up our mileage to run a marathon: starting with just a kilometre, then 2, and so on and so forth. It’s easy to want to go “all-in” on an activity and expect fast results—in fact, it’s human nature.
Another kind of patience to develop is our reaction to situations that trigger our reptilian brain—causing anger, annoyance or outrage. With adversity in life, keeping a calm and cool head will help us evaluate options with more clarity and pragmatism—observing the positive even in the seemingly most negative situations.
So coming from a person who still doesn’t have much patience, but has gotten better over time, here’s my top tips on how to develop more of the good kind of patience in your life:
We’re so accustomed to getting things immediately. Amazon Prime one-day delivery, ordering Uber Eats which arrives in under 30 minutes or skipping the checkout line at the grocery store and doing self-checkout ourselves. While this convenience is wonderful, it’s kind of, at the same time, a curse. We’ve become more entitled and our expectations have skyrocketed. We want it and we want it now! While yes you can order a book or laptop or large container of your favourite seasoning online and have it arrive the same day, when it comes to our longer term goals, we need to reset our expectations and timelines.
When you set a lofty goal for yourself: run a marathon, buy a house, write a book, or find a partner, it’s important to set realistic expectations for yourself. What I’ve found helpful is learning about other people’s experiences in the attainment of similar goals. Without comparison, I would just set an arbitrary timeline to shoot for which 9/10 times is way off the mark.
This year I set a goal to write a book; something I’ve never done before. Just thinking about tackling the task was daunting. I talked to my close friend Kristie who is also going through the process, researched how long other authors I admire took to write books, and also talked to my cousin who is also undergoing the same process (albeit, going the traditional route). With all information considered, a realistic timeline I set for myself to have the draft completed (with research included) was a year. While some authors can write a book in a month or two, knowing I have zero experience in this realm, I gave myself way more time. I reset my expectations and thus had more patience with the entire process.
I ended up finishing the ~70,000 word draft in just over 3 months and practiced patience the entire time. I chipped away at it every day and found some mental frames that provided me with sustained energy throughout the entire process: helping others, improving my writing (competency), and using humour/intertwining my personality in my writing. I kept the process light and fun. That didn’t make every day easy, but by harnessing patience, I gave room for creativity to flow through me and finished much faster than I anticipated.
No matter the task, it’s important to find your own unique framing that’s motivating to you. Ego-centric motivation (money, status, fame, etc.) isn’t motivating to me at all. Helping others and sharing knowledge that has helped me in the attainment of my goals, on the other hand, is much more motivating. Finding joy in the activity itself is also key to sustainability in all our endeavors.
The same strategy can be applied to relationships. I’ve been impatient with the process—giving in to my feelings of neediness and loneliness which has caused me to end up in a few unhealthy relationships with people that we’re not good for me at all. I rushed through the process, ignoring overt red flags, and settling for way less than I deserved. In my experience, emotions can really throw us off kilter; mitigating any of the patience we’ve worked so hard to foster. Explosive arguments with a partner, jumping on a dating app before we’ve taken the time to process those uncomfortable and painful emotions from the break-up, and sitting with feelings of loneliness, can all can strip away our patience. I speak from personal experience here—finding another person to fill the “lonely void” will inevitably make you despondent in the long run.
My last break-up ended earlier this year and I decided that I needed to take some time to myself; to really do some inner work before I started to date again. I do enjoy being in a relationship and eventually I want to find a partner, but after the turbulence I’ve experienced over the last few years, I don’t want to force anything. I want to keep a clear head, take things slow and really get to know someone before committing. I’ve come to realize that I’d rather be single than be in the wrong relationship again. Being with a partial match caused me too much emotional strife. I’ve reset my expectations that it will take as long as it takes and in the meantime, I’ve learned to love my own company and alone time. I’ve realized that I can get intimacy and depth in my relationships with family and friends. It wasn’t easy and took a while to get to this point, but I’m happy I went through the process. Circling back to the point: I needed to foster patience with myself and reset the expectations that it will take as long as it takes.
Meditation is the epitome of patience. Getting ourselves to sit still for a set period of a time is a challenge and a half—our brains typically go berserk trying to convince us that we should be doing something; anything more productive than sitting there and doing nothing. However, it’s in our dealings with this voice-through the practice of breathing and continuing to sit still throughout the duration of our designated time we set for ourselves, that will have a profound impact on our patience.
When I first started meditating, I couldn’t even sit still for 5 minutes without cutting the session short—thinking it was a waste of time, the entire time. By sticking with the practice, learning more about the context behind the practice, and working with a shifu (master), I slowly built up my endurance: meditating for 10 minutes, then 15, then 20, sometimes even meditating for 45 minutes at a time. While this doesn’t seem that long, when your mind is left to its own devices, even for just a short while, it can come up with compelling (and even ridiculous) justifications to get you to move. By resisting the urge, acknowledging what your mind is saying, then bringing your focus back to your body and breath, you’re training your mind to become more patient.
This is one of those activities that take a long time to cultivate, but over time, will make a significant shift in your ability to manage patience. Before I started meditating for example, I had extreme road rage; even the smallest traffic build up would cause my mind to go insane. The build-up of annoyance caused me to overflow with anxiety and stress. To this day, yes I still don’t enjoy traffic (especially driving on the 401 in Toronto), but I’m much more cool headed. I take some deep breaths, listen to an audiobook, or call a friend (hands-free of course).
Meditation has also helped me perform better in my endurance races and in my workouts. For ultramarathons, patience is key—breaking down the daunting distance into one kilometer (or mile) at a time. The same goes for weight lifting: by focusing on one rep at a time and being full absorbed in the experience, we’ll get more out of our workouts. Performance coach and author Brad Stulberg writes:
The more you treat each rep independently, as its own workout, the better. Whatever happened on the last rep doesn’t matter. Whatever may happen on the next rep doesn’t matter. Only this rep matters.
Meditation will help harness that intensive focus to single out one rep at a time.
Self-Limitations on the Dopamine Sugar Rush (ie. checking social media)
Putting limits on your social media consumption and practicing avoiding the temptation and siren call of your device is another technique to significantly improve patience. Meditation can help with this too; acknowledging that your brain is calling out for a dopamine reward (ie. checking the gram), but actively choosing to not give in to that temptation. The more you do this, the easier it becomes. I go through periods where I’ll only allow myself to check social media three times per day. After the third time opening the app, that’s it, I’m done, finito for the day. While dopamine hits feel good in the moment, I’m usually left feeling shittier than before I checked the gram in the first place.
My addiction to dopamine is so strong at times that I need to physically remove my device from the room or turn my phone on airplane mode 2 hours before bed. This takes practice, but by putting limits on our social media consumption, we’re training our brain to resist strong urges and in turn, building up more self discipline. While this isn’t fun, my mental health is more stable and I’m an overall happier person when I put limits on my social media consumption—removing myself from the digital world and inserting myself more in the analog.
Reading books is another way to build up patience. Usually when I pick up a book it takes me at least 5-10 minutes to really focus and begin absorbing the material. Are those first few pages lost? Perhaps—but I’ve learned that I need to give my mind a bit of time to adjust to the task and get fully immersed. Oftentimes I’ll need to restart the chapter after warming up my brain a bit. Reading for long durations (an hour or more at a time) has given me so much more patience in other areas of my life as well. Circling back to my meditation practice (once again)—I’m much quicker at catching my mind wandering while reading and pulling it back to the task than I used to be.
While reading can be a leisure activity, reading more difficult material can feel more like work. Taking the time to read the introduction, history of the text and author, all requires patience. It’s difficult at first, but once you’ve gone through the process a few times and discover the rewards of reading difficult literature, you’ll develop more patience throughout the process.
Writing out my incessant mind activity or stream of consciousness either in my Morning Pages or later in the day while listening to my stress relief Spotify playlist (whilst sipping on my peppermint tea), has been a strong catalyst in helping me develop more patience with myself. Paradoxically, writing about my patience (or lack thereof), helps to curb my impatience. Journaling isn’t a habit I do every day, but I try to at least a few times a week. The practice helps me sort out my mental clutter. If I’m feeling particularly anxious or stressed, 100% of the time, I will feel better just by writing out what I’m feeling. Sometimes I can figure out the causation behind the emotion, other times, I can’t. Regardless, writing out your emotions, feelings, and thoughts is a cathartic experience—which, you guessed it, requires patience. What I’ve learned is that I can’t force emotions to change; the more I resist and try to get rid of a negative emotion, the longer it sticks around, and the more intense it becomes. Feeling the emotion fully, despite how uncomfortable or awful it is at the time then letting go, has overall made me a much less anxious person. I’m able to let go of the emotion and come back to a peaceful, calm state much faster.
Journaling is a habit that does require some self discipline, but if you’re able to feel the real mental health benefits behind the practice, it will be much easier to stick to. You’re not just journaling for the sake of journaling—you’re developing patience with yourself and processing your emotions, which can have a therapeutic effect.
While there are many ways to help develop patience, resetting expectations, meditating, reading, and journaling have been the practices that have helped me the most. Remember that anything worthwhile takes time. While it’s good to have some impatience and act quickly on opportunities or ideas, it needs to be managed for our long term endeavours.
Working on my patience through the aforementioned activities has helped my mental health in transformative ways; I’ve built more confidence, am more at ease, have less anxiety, and am much better at dealing with adversity or roadblocks. I can deal with difficult people and difficult situations and am better at handling my emotional outbursts. Patience helps me perform better in endurance races and my every day workouts.
It’s still a big work in progress for me, but patience is a skill and something when developed, pays off in dividends.