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Six Steps to Becoming More Patient

For some, acting chill is harder than it looks.
learn patience forbearance positive attitude waiting frustration this too shall pass

Photo Credit: Manchik Photography

We all have one family member, friend, or colleague known as “the patient one.” He or she unceasingly proves the credo that “this too shall pass.” Never frustrated or exasperated, they are able to keep calm even in the most trying situations. Their ability to accept or tolerate lateness, trouble, and even pain without getting angry sometimes seems otherworldly.

Recently, a super-patient person entered my life: a guy I started dating.

When we lost time because I almost locked my keys in the car on our second date, he laughed it off. “It’s not the end of the world,” he said. When I forgot my keys . . . then my wallet . . . then my phone at home, he walked up all four flights of stairs to retrieve them with me, nary a complaint. And when I blurted out a little too soon that I wanted us “to just be best friends already!” With poise and total coolness, he simply responded, “Time.”

I asked him how the heck he’s able to stay so forbearing. His answer, unfortunately, wasn’t as instructive as I’d hoped.

“I’d have to say . . . just chill.”

That’s it? That’s his secret? The problem is, for those of us who struggle with patience, “just chilling” is the one thing we can’t do.

As a twentysomething living among the hustle of New York City, there are many situations in my life that would benefit from patience. From apartment searching and flirting with the idea of applying to grad school to investing in relationships, romantic or otherwise, I just want it all done already. Cut to the happy ending, please.

When it feels like the stakes are high, it’s hard to avoid worrying. We impatient folk are always watching the clock, waiting for—anticipating—what’s next. Of course, patience is a virtue, but acquiring it is a whole other beast. Below are six steps to help you (and me) take life in stride and embrace self-restraint.

01. Focus on the long term.

Worry is always future-oriented. And it’s no help when the future boasts undesirable possibilities or is just plain unknown. Still, your next apartment, promotion, move, degree, or relationship is just one piece of a much bigger story—and a vibrant one at that! A few minutes spent considering the bigger picture can help make overwhelming steps a lot more manageable. A key success factor is the ability to set and achieve long-term goals. What are some of your big goals? What do you value most? I value thriving in a relationship with someone I know well, respect, and admire. So even though I’m just getting to know the man I’m dating, I have to remind myself that this process—no matter how slow it feels—is necessary and good. Thinking long term can help keep your day-to-day expectations and concerns for the future in check.

02. And then ask yourself what you can do right now.

Patience, or a lack of it, often comes from waiting for something that doesn’t seem to be happening fast enough. This is especially true in situations where we don’t feel so awesome and hope for things to get better. As you are waiting for some of the more long-term things to change/improve/happen, ask yourself if you are doing everything you can to shape the circumstances in your favor. Taking time to settle in after a big move will help you feel at ease. But so will seeking out your favorite passions and hobbies in town. It takes endurance to see results from a new fitness plan. But involving friends and journaling your goals will aid progress. Anticipating a career- or school-related change? Ask yourself if you have done everything in your power to help it happen or if there’s anyone you can follow up with and thank. Patience is partly about relinquishing control. But there’s often a lot that you can do before taking a more passive approach.

03. Take time to reflect.

Anticipating something? Feeling anxious? Reflection can help make the waiting period productive instead of excruciating. Are there lessons you learned from the process that would spur you to act in a different way next time? Just as important, which aspects of the process are you proud of? Meditating or journaling on your reflections helps make you a better version of yourself. Self-improvement is the most important part of learning and growing, after all.

04. Acknowledge what you can’t do.

People have always had the need for control. We will always desire power over the many facets of our lives. We create rules and set boundaries. But as much as we want to be in control of everything, it’s just not realistic or possible.

Let’s assume that you’ve done everything in your power to achieve your goal. If you’re job seeking, this means you’ve networked and submitted applications. You’ve reflected on what you’ve done well and what you can do better. You’ve made necessary improvements and followed up. At this point, there isn’t much left to do but wait. It’s time to list all the aspects of the situation that are out of your control. This includes timing; what others say, do, think, or feel; and natural disasters, among other things.

Take solace in the fact that you’ve done everything you can for this situation. Pat yourself on the back. Run a bubble bath. Pour a glass of wine, and savor every sip.

05. Take some time away.

If you’re still feeling antsy, you may need a change of pace. Sometimes all it takes is a different point of view for a sense of calm to pervade. A weekend or day trip will get your mind off what’s at hand, especially if you find a fun activity to focus on. Even twenty minutes away from your desk can help clear the clouds of impatience.

Studies have proven that moderate exercise leads to a significant improvement in self-esteem and mood and a reduction in tension and anxiety. Even more good news: In a study by the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, the type, intensity, or duration of the exercise didn’t affect the benefits to self-esteem and mood, as long as participants were active outdoors. So if you can’t get away for the whole day, a few hours or even a brief walk will still help.

06. Be intentional about developing patience.

In the end, much of achieving patience is being mindful about trying to maintain it. If you make it a point each day to persevere through frustrations with a sense of calm and grace, you will embody these virtues. Eventually.

It’s often more difficult to be patient in minor matters than larger ones. Look for moments in your day when you can exercise patience. Ask someone about their day even if you “don’t have the time” to listen. Make time. Take a moment to think of life’s many gifts before thoughtlessly devouring your meal. Allow someone to go ahead of you in traffic or on the subway even if you’re in a rush. It’s that simple.

In my case, after my guy reassured me that he really (really!) doesn’t have any big success secrets on the patience front, I gave up pushing for answers. I resolved to let him off the hook, but not before I asked one last question.

“Do you consider yourself a patient person?” I asked with hesitation. After all, what if patience is a genetic disposition that some of us, regardless of self-imposed will, are simply incapable of having?

His answer, as it turns out, was all I needed to hear.

“I try.”

And try I will.