How to Be a More Patient Person

Excerpts from the New York Times article.  Anna Goldfarb / November 5, 2018

My jaw clenches when Hulu videos buffer. I huff and puff when stuck in a sluggish line at a coffee shop. Slow cars in the fast lane send me into a curse-filled tizzy. I’m ashamed how quickly I lose my cool over these minor things. I’ve often wished I could be a more patient person, but it’s overwhelming to know where to start

Patience, the ability to keep calm in the face of disappointment, distress or suffering, is worth cultivating. The virtue is associated with a variety of positive health outcomes, such as reducing depression and other negative emotions. Researchers have also concluded that patient people exhibit more prosocial behaviors like empathy, and were more likely to display generosity and compassion.

A 2012 study in the Journal of Positive Psychology identified three distinct expressions of patience: 1. Interpersonal, which is maintaining calm when dealing with someone who is upset, angry or being a pest. 2. Life hardships, or finding the silver lining after a serious setback. And 3. Daily hassles, which is suppressing annoyance at delays or anything irritating that would inspire a snarky tweet.

The good news is that the same study found that patience as a personality trait is modifiable. Even if you’re not a particularly patient person today, there’s still hope you can be a more patient person tomorrow. So if you find yourself getting exasperated more than you’d like, there are ways to keep those testy impulses in check.

Interrupt the cycle and evaluate the risk

Next, think about what thought or suspicion sets off the alarm bells in your brain.“There’s something that you’re either saying to yourself, an image you have, a feeling in your body that is triggering that response, that you’re under threat,” Ms. Ryan said.

Once you figure out what you’re telling yourself about the situation — “I can’t be bothered to wait in this line,” for example — then you can address your internal concern, interrupt the stress response cycle and stay out of fight-or-flight mode.

For example: If standing in a long line drives you crazy, an appropriate mantra might be, “I’m in no rush at the moment.” For those who blow a fuse circling for parking spaces, a mantra that might work could be, “I’ll find a spot eventually.”

The idea is to take a step back from the situation and try to look at it as objectively as you can. Is waiting in this long line inconvenient? Sure, but be realistic and practical: It will soon pass, and, in all likelihood, you’ll forget it ever happened.

Next, spend a beat thinking about the worst case scenario. What’s the actual consequence of standing in line at the bank another 10 minutes or restarting a finicky device? Do any of these outcomes constitute a life-or-death threat?

“Almost always, always, always, no is the answer,” Ms. Ryan said.

Consider making lifestyle changes

Now that you know your triggers and are working on staying out of fight-or-flight mode, incorporate some stress reduction measures. If your impatience trigger is killing time in waiting rooms, designate a game on your phone that you play only when you’re at the doctor’s office. If you detest being in traffic, leave for appointments earlier. If you abhor crowded grocery stores, run your errands at off-hours.

Ms. Ryan also recommends cutting down on caffeine intake, as that can exacerbate stress in some people. Engaging in meditation or yoga can also help, because “then your system gets a chance to turn down the stress response and therefore you’re less likely to be triggered by everything.”

Be realistic

Finally, Nedra Glover Tawwab, a licensed clinical social worker based in Charlotte, N.C., recommends being more sensible about setting achievable aims.

“Sometimes we overbook ourselves or we don’t allot enough time to do things,” she said. “Be reasonable in setting your own goals for yourself because there’s only so many things that you can do in a time frame or any day.”

If your to-do list has 10 items on it but you can only reasonably accomplish five, then you’re sabotaging yourself. Any inconvenience has the potential to throw you off-track when your day is planned down to the minute.

I can’t fast forward time and I can’t make people move faster,” she said. “I can’t manipulate those things; the only thing I can manipulate is me.”

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