Last week I spent a good part of my day in a hospital waiting room as a friend of mine was undergoing surgery. The waiting room had zero phone service reception, and during hours of iPhone-less waiting I was given a chance to reflect on how to cultivate patience, particularly while waiting in a situation that's less-than ideal. (I've spent time waiting in hospital rooms before, but usually for someone's new baby to arrive, which is a totally different, more exciting kind of waiting.)
Patience is something I've always struggled with — my lack of it being one of the reasons I started Positively Present in the first place! — but as difficult as it is for me to master, I know it's something that's absolutely essential for living a positive and present life, which is why I've spent some time thinking up some pointers for practicing patience.
DETERMINE WHY YOU'RE IMPATIENT.
It really helps to think about why you're impatient. Is it because you're bored and want to leave a situation? Is it because you're in a hurry and you really have to be somewhere? Is it because you want to get home because you're tired / don't feel well / are hungry? Knowing the reasons behind your impatience can be extremely helpful because, in some cases, you can fix the issue. (For example, if your impatience is due to hunger, you can locate a place to get a snack, or if that happens often, carry a snack with you when you know you'll have to wait.) You won't always be able to directly address the reason for your impatience, but sometimes just the act of acknowledging why it's happening can help you become more calm.
FIGURE OUT WHAT TESTS YOUR PATIENCE.
Having an idea of the people and situations that particularly test your patience can be very helpful for learning to practice patience. When you know where, when, and with whom you feel the most impatient, you can either (1) avoid these situations and people as much as possible or (2) prepare yourself for them by bringing along things that will help you stay present and patient. Unfortunately most patience-trying situations aren't avoidable, but it's usually possible to prepare for them, both physically and mentally. If you know you're going to be in a situation that will cause you to be impatient, bring something with you that will help you stay calm or mentally prepare for the situation by reviewing these patience pointers.
CREATE A PATIENCE-PROVOKING MANTRA.
Even if you're not the mantra-having type, you can choose a word (like "patience!") or a phrase (like "be in this moment.") to help you when you're struggling to stay cool, calm, and collected. Whatever mantra you choose, say it to yourself whenever you find that your patience is being tried as a way to bring you back to the moment and remind you to focus on being patient. One of the hardest things about being patient is remembering to be patient, so having an easy to remember mantra or word can be a really helpful reminder. You can also share this mantra with someone close to you, who can then say it to you when it becomes obvious that you're suffering from a bout of impatience.
TAKE A LOOK AT WHAT REALLY MATTERS.
Being impatient is partly the result of being too focused on the present. (Yep, that's a thing that can happen!) When you're in the moment and you're intently focused on what you want right now, you might lose sight of what's really important. When you find yourself having difficulty staying patient, ask yourself, "Will this matter a year from now?" Most of the time it won't. And even if you think it will, follow up with the question, "What really matters most to me?" When you consider this question, you help yourself put whatever situation you're in in perspective. Whatever's stress-inducing or patient-trying is probably not as important as you initially thought it was after you've considered life's big picture and contemplated what truly matters to you.
GIVE YOURSELF ENGAGING DISTRACTIONS.
One of patience's greatest enemies is worry, and that's often what you'll find yourself doing if you have time to waste. Instead of ruminating on what could happen or what else you could be doing with time spent waiting, it's useful to find some distractions that will engage you enough to take your mind off whatever's trying your patience. If you're with others who are also having their patience tried, consider playing a game or conversing about an interesting topic. If you're solo, you might want to dive into a good book or spend a few minutes on your favorite website. Distracting yourself for a long period of time may not be an option, but even a few moments spent disengaging from impatience can be beneficial.
GET IN TOUCH WITH YOUR 5 SENSES.
The trickiest thing about practicing patience is finding a balance between not being in the moment (where you're worrying about what was or what could be) and being too in the moment (where you're so focused on the challenging situation that you don't put it in perspective). One of the best ways to stay just the right amount of present is getting in touch with your five senses by paying close attention to what you see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. When you do this, you bring yourself back to the moment and away from impatient thoughts, but you don't allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the irritations that might come with the present moment.
WORK OUT YOUR PATIENCE MUSCLES.
It seems like patience can be strengthened, just like muscles, by practicing. Instead of waiting until your patience is tried to practice your patience, give yourself a chance to practice when you don't really need to. For example, when you get a package in the mail, don't open it right away and practice the art of waiting. Or get in a longer line at the grocery store and practice waiting for someone to pay for a million things. The more you train yourself to be patient in everyday situations, the easier it will be to keep yourself calm when you're in a situation that's out of your control and really trying your patience. Another way to practice is by slowing down. Walk slower. Eat slower. Talk slower. Doing all of these will help you moderate your pace of life so it's easier to cope when things actually slow down or get in the way of your desired pace.