If you asked most of us if we are patient people, we’d probably say no. It’s hard to be in a society that offers us same-day delivery, news and information at the click of a button, and all five seasons of your favourite TV show on demand.
Patience is a virtue, but what does patience actually mean? Life coach Lauren Paton, founder of Unleashed Coaching, defines patience as “the capacity to wait for something without getting frustrated or complaining”.
Pre-lockdown, many of us found it hard to wait things out without feeling fidgety or irritated. But the pandemic made us pause, and practising patience became normality, even a necessity.
We waited months to be reunited with friends and family, to get jabbed, to go on holiday abroad – or even just get on a bus (something we weren’t very patient waiting for before Covid). And though it was hard to adapt to at first, there were benefits to not feeling the constant rush.
“Lockdown taught people that patience is part of life, Even if we previously wanted everything done now,” says business and life coach Mary MacRory. “Life is not like that and now the pandemic has underlined this for everyone.”
MacRory would go as far as to say it was “a great equaliser”. And you’d think after 18 months and three lockdowns, the lesson would stick. Since restrictions eased this summer, however, our newfound patience has started to falter.
Found yourself tut-tutting on the escalator when people don’t keep moving ahead of you? Notice yourself getting fidgety at the supermarket check-out when last year you queued patiently round the block at 2m intervals just to get through the door? How quickly we have lost that ability to bide our time.
What we need to understand about patience
Patience is subjective and highly dependent on circumstances. “It’s a very personal thing that’s very much bound up in our own experiences, programming and context as to what will trigger the feelings of frustration and annoyance when we have to wait for something,” says Paton. “What will happen if the bus is late – what’s the impact on your day? Do you hate your job and count down time for the weekend? Are you really excited about your birthday?”
Our patience levels highlight how we feel about ourselves and our lives, she adds. “The more we are unhappy with things as they are, the less likely we are able to be patient about them changing. Two people with very different contexts can wait for the same delayed bus with very different amounts of patience.”
Some people will find it harder to be patient than others, Paton says, “whether that’s related to their personality, their upbringing, their past experiences, or what’s going on for them at the moment. Additionally, the more we focus on the need to do something differently, faster, better, in a new way, or the way that someone else is doing it, the more we feel impatient.”
With life on hold for so much of the past two years, we had to wait out the big stuff as well as the small stuff. But after pressing pause on big life changes or decisions, people are back to struggling with long-term patience, too.
“We all like to achieve our goals and look forward to reaping the rewards of our efforts and talents. Naturally, these highly anticipated rewards cannot come soon enough,” says MacRory.
5 ways to rewire your brain for patience
Lauren Paton thinks we should:
Understand what triggers your impatience, and when you are more patient. What can you learn from this? What areas of your life do you need to bring more awareness to?
Take some slow deep breaths to keep yourself grounded whenever you feel impatient.
Stay focused. Focus on what is inside of your control and accept what is outside of your control.
Practise being still in the moment. Mindfulness or meditation is a great way to do this and they are both known to help improve patience and bring a sense of calm.
Take actions for improvement. This enables you to focus on the real scale of the situation while avoiding catastrophising. It keeps you focused on positive steps.
5 ways to build patience into your day
Mary MacRory suggests we try to:
Have a morning routine that grounds you and sets you up for the day in a positive, calm and realistic way. Practising gratitude is a good way to start the day.
Perhaps incorporate meditation into this routine. Even 10 minutes a day has been proven scientifically to reduce stress, blood pressure and reduce mild depression.
Use journalling to get those racing thoughts out of your head and onto paper. Then you have the headspace to logically plan for the day, week, month, year, or whatever time ahead. This paces you and also staves off the impatience of the disorganised racing thoughts.
Take walks in nature and just absorb the beautiful vistas, smells, sounds, tastes, and feel of its abundance. Nature is in no hurry. Maybe you should slow down too.
Finally, cut yourself some slack. Don’t beat yourself up. Is it really important to get some trivial task done in the grand scheme of things? Make sure you prioritise what needs to be done urgently and delegate when and if you need to. That includes partners and family members also.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.