Meditation 101

How to Be More Patient When You’re Running on Empty

Photo: Getty Images/ Plume Creative
From the slow, simmering frustration that builds with being on hold with a customer service representative for 30 minutes to the quick snap at your barista when she takes longer than usual to make your oat milk latte, chances are that everyone has wondered how to be more patient every now and then and with good reason.

According to Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, a neuropsychologist and director of Comprehend the Mind based in New York City, the benefits of becoming more patient are many including feeling calmer, reducing your stress levels, being a better friend and family member, making better non-impulsive decisions, and helping you achieve your goals no matter how long they take.

That said, in this world that expects instant gratification all the time, how is one to cultivate patience? Experts divulge key advice, below.

How to be more patient

1. Practice mindfulness and meditation

Kelly Davis, director of peer advocacy, supports, and services for Mental Health America, and Jordana Jacobs, PhD, a NYC-based licensed clinical psychologist, advise bringing a mindfulness and meditation practice into your life—whether you notice your impatience or not. “A mindfulness or meditation practice can help you become more present, teach you how to control your breath, and really focus on just being aware of the things that are happening in your body and around you, and in turn that helps with being less reactive,” says Davis.

Even if you're simply sitting on your floor for 10 minutes in silence every day, that could be enough. Davis says that once you implement this strategy, chances are you become more initially aware of the physical signs of impatience like faster breathing and tensed-up muscles, and can then slow your breath and bring yourself back to the moment (and peace!) more quickly.

2. Practice positive self-talk

You can be your own (patience) hype-woman. How to do that? Davids recommends to turn up your positive inner voice. "When you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed with impatience, try this: say 'I have time, everything doesn’t have to happen at once, other people are doing their best, and I’m doing my best,'" she says, adding that you can even make it into a mantra, repeating it with your breath until it sticks.

When you’re practicing this positive self-talk, Davis adds that you should acknowledge your current emotions and remind yourself that what you’re feeling is only temporary. "You don’t have to come up with a solution just yet—calming yourself down should always be your first step," she says.

3. Be patient with yourself

Of course, on the journey of becoming a Zen-like patience queen, it's key to remember to be patient with yourself. It's okay if you mess up sometimes (and, like, stomp past a slow-walker). “Practice self compassion when you do get impatient, because it’s a skill that you build over time,” says Davis. “We’re constantly bombarded with getting things right away and other people expecting us to do things right away, so it will take a bit of time to practice and build the muscle again.”

4. Keep a log of your triggers

Another pro tip: Dr. Hafeez recommends keeping a journal where you jot down what triggers your lack of patience. Once you have a list, look over each item and notice if there are certain people, places, or tasks that bring out your lack of patience. From there, Dr. Hafeez says you can try tackling one trigger at a time by slowly challenging yourself to withstand each situation with more patience, which is the next tip.

5. Put yourself in situations test your patience

While it may sound a bit counterintuitive to intentionally put yourself in situations that you know will test your patience (i.e. waiting in a long line at the grocery store), Dr. Hafeez highly recommends practicing this weekly. “This is called exposure therapy, where you purposely expose yourself to something unpleasant or fear-inducing until it becomes the norm,” she explains.

Dr. Hafeez adds that the key is that when you’re in these situations you force yourself to remain in them as calmly as you can. Sure, it may not be easy at first. That aforementioned positive self-talk will surely come in handy here, but with practice overtime, your patience bandwidth will expand.

6. Work on becoming a good listener

Patience is a quality that makes you an overall better friend, family member, co-worker, and parent because it gives off a more warm and approachable vibe, Dr. Hafeez says. So, if one of your patience triggers involves other people, she suggests making an effort to become a better listener and not interrupting other people. “Pay attention to what those around you are saying, and focus on understanding them rather than how to react or what you want to say next,” she says.

7. Reflect on the outcome

When you’re tempted to react in a non-patient (and perhaps a bit irrational) way to a patience trigger, take a pause before you do and reflect on what the consequences of that reaction would be rather than letting your emotions take over, Dr. Hafeez says. For instance, maybe reacting in that way may hurt a loved one’s feelings. “If you can allow yourself to take a moment and sort through your thoughts and information instead of acting impulsively, you will find that you have made wiser decisions,” she says.

8. Complete a large jigsaw puzzle

Becoming more patient takes practice and activities such as completing a large jigsaw puzzle, reading a really long book, or finishing a brain game can help you flex your patience muscle. “These are not instant gratification activities,” Dr. Hafeez says. “They require staying in one place for long periods of time, not giving up, and keeping your mind on one thing. These are all the opposite of what an impatient person likes, so that is why they are such good mental exercises.”

9. Cook a meal from scratch

If jigsaw puzzles aren’t your thing, cooking a meal from scratch, even if you don’t usually cook, can provide the same benefit. “Cooking from scratch, reading the directions, chopping, stirring, heating, and waiting all require the patience that Uber Eats, dining out, or picking something up from the deli section of a supermarket do not,” Dr. Hafeez says. “Not only will it give you the satisfaction of trying something new, but the process will also be great practice to test your patience in the preparation of a meal.”

10. Remind yourself that life is short

If all else fails, remind yourself that life is short. Jacobs believes that understanding your limited time on earth can help you better understand your priorities, especially when it comes to the little things (like getting cut in line at the post office).

“Deep relationships, love, meaning, and purpose rise above all and we more easily disentangle from the minutiae of our daily lives,” she says, making it easier to be patient when things don’t go your way. This might not feel as helpful in the heat of the moment (who likes to be cut in line?) but having perspective can help you take a step back when you’re about to snap. Consider it the “carpe diem” approach to patience.

The bottom line

Davis explains that as technology advances and constant reachability can deprive us of time to rest and reset. “Even in the workplace, we’re expected to be available 24-hours a day. Now, your boss is in your pocket, your friends are in your pocket, and it’s really easy to have those expectations go both ways,” she says. “You feel the stress of other people being impatient with you, wanting you to immediately respond to things, and then you're also expecting people to immediately respond to your needs, even if it’s not consciously.”

Besides making even the nicest people irritable, the increasing inability to tolerate delay or a wrench in the plan can have some negative effects on your health, too. “Impatience creates stress, and stress has tremendous health implications,” says Jacobs.. "When we’re under stress, it causes chronic low inflammation in the body." And, of course, inflammation's the culprit behind a laundry list of problems that span everything from acne to gut to digestion issues. No thanks.

Lastly, remember that we're all humans navigating this journey called life and we’re not going to be 100% patient all the time and that’s perfectly fine. Losing our patience from time to time is pretty much inevitable. These expert-recommended tools and strategies can certainly help us be more patient when those times arise.

That said, friendly reminder: If you ever find the above techniques don’t work for you, reaching out to a professional for support is always a good idea.

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