How to Become More Patient

"The two most powerful warriors," wrote Leo Tolstoy, "are patience and time." One thing you can do when you're being patient is think. One of the reasons Gandhi was able to eject the British out of India is that he didn't react impulsively. He was patient. He waited until he knew what he needed to do, and he waited for the right time to do it. He thought long and hard about what he was going to do until he got a good answer. He didn't rush it. He didn't act prematurely. "No problem," wrote Voltaire, "can stand the assault of sustained thinking."

Patience gives you the power to control yourself and control your life. And you don't really need to learn to be patient. It isn't a skill. You don't have to do anything to be patient. You have to not do something. Patience isn't a skill — it's a decision. Patient people have simply made it a habit to make the decision to not do something. Instead of getting tense, they decide not to. Instead of yelling at people and getting mad, they decide not to. Instead of driving too fast, they decide not to.

There are two ways to be patient, but only one of them is any good. The first is to restrain yourself, but stressfully. Grit your teeth and not do those things you normally do when you feel impatient. The second is to actually relax and feel comfortable when you know that's what you need to do.

You'll probably have to go through the first to get to the second. The second way comes about when you fully realize in that moment that becoming impatient is counterproductive, and that you don't have to react that way. There are other alternatives.

When you want to buy something and you don't have to have it immediately, which is usually the case, put it off for a week. Tell yourself if you still want it the following Monday, you can go ahead and buy it. Sometimes when Monday comes around, you will have decided you don't really want it. Your patience has just saved you money and kept your house from getting cluttered. And demonstrated the control you have in your life. You are not the passive victim of your own impulses. You can set your impulses aside. You can do it by simply setting a date in the case of buying something. You can do it in the heat of the moment by repeating a helpful statement in your head. Read more about that.

Once I was in a heated argument with my wife and I suddenly decided to try to make it until one o'clock without saying anything. There was a clock right in front of me. One o'clock was only twenty minutes away.

That was a long twenty minutes because she had apparently taken the same vow at the same time.

I was tempted to speak. About every thirty seconds it would get intense. But when I'm angry it's almost always a bad idea. I had that little target to shoot for (waiting until one o'clock) and that kept me going.

I made it, and I'll tell you something: That twenty minutes of silence made all the difference. Instead of being ashamed of myself for saying hurtful, exaggerated, ugly things, I was proud of myself for exercising a little self-control.

Self control has bad connotations for some people. It is true that it's possible to have too much self-control. But that's probably not true of you. Most of us are much too low in self-control and more of it would be a good thing.

Patience is doing nothing right away rather than doing something right away. Ideally, it's doing nothing while being relaxed and feeling fine about waiting. The mental tricks you use to feel fine don't matter. All you have to do is ask yourself, "If I did feel fine about waiting, what would I be thinking?"

"But," you might be asking, "how would I know? I've never been very patient."

"It's okay," I would respond, "you don't really have to have experience for this one. Just pretend. You'll discover you do know, now that you think of it."

"A friend of mine was an hour late last night," you might say to me. "How would I do it with that?"

"Okay. Imagine during that hour, you waited for your friend and you were quite content to wait. What were you thinking?"

"That's impossible."

"Well then imagine you saw a stranger waiting for a friend who was an hour late, but the stranger looked content and happy. What would you guess the stranger was thinking?"

"Probably nothing about his friend. Maybe he was daydreaming about something," you reply.

"Right. That's good. That's one way to be patient: While you wait, have pleasant daydreams. What might be another way?"

Now you're getting warmed up. The juices are flowing. You say, "Maybe the stranger was remembering something that happened years ago. A treasured memory. And he was so lost in thought, he totally forgot he was waiting for something."

"Great. That's another way to be patient. What else?"

"He could be planning his day tomorrow. He could be simply observing the life around him. Or maybe he has decided to wait only a half hour and if his friend doesn't show up, he is planning on leaving, and maybe that kind of tickles him."

"You're doing great. Those are all workable ideas. Once you set your mind to it, you can find ways of being patient. It's the decision that counts. You must decide to be patient. And repeating this thought to yourself really helps: Usually patience gets better results than impatience."

the hourglass of time

In WWII, a soldier was seeing a doctor for combat fatigue (now called post-traumatic stress disorder). The soldier was a nervous wreck. The doctor had seen soldiers like this, and knew what to say. "Think of your life as an hourglass," the doctor said. "The thousands of grains of sand in the top of the hourglass all pass slowly and evenly through the narrow neck in the middle, one grain of sand at a time. You and I and everyone else are like this hourglass. When we start in the morning, there are hundreds of tasks which we feel we must accomplish that day, but if we do not take them one at a time and let them pass through the day slowly and evenly, we are bound to break our own physical or mental structure."

The soldier later wrote that it helped him deal with the rest of the war, and was helping him in business too. "Instead of getting taut and nervous," he wrote, "I remember what the doctor told me. 'One grain of sand at a time. One task at a time.' By repeating those words again and again to myself, I accomplish my tasks efficiently without the confused and jumbled feeling that once almost made a wreck of me."

Repeat this to yourself again and again:
Usually patience gets better results than impatience. 

Ask yourself:
If I was patient right now and feeling fine, 
what would I be thinking about these circumstances?

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Direct Your Mind, and Self-Reliance, Translated. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

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