How poor are they who have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees.
William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)
Patience is the best remedy for every trouble.
Titus Maccius Plautus (254 BC – 184 BC)
“Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears.”
Many years ago, when I was studying with Albert Ellis, he told a story about a man standing on line at the grocery store with half a gallon of ice cream. The line wasn’t moving, and his ice cream was getting softer by the second. He was feeling increasingly annoyed until he realized the line was held up by an elderly blind man. Suddenly, the ice cream didn’t seem so important.
Al brought that up to show us how quickly our feelings change when we think differently. The man adjusted his thoughts in a split second, and his feelings went from impatience to gratitude. The story also illustrates how patience is a beautiful thing once we open to it.
During my childhood, I recall my father saying, “All good things come to those who wait.” If I still felt impatient about something, he would add, “Act in haste, and repent at leisure.” While I now believe he was right, I had already inculcated America’s predilection for instant gratification, and didn’t have the slightest interest in delaying it.
Our culture is far more oriented towards immediate gratification than ever. We seem to have a collective notion that, as long as we put the pedal to the metal, we can achieve whatever we want. I believe both concepts are true and compatible, even though they may seem contradictory. Waiting, resting, and allowing things to develop are just as crucial to our creativity and productivity (whether in work, relationships, or hobbies) as is forging ahead with vision boards, imagery, affirmations, and good old grit.
In America today, waiting is often a close cousin to slothfulness and reviled with every Calvinist molecule we breathe. Patience with the process is not only undervalued, it is often scorned as laziness. But laziness and patience are as different as chalk and cheese. Allowing things to unfold takes a ton of energy and vision, especially, if you are someone for whom “moving forward” is an inner mantra.
Some people actually fear resting and taking it easier because they secretly believe if they ratchet down their activity level they will never be able to crank it up again. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rest rejuvenates and energetically prepares you for the tasks at hand.
My colleague, Robyn Posin, PhD., has often said, “Rest is a sacred act.” I couldn’t agree more. By resting you show yourself compassion, recharge your batteries, and allow time for new knowledge to sink in, whether physical, emotional, spiritual, or intellectual. In addition, by cultivating patience with yourself it becomes easier to bestow kindness on others.
Advertising would have you believe that working yourself to the bone is fine, as long as you crack open a beer at the end of the day, go to a spa, or splurge on some other luxury. This lets the stress accrue until it feels as if you have to take a break. On the other hand, regularly giving yourself small treats, as novelist Iris Murdoch once said, is one of the secrets to a happy life. The joy you feel when you take a real break to do a little yoga, eat a leisurely lunch, or read a book softens the challenges of day-to-day living.
Life can be stressful enough without adding extra bricks to your load. Rushing, always pushing yourself to do more, thinking you are only as valuable as what you do, adds as much, if not more, stress than all the things on your to-do list. Often, these stressors feel like “shoulds.” Many years ago Karen Horney, a psychoanalyst, wrote a famous essay called, “The Tyranny of the Shoulds.” She was right in her assessment of how easy it is to be hard on oneself. By challenging these “shoulds” you can free up more time to be patient with whatever you want to achieve, whether it’s personal, professional, or avocational.
When you rush the process, whatever it is, you miss opportunities for growth, peace, and being in the moment. Of course, sitting with what is can be very challenging, especially, when it’s something you don’t want. It’s natural to crave the next better-feeling thing and want it instantly. Giving yourself the gift of patience allows you to digest what is happening now. What’s the rush? Hurrying can keep you from healing self-awareness, being in the moment, and just sitting with your thoughts and feelings. They may not always be fun, or pleasant, but rushing through them is often a guarantee you will have to learn that same lesson, whatever it is, again. If one of your goals in life is radical self-acceptance, practicing patience is surely a helpful strategy.
Here are a few ideas you may want to try if you notice yourself rushing frenetically from one thing to the next:
What “shoulds” rule your life? Take a few minutes to brainstorm. Once you have a list ask yourself where you can scale back, do less, or simply take more time to get something accomplished.
Do you have trouble saying no? If you want more time to rest and slow down, you need to practice feeling the discomfort that can come from not always giving others what they want, and possibly incurring their disappointment or rejection. This is especially true if you think your sense of worth depends on what you do, rather than who you are. Try saying no to one thing every day. How does it feel? If even thinking of saying no creates anxiety, ask yourself if it’s ok for you to really nurture yourself. Saying no to one thing always means you’re saying yes to something else. Often, it’s the super nurturers who neglect themselves. If saying no has always been a challenge, you may want to read a basic assertiveness book like, “When I Say No, I feel Guilty,” or “The Assertive Option.”
Notice when you are impatient with yourself. Is there a correlation between those times and being over-scheduled? Have you taken on more than you can comfortably do? Practice talking back to that inner voice always egging you on to do more, and radically choose to do less.
Think back to a time when someone was patient with you. Perhaps it was a parent who taught you how to ride a bike, a teacher who helped you learn the alphabet, or a coach who cheered on every little improvement you made. Allow yourself to really feel that expansive, generous space in which you could learn something without rushing, and let it settle in your heart.
Do you find yourself rushing because you try to fit one extra thing into your day? Experiment with crossing things off your list and adding in time to read, rest, listen to music, take an Epsom Salt bath (this replenishes magnesium and relaxes your muscles), have a cup of tea, go for a relaxing walk, or watch the clouds move across the sky. Just be.
Give yourself the gift of more time by scheduling longer intervals between activities. For example, if you routinely take only 15 minutes to get dressed for a night out, leave yourself 30 minutes.
Last but not least, be patient with yourself as you develop this new skill. Patience is like a muscle: the more you use it the stronger it gets.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang