“Mom, come here RIGHT NOW, I need help with my Legos. It’s an emergency!” my son calls out to me from down the hall.
“Charleston, you need to wait a few minutes, I’m still making the bed,” I holler back from my bedroom.
“But Mooooom, I need you noooow!” he whines.
I yank the bedspread up over my pillows, sighing in exasperation before I shout back, “I can’t come right now, Buddy. YOU REALLY NEED TO LEARN TO BE PATIENT!”
Seconds later, I recognize the irony of my last statement. Yes, my son does need to learn patience. (He also needs to learn the definition of a true “emergency.”) But he’s four. Impatience is to be expected. I’m . . . well, I’m much older than four. Yet my own impatience rivals that of my son. And I truly have no excuse.
I’ve never been a patient person. Blame it on my Type A personality, or the fact that I’m the oldest child by six years, or on my OCD and perfectionism . . . whatever the cause, I was born chomping at the bit—and expecting others to do the same—and unfortunately, that quality has never left me.
These days, my husband and son bear the brunt of my impatient outbursts, but it comes out in other ways too: in the anxiety that builds when an expected text or email fails to materialize at the anticipated moment; in my snippy comments at those around me who are unable to carry their own weight (weight that I myself have often unloaded upon them); when my blood begins to boil while sitting in sluggish traffic; in my mounting frustration with myself when I fail to do something right on the first try; or my indignation when an Amazon package does not arrive within the promised two-day window. I’ve even found that I can no longer watch YouTube videos because my habit of listening to podcasts at double speed has made me impatient with the videos’ languid pace!
I know I’m not alone in my impatience. In fact, I believe our society is facing an impatience epidemic! As technology has made our lives faster and easier, we’ve failed to appreciate these modern conveniences and instead have grown accustomed to their speed. Same-day shipping, instantaneous internet access, video streaming, and drive-thru restaurants are just a few examples of how our “now” culture caters to our impatience. We easily adjust to this heightened pace of life, and refuse to accept anything less. Sadly, this impatience with services and systems bleeds into our interactions with other people, and even with ourselves. We become short-tempered, easily agitated, and downright rude as we prioritize our desire for immediate gratification over the consideration of others.
I can’t speak for the rest of society, but I personally recognize my impatience as a problem and want to take steps toward becoming a more patient individual. If you can relate, I’d love to share a few tools and tactics I’ve begun implementing in an effort to cultivate patience.
1. Recognize the problem.
As with every bad habit and hangup, you can’t begin to address the problem of impatience until you fully acknowledge that it is a problem. (Writing this post is my way of coming to terms with the fact that I struggle with impatience!) Begin to take notice of where you lack patience, and how your impatience is negatively affecting yourself and others. Once you’ve become aware of your attitudes and impulses, you can begin to strategize healthier reactions.
2. Identify triggers.
As you become more aware of losing your patience, pay attention to environments, individuals, or circumstances that cause you to lose your cool. These triggers often can’t be eliminated (I’m not giving you permission to temporarily dispose of your children!), but taking notice of your personal hot spots can help you emotionally prepare for them ahead of time.
3. Create more blank space in our schedule.
For me, one of my biggest impatience triggers is an overfull calendar. It’s hard to remain patient with my son when we are rushing from one activity to the next, with no option for downtime or dawdling in between. Keeping extracurricular activities and obligations to a minimum has greatly increased my ability to be a more patient mom and all-around better human.
4. Minimize screen time.
This is another trigger that is personal to me, but I have no doubt others can relate. Because of the fast-paced nature of the digital world, spending too much time on my phone or computer tends to rewire my brain toward an expectation for immediacy—expectations that just can’t be met in the real world. Stepping away from the screens—preferably for some family fun outdoors—is one of my best and quickest solutions for becoming more patient.
5. Embrace the slow life.
Read a physical book instead of scrolling social media. Wash your dishes by hand instead of using the dishwasher. Head to the grocery store to do your own shopping instead of having groceries delivered. The activities may seem outdated and unnecessary, but they immerse us in the real world, with real objects and people, where we are forced to slow down, become fully present, and intentionally put our patience skills into practice.
6. Practice deep breathing, prayer, and possibly meditation.
I personally haven’t found meditation to be very effective, but countless others have reaped the calming benefits of meditation and visualization work. When I’m in an impatience-inducing situation, I find that a few deep breaths can do wonders for my attitude and perspective. At the very least, this breathing strategy can keep me from snapping at my child in the heat of the moment. I’ve also learned that pausing to lift up a quick prayer, asking for guidance and extra measures of patience, can make all the difference.
7. Take time to focus on what’s really important.
Our tendency is to get worked up over the small things, which can trigger impatience and elicit short-tempered reactions. Usually, these small things don’t matter in the long run. If we can focus on the big picture, we will remember that a calm attitude and gentle reaction is much more important than our immediate gratification.
8. Remember that the best things in life take time.
Few of my life’s greatest gifts—my family, my faith, my education, my friendships—have come easily to me. They have required years of invested time, energy . . . and patience. I grew to understand this at a deep level during my recent walk through secondary infertility, and it’s something I remind myself of every day. When I feel myself wallowing in the discouragement of unmet expectations, or catch myself rushing through a project or forcing others to do the same, I need to pause and remember that hurriedness rarely pays off, but patience almost always does.
I will likely always struggle with impatience to some degree, but I don’t want it to be a trait that I’m known for. I certainly don’t want my children growing up in a home where they constantly feel pressured or hurried by their frenzied, impatient mom. For now, I’m working on my impatience one small step at a time—and remembering to be patient with myself when I slip up.