After 12 years as an anxiety therapist, as well as my personal experience being a mom to two active children, I know how hard it is to remain patient and calm in stressful situations. Most of us have had times when we have completely lost our patience. Often we can keep our cool in certain situations like at work or in public, but when faced with screaming kids at home we just lose it. I have been there many times. Fortunately, there is another way to respond.
Research supports what I have found in my personal and professional experience, that the single best way to increase patience is through regular mindfulness practice. Unfortunately, most of us want a quick fix, and mindfulness takes time to become effective. Our brains are wired to want to do something quickly to change situations that aren’t going how we’d like them to go, so we often give up on things that don’t work right away. This often leads people to avoid stressful situations and people, or develop unhealthy ways of coping such as drinking too much alcohol or zoning out on our phones.
If practiced regularly, mindfulness teaches us a different way to respond to stress.Since we often cannot change another person or situation, and even when changes can be made they often take time, we need to learn to accept, or just allow, the situation to be as it is for now. The problem is this is very difficult for us to do; therefore, we often feel impatient and give up. However, if we can allow ourselves just 10 minutes a day to do a mindful meditation, we can profoundly change our lives.
Can you spare 10 minutes each day to change your life?
I understand the skepticism about mindfulness because I, too, felt it, at first. It sounds like another new age, alternative medicine practice that’s popular today but will fade as a new one gains popularity. I started to view mindfulness in a different way, however, when research on it kept popping up everywhere. I started reading this literature in peer-reviewed, published journal articles in academic journals, and learned the multitude of benefits that mindfulness has to offer. At that point I couldn’t deny the validity of this approach any longer, and had to give it a try for myself. That was about ten years ago. Since then, I’ve learned that these benefits are tangible, but only when practiced regularly.
Mindfulness creates space between the situation and your reaction to it. It can help you slow down, evaluate what’s going on, and respond in a way that is in line with your values, rather than reacting impulsively. However, since we live in such a fast-paced society and have been conditioned to move quickly, slowing down is not easy. It takes a lot of practice, and most people give up. I have been recommending mindfulness to almost every therapy patient I see for the past ten years, and the majority of them never establish a regular practice, so they may see some initial results, but do not experience the full benefits of mindfulness that can be achieved.
Research has consistently shown that those who meditate every day will develop more patience and respond to stress in a calmer way over time. Most studies have been conducted on people who have taken an eight-week mindfulness course, and meditated daily over that period of time. With that amount of regular practice, the mind will start to develop the ability to shift gears when needed, to a slower more purposeful gear, so to speak. Once this is established, you will be able to notice when you are feeling impatient, take a breath, and let the situation be as it is. You may decide to take some action at some point; but, that action will be well thought out from a calm place, rather than a reaction from a place of frustration.
In summary, here are my tips for increasing patience:
- Meditate every day for at least 10 minutes. This is best achieved with the help of a mindfulness instructor and the support and accountability of a class.
- When you’re faced with a situation in which you are feeling stressed or impatient, pause and take a breath. Remember that things do not change right away, and reacting mindlessly will likely lead to undesired consequences.
- Practice mindful listening when communicating with others, by putting aside what you want to say as well as any judgements of what the other person is saying, and really listen to what they are saying.
- Before responding, take a breath and think about what you really want to convey and how that message will best be conveyed.
Once you do these four things, and repeat them daily, you will start to gradually see changes in your life. Increasing patience is just the tip of the iceberg as far as how mindfulness will change your life.