“I am working on being more patient, and I’m trying to do it as soon as possible.”
While driving on a two-lane highway through the mountains between San Diego and Palm Springs, my fiancé, Lisette, and I found ourselves crawling behind several Trikes (three wheeled motorcycles). These guys and their wives could not have been going more than 30 MPH and while there were several “Slow Traffic Please Use Turnout” signs everywhere, they refused to pull over and allow us, and the twenty cars that had stacked up behind us, to pass. Talk about pet peeves! Drivers who sit in the left lane, completely oblivious that they are slowing the rest of us down, drive me crazy.
Why does this drive me crazy? Why am I so impatient? Am I a candidate for road rage? Being raised in and around New York City during the 70’s and driving trucks during the summers, I knew a lot about dog-eat-dog traffic, passing lanes, the use of a horn, flipping people off and roadside survival tactics. I’d also listened to my Dad talk about how the city’s traffic was hurting his business.
I could feel my temperature rising as I followed these “Trikers,” building a narrative, “These aging bikers traded in their Harley’s. They don’t even belong on the road.” Beneath my impatience, and most everybody’s, was a strange brew of fear and anxiety. I call it “fearangst.” Fearangst propels us into a state of impatience by scaring us into believing that something might, or might not, happen unless we do something, and do it NOW!
When our fearangst and “hurry up” personalities are added to the fact that we live in a world that is moving at breakneck speed, we can order up instant everything in a second. From the encyclopedia in our pockets called a “smart phone,” the breaking news we receive in real time and high definition televisions, to almost anything deliverable via Amazon Prime, the world is at our finger tips. Easy access to everything including services and information translates into being able to do more. To keep up, get the competitive edge or feed our need for instant gratification, we tend to pack in non-stop activity into our days.
Some things take us a lifetime to learn. Patience is one of them. Every day presents us with a test of patience. We can run around with our hair on fire, impatient for a solution or a fix when change, loss or opportunity in our schedules, relationships, jobs and/or time of life present themselves. We can claim to be victims of circumstance, declaring life to be “unfair” and continue to feel entitled. Or we can take a deep breath, calm our racing thoughts and talk ourselves down from the ledge. We can stop acting or speaking with reckless impulsivity. We can allow our nervous systems and brains settle a little and use this test of patience as an opportunity to soothe the savage beast.
Impatience is, like most things, different in each one of us. We’re all wired differently. Some of us are tightly wound, enormously resourceful, extremely controlling and expect to get things done now and quickly. My friend and mentor, Dr. Meyer Friedman, the cardiologist who discovered “Type A Behavior,” called this “Hurry Sickness.” Others (“Type-B’s”), are more laid back and seem to take it easy. Their ability to “chill out,” stay calm in the face of adversity and accept that things almost always take longer than expected, seems to be considerably greater.
So how do we cultivate the practice of patience? What is the antidote to hurry sickness? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Learn to Breathe
You may not be aware of how tense you are and how often you are holding your breath. Breathing can send a signal to your body-mind-spirit to slow down, stop what you’re doing, and take a break. By unplugging from the world, you’re giving your brain, nervous and endocrine systems a much-needed and welcome break. Resting, replenishing, renewing and rejuvenating all start with a deep breath.
2. Begin to Catch Yourself Pressing
Begin to take notice and catch yourself finishing people’s sentences, rushing around, saying “yes” to everything, packing in one more thing to do, creating a sense of urgency when there is none, texting while you’re driving, shaming yourself for being late, criticizing yourself for wasting time, etc.. Taking an honest inventory will give you a sense of exactly how serious a case of hurry sickness you have and how it acts to dilute your joy and effectiveness. Seeing how patience contributes to your health and sense of well-being will also serve as inspiration and motivation to change.
3. Learn How to Chill
Take your pick ─ yoga, meditation, relaxation, guided imagery, hypnosis, diet, exercise, soothing music, contemplative prayer, coaching, therapy, workshops, journal writing, martial arts, religious and spiritual teachings, self-guided training ─ all of these things have the potential of showing you how to relax, giving you the tools and techniques to become a more patient person and keeping you a step ahead of losing patience. Commit yourself to taking what you learn and putting it into daily practice.
4. Master the Practice of Patience
You’re likely to receive 101 invitations to hurry up over the course of a typical day, and throughout your life as you and the seasons change, developing the capacity to resist even the most seductive of these invitations requires a high level of mastery. Mastering patience is a daily practice. We cultivate a sense of peace and calm. When stress, conflict and urgency are unavoidable, we do everything in our power to stay centered and remain calm. Like all forms of mastery, some days will be better than others. Lightening, uncluttering and simplifying your schedule, prioritizing what’s really important, managing your day and not being afraid to say “no” wherever possible will also help. In the face of great adversity, or the unfolding seasons of our lives, a calm mind and heart help us do whatever is necessary to prevail.
5. Enjoy the Moment
Many of life’s greatest awakenings, blessings, virtues, feelings of peace, joy, humility and gratitude can be found in the moment where we are standing ─ the now. By rushing around, we miss out on “the moment.” What might we discover if we suspend or stop the relentless pursuit of our “to do list,” or release our nervous anticipation of the future and allow ourselves to relish this very moment?
6. Spread Patience
By being the more patience version of ourselves, we not only create an atmosphere of kindness, compassion, empathy and peace in our hearts, we spread it throughout our families, neighborhoods, communities, nation and world. By becoming ambassadors of patience, we slow the world down just long enough for people to stop pressing, in order to experience a sense of ease and find a common ground. It is in this environment of ease that good things including peace, justice, collaboration and generosity of heart are possible.
Patience is one of the great virtues. Cultivating the Practice of Patience is one of my goals for 2018. “Each act of patience will add one week to your life, Ken,” I tell myself when I take charge, set healthy limits and practice patience. Placing my hand on my own shoulder, assuring myself by saying, “Not everything has to be done in one day, Ken. You’ve done enough for today.” This is my personal antidote for impatience. You’ll still see me being impatient once in a while when I’m in a long line or in a rush to get somewhere. I’m a work in progress, but I’m learning. Not only do I like the more patient person I’m becoming, the people around me tell me I’m more pleasant to be around. And that makes me smile.