Something I’ve been asked over and over again is “How are you so patient?”
And here’s my secret: I’m really not. I get frustrated all the time. I’ve just taught myself not to react so fast when my patience is being stretched. I’m not so patient. I’m just not so volatile.
But here’s the thing: Actively practicing having conscious reactions to my frustrations has, over time, given me more patience. Having more patience is so valuable when you live with small children! They say patience is a virtue, but I believe it is a skill we all have access to.
If you want to be more patient - or at least seem more patient - here are the five steps I use to manage my responses in moments of impatience and frustration.
Identify your triggers.
Knowing what makes you impatient is the first step. Think about the last time you felt your impatience or anger rising. What had just happened? What events, people, or phrases set you off?
It might help to just notice for a week, without trying to change anything. Make a list of all the things that cause you tension or frustration, or make you react in a way you regret later.
Also pay attention to what’s happing with your body when these feelings arise. Are you hungry? Over tired? Too hot to cold? Feeling constricted? What physical factors are contributing to your emotions? Can you identify a pattern?
My triggers are standing in long lines and having people speak to me condescendingly. I also know I’m less patient when I’m anxious, like when I’m running late, and when I’m hungry or tired. Knowing these things tells me when I need to pay attention to how I'm reacting to others.
When you feel your impatience rising, take a mental step back. Choose not to act or speak from that wound-up place. When I react in the heat of emotion I’m most likely to say or do something I’ll regret or need to apologize for. So just hit the pause button.
Would you want someone behaving like this to you? Would you want another adult behaving like this to your child? If the answer to either question is no, check yourself.
Get into your body.
Use that old advice - count to ten. Take a deep breath and let it out through your mouth. Take another one if you need to. Notice where you are holding tension in your body and consciously let it go. You will start to feel your frustration draining away.
If it was a person who triggered your frustration, step into their shoes for a moment and see how the interaction looks and feels from their perspective. Maybe your child is throwing toys. Is he working through a strong emotion? Is she overtired or needing a snack? Perhaps someone said something something that felt rude or inappropriate to you. What’s going on in that person’s life today that might make them behave that way?
In my experience, most people strive to do their best. But sometimes their best is hindered by pain or distraction. Or just by their own baggage. But that’s their stuff. And responding in anger doesn’t help anybody feel better.
Choose how you want to respond.
What do you want the outcome of this situation to be? Leo Babuta recommends asking yourself the question, “How does this help?” before you say anything, especially to your children. Yelling or scolding rarely helps anybody. What would actually help in this moment?
Sometimes the answer to that is “Do nothing,” or “Walk away.” Sometimes the answer is “Give love,” or even “Ask for help.” Even my 3-year-old is surprisingly willing to cooperate if I explain that I need her help to get through the store, to get dinner on the table, or just to deal because I’m having a hard time today.
Using these tools will help you manage when you are in a moment of frustration and need to reach for some patience and calm.
Having tools is great, but it is even better when you don’t need to resort to them. If you find that you are having to pause yourself an awful lot, go back to your list of triggers and see if there are things on there you can be proactive about. Are you prone to impatience when you are hungry? Make sure you have small snacks readily available to keep your blood sugar level. Is being over-tired an issue? Work on setting better boundaries around your sleep time, or build in space for naps and breaks during the day if your sleep is being interrupted by small people in the night. Are you an introvert and not getting enough down time? Practice radical introvert self care.
It doesn’t feel good to yell at our kids or to be frustrated multiple times during the day. Take control of your reaction. You - and the people around you - will feel so much better as a result!