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I am impatient but I am working on it

Now that we have identified the forces at work behind impatience and why we should take it seriously (see Impatience under the microscope), it is time to ask ourselves how to fight against this character flaw and its most directly harmful manifestations. Francoise Klein looks into the concrete forms of this practice. After semiology comes therapy…

Practical remedies against impatience

Detecting the signs of impatience within ourselves

The first step toward gaining control over our impatience consists in identifying this budding anger in ourselves. Analysing our behaviour and listening to our body are great tools for this. What is going on inside myself? Am I tense? Edgy? Why am I feeling so warm? Where is this nervous tick, or exasperated sigh coming from? We have to learn to see ourselves from the outside. Our bodies reveal our moods, and it is a good thing—better at least than repressing them. After spotting the signs, the next step is to find out what causes these manifestations of impatience. What triggers them? Occasionally, something positive will come out of it, like some momentum to make progress or to surpass oneself. Most of the time, though, if we take a closer look at the causes and our reactions, we uncover some negative aspects. Acknowledging that the energy that feeds into our impatience comes from a form of intolerance (see part 1 of this article) is already half the task.

If we make the effort to observe ourselves over a period of a few weeks and to write down every moment we detect impatience in us, we will likely realise that it happens more often than we think. We will also become more aware of this feeling and be more prepared to deal with it in the future.

Calmly accepting what happens to us

Let us now look at what remedies we can implement. As impatience is fundamentally caused by inappropriate demands from life and from other people, we have to increase our ability to accept events the way they occur and people the way they are. Cultivating contentment—being “zen” as they say—does not mean being careless or fatalistic. It means being able to face new or unexpected situations with serenity. To achieve this, we can start by preparing ourselves physically. The oppressive force of impatience can sometimes literally make our stomach feel knotted. So, let us try, on a daily basis, to breathe more deeply and more slowly as soon as impatience begins to overcome us. Relaxing exercises (yoga, chi Kung, etc.) can help, as can outdoor walking or music-therapy that train the body and the mind to be more patient. Let us do things more slowly—we will break less china if we do the dishes more slowly. Let us breathe peacefully and relax our shoulders when standing in line or stuck in traffic jams, let us look around at the theatre of life and the variety of human faces that abound in creation. Let us pray.

Impatience makes us engage in things brutally, so let us learn to slow down, to observe and reflect instead. Let us be conscious of what every moment and every person can bring us! Let us take the time to assimilate things before moving on to something else! As Jean de La Fontaine puts it in the fable The lion and the rat:

“Patience and passage of time
Do more than strength and fury”.

Exercises

Take the time to do nothing—absolutely nothing. Meditate. Persevere in your moments of prayer. Just sit without watching TV, without reading, and without letting yourself immediately be swamped with anxious thoughts about all the things you should be doing. It can be hard for the first few minutes because this apparent non-activity will inevitably trigger your impatience, which will intensify once provoked! If you maintain your effort however, it will become less frequent and less intense. By practicing patience in trivial circumstances (on the phone, for example, when sent through an endless maze by a relentless automated voice telling you to “please press 1”, then “press 2”, etc.), you will develop resources that will enable you to be patient in more difficult and less anecdotal situations. You will soon feel soothed and when soothed, more prone to tolerance.

Tolerating others and the world around us, expanding our minds

“The more one’s mind expands, the more patient and tolerant one becomes.” Ostad Elahi’s words also refer to one of the pillars of his teaching, which is the observance of others’ rights. These rights are not limited to the legal sphere but also include their right to exist, to manifest themselves, to be the way they are. Everything that will help us welcome the world and others as they are will help us become more patient and fight against intolerance. Those who expand their minds become able to step back and to see the order and justice that rule this world. Tolerance and respect are key to help us do this work, and our daily lives are full of opportunities to practise.

Let us begin by taking the pace of others into account: when taking care of children or elderly people, we should try to adapt ourselves to their slow pace. Let us tolerate the wandering of a person ahead of us on the street, for we ourselves are wandering ahead of the person walking behind us, although we do not realise it. Impatient people cannot stand things being imperfect or limited and what is different from themselves. Becoming understanding is putting oneself in other people’s shoes and accepting imperfections, but it is also at times being able to reinterpret these things as differences that are learning opportunities. In all cases, we have to learn to interpose a moment to think between our impulses and our actions. Patience begins with this time we give ourselves in order not to react on the spur of the moment.

Our child spills a glass of water accidentally or starts day-dreaming instead of tying his shoelaces. That’s it, enough is enough! We explode. Irritated by the way a colleague works because he is so incredibly slow, we just cannot contain ourselves any more. We make a cutting remark and hurt his feelings. We will always find good reasons for our impatience, for those things that irritate us are certainly deficiencies as well as patent imperfections; they are objectively exasperating and even intolerable! A child must learn to pay attention. Our colleague should know how to do things efficiently… Obviously, when confronted with all this, we can try to reason ourselves into a more indulgent attitude so as to accept, despite our initial impulse, the limits and imperfections that bother us so much in others. We can do so by telling ourselves that these are objective factors that we cannot do anything about and that we will have to deal with. In other words, we can try to be more patient!

But we can do better still. We can objectively analyse our exasperated reaction and become aware that our first reaction might have been purely egoistic and triggered by the fact that our routine and comfort have been disrupted. My territory has been encroached on and my comfort zone overstepped; my time has been wasted and my plans have been upset… But in the end, is it all that bad? What can I learn from the situation? Isn’t there anything positive to be gained? A constructive lesson? These are indeed questions that will help us develop patience. That colleague might very well have good reasons to do things the way he does. And it might be an opportunity to put this useful maxim into practice: let us first see if the problem does not lie in ourselves.

Let us listen to others without interrupting them. Let us try to understand what they are telling us and why they are telling it to us. Let us try to find a positive aspect in the way our irritating colleague works. Let us try to find positive aspects in all these situations. Expanding our minds means increasing our ability to welcome and to learn more in fields that are new to us. Accepting imperfection in things and in people and then transforming this initial negative impression into true interest in others can result in increased empathy, consideration for others, and eventually love. We should come to love the reality around us in all its imperfection and with all its differences. But to love others, we must first come to love and tolerate ourselves.

Tolerating oneself. A step toward humility

The saying goes that the secret to happiness is expecting a lot from oneself and very little from others. This expectation should not however make us impatient to succeed and to be perfect, to the point of always taking a hard line and wanting to control everything. Being tolerant toward ourselves requires first of all seeing ourselves as we are, with all our imperfections and failures. Accepting our helplessness is a good step toward self-knowledge; it helps us see our weak points so that we may tackle them. Looking at ourselves, and at our own impatience and intolerance in particular, will also help us become more tolerant toward others and not always blame others or society when we are not able to reach our goals. What must be overcome is my own incapacity, rather than the imperfections of others. A good tool in this process is to work on self-effacement. For example, letting others express themselves before I start to speak, listening to their ideas and respecting them, keeping quiet.

Toward submission. Spirituality

From a spiritual perspective, the opposite of impatience translates in a mature behaviour and in a willingness to peacefully wait for destiny or God to intervene. Accepting that we do not hold the reins of our destiny and trusting the unknown of what will be, while relying on a superior guiding force that manages our lives… In the Bible, Ecclesiastes reminds us that “He has made everything beautiful in its time”, (3:11) and that “there will be a time for every activity, a time for every deed here” (3:17). Rather than storming head first, truly patient people will submit themselves. This kind of endurance is the fruit of a long and arduous process.

What does one gain from being patient?

We have already described the poisonous effects of impatient behaviours on the body and the mind. Obviously, being patient, relaxed, and submitting to the order of things can only be beneficial and positive. Patience enables us to take a step back from events and situations and to smile on the inside in the face of annoying circumstances. The result is greater clarity of thought and better behaviour; we become more serene and paradoxically have more energy. Patient people are more pleasant and their gentleness is appeasing. They are more tolerant and thus more loved.

Between patience and impatience. Finding the balance

As with everything, we must find the middle way. Ideally, impatience and patience should cohabit for a person to be complete and thriving. Or rather, patience should feed on impatience—one should draw from it what is good, in homeopathic doses. Can impatience be positive? Yes, if it is controlled, transformed into a spur, an impetus, something that urges us forward. There is nothing wrong, for instance, with politely requesting an answer for a job application when we have not heard back yet. It is a way of showing interest and following up, as long as we keep our impatience under control and avoid being demanding. In practice, the path to patience does not exclude impatience, which can be a dynamic force when kept in check.


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10 comments

  1. A. May 22, 2016 7:15 am 1

    Thank you for this great article. Reading it I realised that I could be more tolerant with my 77 years old mother who is a (recent) widow and also ill with a chronic form of cancer. She certainly deserves patience and compassion.

    Since this impatience manifests itself in my decreased level of attention to what she tells me – for instance I start surfing the internet while she talks to me over the phone – I could try to force myself to briefly summarise what she says, every time we speak. I did that yesterday with my wife and saw that she greatly appreciated it, because a good summary is a tangible proof of an effort to really pay attention. And, now that I come to think of it, some of my kids/children (another category of family members with whom my listening skills could be improved) could also benefit from my listen & summarise strategy.

    1. Aa May 24, 2016 3:55 pm 1.1

      What a great article. The idea of listening & summarizing is a great idea which I will be trying to implement for myself.

      Thank you

  2. Lisa May 22, 2016 8:37 am 2

    This is an excellent artice because it has really hit home for me. From the last article I realized that my interruptions in a conversation come from my impatience and in the past few weeks I have really tried to listen and not interrupt. I have realized that it might well be that I am right about somthing or that there is no need to beat around the bush and it is better to get to the point, but I must learn to accept others and be more observant and quiet.
    I love the practice of taking time to do nothing. This is almost impossible for me because I always think I must do something and I even expect this from others! I also have noticed that that my rushed and hectic behavior drives others crazy, so it’s really time for me to pull the breaks and learn to be more patient. Thank you for this great article.

  3. hms May 23, 2016 2:25 pm 3

    The idea of listening and not interrupting hit home with me the most. I am pretty aware of how much I interrupt my husband, and even if I do not interrupt verbally, my mind wanders off…

  4. yocto May 25, 2016 7:32 am 4

    “We have to learn to see ourselves from the outside.” One day, about a month ago, I was super annoyed by the way my boss was treating me. I perfectly remember where I was sitting, who was in the room, and how the emotions were moving from some unknown place within, crawling into my head and how fast it took over. Kind of like the shapeshifting android assassin in the movie Terminator. At that moment, I was me but I wasn’t. I was about to react quickly, show him: 1) I was annoyed, 2) his idea was stupid, 3) tell him something not only to relieve myself from the pain but also to bring him down (if I go down, you are going down with me), and more. All of these were in the works by this mercury-like dark-matter who had hijacked me and my brain. Seconds later, I tried very hard to see the whole situation as a scenario, and see myself, my boss, my colleague and the office from outside, a bit higher, from the ceiling. 20 seconds later, while my boss was still crushing me, I realized that it was a perfect moment for an in vivo exercise. I consciously tried to replicate the state I feel during my prayers. Really feel His presence. I knew that was the only way to push this thing out. 10 seconds later, my whole body and mind was filled with other types of emotions. First it felt like a healing breeze, then calmness, then my whole perspective changed and I saw everything from my boss’s eyes, his side of the story. And then, nothing mattered. Really in His presence nothing is impossible. 20 seconds later, I responded to my boss with a few respectful words (impossible for me). Everything remained the same, the room, the conversation, my colleague… but I was someone else. It was like a panacea. I was me, but me with a bit more knowledge. I really can’t explain it. It will sound cliche if I try to put it into words so I will leave it at that.

    1. Mini Jul 19, 2016 5:48 pm 4.1

      Thanks a lot for sharing your experience. It was inspiring and brought tears to my eyes. In vivo pracrice really makes you feel better, lighter and less in pain.

  5. H May 26, 2016 5:19 am 5

    There are a lot of practical examples given in this article that can be put into practice. I noticed a lot of them have to do with listening. There are so many opportunities within a day to work on impatience … this series on impatience has made me reflect on how impatient I can be. Thank you as always for such thought provoking, wonderfully written material.

  6. Juneone May 29, 2016 3:18 pm 6

    This has been a strong series. The first article lit up my mind. There are areas where I have been struggling for improvement and now I can see some of the causes. Thank you for this practical follow up, it’s a gift. I especially needed to be reminded about using body signals to trigger my practice.

  7. Linda Jun 04, 2016 4:05 pm 7

    Speaking of patience over the phone, I once told my sister: “your recording is too long, why don’t you shorten it to “please leave a message” (no need to say after the beep, everybody knows they have to hear the beep and then leave a message) or “go ahead” or something like that! No one wants to wait for 30 seconds to hear your name (caller id, hello! it’s the 21st century), number (they already dialed your number why do you feel the need to repeat it here?) and that your are away (obviously), and the reason that you are away (it doesn’t matter), and that you will return the call as soon as possible (define possible, it doesn’t help clarify when you will return the call)!

    1. Haleh Nov 04, 2016 3:52 am 7.1

      Linda, although your comments indicated some impatience, they were all logical. I will definitely do this from now on 🙂

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