Patience is a virtue I haven't possessed much of throughout my life. I want what I want, and I want it NOW. When my bank account balance isn't as high as I want it to be, I want more money immediately. When I'm sick, I desperately want to be healthy. When I'm confused about what to do next, I achingly long for clarity. When I'm in the midst of any struggle, I just want it to end so I can move on.
But my perspective on patience is shifting. Not long ago, I was in a very low place. I'd started a business that withered on the vine. I had all sorts of hang-ups about my own ability to achieve success. I measured my worth by dollar signs and outward recognition, and when I saw neither, I deemed myself a failure. I was miserable pretty much all of the time.
Fast-forward to now, and my life has changed completely. I wrote a book about joy, examining that holy grail of inner peace from both a scientific and a spiritual perspective. I let go of planning what would happen next in my life (that wasn't working out so well anyway) and simply focused on feeling good.
Was I impatient to move on? Absolutely. But I allowed my impatience to take a back seat to my enjoyment of the moment, a shift I'd never been able to make before. And the results were better than anything I could have planned.
Now I am a mindfulness teacher to elementary school students, a privilege that opens my heart and expands my faith in the future every day. I also get paid to write, something I've done for pleasure since I was 5 years old but hadn’t realized could be my livelihood. And most importantly, I've learned how to quiet the incessant nagging of impatience when it rears its head.
I'm not going to lie; this still doesn't come easily for me. But the more I practice, the more I'm training my brain to chill out. Here's how:
1. Practice gratitude.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: One of the fastest ways to feel better about where you are in this current moment is to take stock of all of the things you have to be grateful for. The simple facts that you are breathing, have probably eaten in the last 24 hours, and can read these words tell me that you already have a lot to thank your lucky stars for.
Side note: This is not the time to notice the things you don't have (i.e., "I'm grateful for my cozy home, but I want a bigger house!"). Gratitude activates a cascade of benefits in your brain, but you have to keep it positive for this to work.
2. Take deep breaths.
Impatience can feel like stress. Focusing on what you don’t yet have can cause your amygdala to activate, sounding the alarm in your brain and blocking your prefrontal cortex from making clear decisions. Luckily, the amygdala is soothed with oxygen, and deep breaths often do the trick.
Can’t bear not knowing when you’re going to get that new job, or meet the love of your life? When you catch yourself stressing out about these things, take several slow, deep breaths. You’ll be surprised at how doing something so simple can make you feel so much better.
3. Call out impatience.
Think of your impatience as that annoying person talking loudly in the movie theater while you're trying to enjoy the show. When it starts to rant, tell it, "Hey, I'm in the midst of experiencing my life unfolding magically right now. Do you mind keeping it down?"
Our minds are wired for certain repetitive thoughts, simply because they’ve become habitual. But these thought patterns can be changed with practice. Each time you find yourself thinking thoughts of impatience, replace them with a new mantra, something like: "Everything is unfolding perfectly for me." Or "I trust the process of life."
4. Take action.
Sometimes you feel lost, stuck, or worse, and really don't know what to do. In those times, it’s best just to do something that feels good. Take a bath, go for a run, put on some uplifting music and dance around in your underwear. Whatever it takes. At other times, there are logical steps you can take to help alleviate the situation you’re in. Take them, and pat yourself on the back for moving forward.
But sometimes you have a sudden burst of inspiration of some specific action to take. It feels compelling but may not always make sense. When that flash comes to you, follow it! Don't wait, don't second-guess yourself; take the impulse and run with it—and trust that it's leading you somewhere exciting.
5. Look for clues.
When you let go of control, even a bit, and let your life reveal the plan to you, signs will start to appear. They might be subtle, like running into an old friend, seeing a quote that catches your eye on Facebook, or having an idea pop into your head—but these are life sending you clues. And like a detective, your job is to follow those clues and see where they lead.
A chance conversation could result in a dream job offer. A craving for coffee could lead you to meet your future husband in the coffee shop. You get the idea. Pay attention and follow the signs, with faith that they won’t steer you in the wrong direction.
6. Think of it as an adventure.
If you ever saw the film Life Is Beautiful, or read Viktor Frankl’s incredible book Man's Search for Meaning, you know that it’s possible, even in the most horrific conditions of a concentration camp, to keep a positive attitude. No matter what happens to you, your attitude is always your choice. So why not choose to think of your experience as an adventure rather than a struggle?
Not enough money in the bank to pay your bills this month? You could think, "OK, this ought to be fun—let’s see how this challenge gets solved creatively." It may not be easy to shift your perspective, but it’s always possible.
7. Slow down.
When I look back at my journey over the past several years, as hard as it was at times, I wouldn't change a thing. If I’d snapped my fingers and jumped forward in time to where I am now, I would have missed out on so many lessons and so much growth along the way.
Life isn’t a race; it’s a journey to be experienced fully—with all of its ups, downs, messiness, and downright scary shit. And all of it is valuable. All of it makes us who we are. Experiencing what we don’t want helps us become even clearer about what we do want.
So be patient when you can, and when you can’t, just take a deep breath.