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5 Practical Activities for Exercising Your Patience

Hurry Up and Be Patient

I don't think of myself as a patient person. When I am driving it takes very little delay, whether red lights or the speed of other drivers, to really get my blood boiling. However, in different contexts I have been told I am patient and have had people ask me how I can be so patient. My secret, if you can call it that, is to practice being patient in easy ways so that when I really need to be patient in tougher situations it is second nature, or at the very least, less difficult.

Impatience can be costly in every aspect of life. Rushing in can cause your code to be full of bugs, your relationships to burn too hot and flame out, your finances to evaporate, and your mode of transportation to crash. The most obvious benefit of patience is the avoidance of all those negative consequences, but usually patience also comes with peace-of-mind and some amount of serenity even when things are not that way around you.

Timing is Everything

In some cases we need patience to endure; in other cases we need patience to appropriately react. Consider two very different situations:

  • Sitting on a tractor in the middle of hundreds of acres of alfalfa with nothing but your thoughts and the job at hand to pass the time; you could anxiously await the end of the work or take the time to observe, ponder, or maybe just sing a song to yourself.
  • You're the coach of a baseball team with nine players aged from four to seven who are all hot, thirsty, needing to go to the bathroom, and moving like electrons while you try to get them to play the game properly; you could be that person (you know, the one in the news) and let your temper get the best of you or you can yell out positive and corrective instructions repeatedly without ceasing and "praise a good effort, despite the outcome of the game".

In both scenarios patience leads to an arguably better outcome. The expression of that patience is different. One is passive engagement within the constraints of a circumstance, and the other is active engagement to change the circumstance.

Ridiculously Impatient

I watched in stunned silence one morning recently on my drive to work as two lanes merged to one and two drivers in front of me were so impatient that neither would concede space to the other even though traffic at the time was plodding along no faster than 10 miles per hour. It ended in a literal slow-motion bump of the cars, which meant both drivers had to pull over and spend time dealing with something that a little patience by just one of them would've prevented.

Do you even wait, bro?

Building up our ability to be patient is no different than exercising our bodies to gain strength or stamina. In the same way you start with less weight or less time and build them up over time; you can do the same thing with purposeful acts of patience to build up your tolerance for larger efforts.

5 Practical Patience-building Activities

  1. Lines/Queues - Let someone in front of you for a completely arbitrary and unselfish reason. This could be waiting to order a meal, at the grocery store, even just holding a door open. I did this while waiting to submit my information for a passport and ended up having a delightful conversation with a woman about her godchildren while the postal service worker was looking for her mail. The reason I gave was, "This stuff will probably take a while." Continue to find ways to increase the number of people or the frequency at which you do this when you've found it easier

  2. Traffic - similar to lines, but without the potential for interpersonal interaction or much thanks. This is nuanced, because you have to balance slowing traffic behind you with allowing someone to come in. Typically it doesn't make sense to let a whole line of traffic in, so one or two cars is probably the max unless there is some reason to allow more. The big thing to remember is what does and doesn't save you time. Keep speed in perspective, because if you're going to gain a measly five miles per hour for a trivial amount of time you really didn't get much benefit. If traffic in front of you is stopped, or the person has been waiting as long as you then you won't be saving any time by not letting them in. Big rig semi-trailer trucks are an easy win here; let them in, and don't be angry when they don't accelerate as fast as you would like to.

  3. Children - On the surface, what appears to be a heightened level of impatience is usually just a more rapid perception of time than you are used to. Holding the attention of a young person for five minutes feels like an eternity to them. However, on the other end of that, sometimes talking with a young person for an extended period of time can seem like an eternity when they rail through their opinion, what they ate, and how their dog likes to chew on sticks within 30 seconds. Try carrying on a relatively meaningful (to them) conversation with a child. Obviously this comes with some caution as you can't just go hitting up the nearest child with conversation, but use your best judgment. This one really builds up tolerance for long corporate meetings, by the way.

  4. Lead/Coach/Teach - Nothing can be more fulfilling and also more disheartening than being a coach, a teacher, or a leader; taking responsibility for the performance of others is a huge task. If you have skills, abilities, or just time that you can share or pass on to others, seek out opportunities to do so no matter how inconsequential they may seem. There will be frustration, but if you work through it with positive, corrective feedback rather than anger and disappointment it will enrich you and those in your charge. Be strategic and calculated in how you respond. There are huge patience gains to be had if you can combine leadership or instruction with children; coach a youth sports team or teach a short class on a skill and you'll find that coming out the other side you will see a lot of other situations as pretty trivial by comparison.

  5. Early-ness - Do things with a mind to being early when possible; the result is time to spend on things you probably wouldn't spend time on otherwise: thinking, observing details, watching people, enjoying a few moments of life with no specific course of action required. We don't do these types of things enough. We fill our schedules up with ease but we often neglect to have some time to do whatever we want. Examples: get to a doctor's appointment early, wake up early, get to dinner reservations early, finish (or just stop) a task early.

Patience for fun and profit

Hopefully you can adjust these tips to your context. More patience in the world will always be a good thing, so if you have other tips or tricks to pass on I would love to hear them. I'd also love to hear about complete failures and breakdowns where impatience was clearly not a winning decision.

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