How to be Patient

Staying Calm Under Pressure

Find out how to be more patient, in work and at home.

© iStockphoto/shapecharge

The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it open. – Arnold Glasgow, American humorist

Here's the problem: you're waiting for someone to finish compiling a report that you need for a meeting. Because of an issue that came up, you're already 15 minutes late.

You can feel your body getting tense, and you're getting quite cross. You start sweating, and suddenly you yell at the person for being slow and putting you behind schedule. You can tell she's hurt, but you can't help it. She's making you late!

Does this sound familiar? Many of us are impatient at times. Losing control of our patience hurts not only us, but those around us. Impatience raises our stress level and can even cause physical harm to our bodies. Being impatient can also damage relationships.

In this article, we'll examine strategies that you can use to be more patient.

Why Practice Patience?

Others often see impatient people as arrogant, insensitive, and impulsive. They can be viewed as poor decision makers, because they make quick judgments or interrupt people. Some people will even avoid impatient people, because of their poor people skills and bad tempers.

People with these personality traits are unlikely to be at the top of the list for promotions to leadership positions. Impatience can even affect relationships at home.

The more patient you are with others, the likelier you are to be viewed positively by your peers and your managers, not to mention your family and friends.

Signs of Impatience

How do you know when you're being impatient? You will probably experience one of more of the following symptoms:

  • Shallow breathing (short breaths).
  • Muscle tension.
  • Hand clenching/tightening.
  • Jiggling/restless feet.
  • Irritability/anger.
  • Anxiety/nervousness.
  • Rushing.
  • Snap/quick decisions.

Finding Your Causes

If you experience the symptoms of impatience, your next step is to discover the true cause. Many of us have "triggers." These could be people, phrases, or specific situations (like rush-hour traffic) that regularly cause us to enter an impatient frame of mind.

Make a list of things that cause you to become impatient. If you're having trouble identifying your triggers, use these tips:

  • Stop and think about the last time you were impatient. What caused it? You can narrow this down to the root cause by using the 5 Whys   technique.
  • Ask your family, friends, and co-workers about your impatience. Chances are that they know what gets you "wound up".
  • Many people become impatient due to physical factors such as hunger, dehydration, or fatigue. Analyze your body the next time you start to feel impatient. A simple remedy might be a snack and a glass of water!
  • Keep a journal with you to record when you start to feel impatient. Write down what the situation is, and why you're getting frustrated.

Identifying your triggers helps because it forces you to examine your actions and uncover why you're doing what you're doing. This knowledge also helps you devise strategies to avoid becoming impatient.

Of course, it would be great if you could avoid the triggers that make you impatient. But for most of us, that's just not possible. So you have to learn to manage impatience instead.

Managing the Symptoms

When you feel impatient, it's important to get out of this frame of mind as quickly as possible. Try these strategies:

  • Take deep, slow breaths, and count to 10. Doing this helps slow your heart rate, relaxes your body, and distances you emotionally from the situation. If you're feeling really impatient, you might need to do a longer count, or do this several times.
  • Impatience can cause you to tense your muscles involuntarily. So, consciously focus on relaxing your body  . Again, take slow, deep breaths. Relax your muscles, from your toes up to the top of your head.
  • Learn to manage your emotions  . Remember, you have a choice in how you react in every situation. You can choose to be patient, or choose not to be: it's all up to you.
  • Force yourself to slow down. Make yourself speak and move more slowly. It will appear to others as if you're calm – and, by "acting" patient, you can often "feel" more patient.
  • Practice active listening   and empathic listening  . Make sure you give other people your full attention, and patiently plan your response to what they say.
  • Remind yourself that your impatience rarely gets others to move faster – in fact, it can interfere with other people's ability to perform complex or highly-skilled work. All you're doing is creating more stress, which is completely unproductive.
  • Try to talk yourself out of your impatient frame of mind. Remind yourself how silly it is that you're reacting this way. People often don't mind if a meeting is delayed, just as long as you let them know that you're running late in advance.
  • If your impatience causes you to react in anger toward others, use anger management techniques   to calm down.
  • Some people become impatient because they're perfectionists. However, in addition to causing impatience, perfectionism can actually slow productivity and increase stress. Learn how to stop being a perfectionist with our Coaching Clinic I'm a Perfectionist!

Remember that, although many people are naturally patient, the rest of us need to practice patience for it to become a habit. Becoming more patient won't happen overnight, but do persist – it's so important!

Key Points

Many of us struggle with impatience. But if we want healthy work relationships and a successful career, then we need to spend time making patience a habit.

Start by identifying your triggers. Often a specific person or situation can immediately cause you to become impatient. When you identify the specific causes, you're better able to discover why it's happening. You can then use strategies to overcome your impatience.

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Comments (11)
  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Some_guy,
    I would NOT say you were impatient with a situation of the colleague not doing their job properly and costing the team and company time and money.

    I would say that it is the manager's responsibility (are you their manager?) to take responsibility for this individual and put them on some sort of 'performance improvement' measures. Failure to perform their job at the expected level will result in serious consequences like disciplinary action and/or dismissal. If you are part of the team, then I would raise this issue with your manager and impress upon them the effect this employee and their poor performance is having on you.

    Do you think that is a possibility in your case of talking to the manager or getting this poor performer onto some sort of disciplinary / performance management?
  • some_guy wrote Over a month ago
    I don't think that impatience is necessarily a bad thing. It depends. Everything in moderation. If people are allowed to be completely incompetent and disregard rules and deadlines with the "oops, my bad" how do you know when it was a legitimate mistake or shortcoming they could do nothing about or that they are gaming the system and don't want to step up to the plate to do their fair share for the team?

    I've watched one of my co-workers be incompetent for almost two years letting our team down in a lot of ways causing our company to lose money and when I looked at what he was doing, it turned out that many of the solutions were simple but he was not willing to collaborate with the team for the benefit of the whole team. He was being selfish and only considering his own self interest.

    I tactfully started exposing his incompetence to the rest of the team to expose his faults in hopes that he would respond by improving since he doesn't take any sort of constructive criticism of any other sort. Does that make me impatient? Am I wrong for doing that? I'm concerned for the team.
  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Janet,
    Indeed everyone is motivated by different things and not everyone is motivated by the thought that it 'hurts their relationships and makes other people perceive them poorly', because they might not care what others think of them!

    Viewing this differently, as you point out like 'impatience is usually counterproductive', might well do the trick to motivate someone to make changes.

    This is similar to helping someone with weight loss and whether they are motivated by the benefits they will gain when they achieve their ideal weight versus moving away from an uncomfortable weight situation.

    Overall, it is looking at the benefits and costs, the pros and cons, the pleasure and pain to determine which trigger will motivate an individual the most to make change.

    Thanks for reminding us all to look at ourselves differently to determine what will be the key for us to make a difference!

  • ak2uk wrote Over a month ago
    Good article, but it doesn't necessarily follow that you can motivate someone to be more patient by saying that it hurts their relationships and makes other people perceive them poorly. That depends upon how they look at life -- NLP's metaprogrammes. They might be more motivated to learn patience by realizing that impatience is usally counterproductive.

    Just a thought.
  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Avishek,
    I think the key for many of us is actually stopping long enough to ask ourselves the question!!

    When we're caught up in a stressful situation, we become engulfed in it all that it can be difficult for us to remove ourselves (physically or just mentally) and ask ourselves how we can handle the situation more effectively.

    Yet, when we do pause momentarily and ask what we can do differently, we more often than not come up with answers that help us!

  • avishek wrote Over a month ago
    A very useful article, i like the idea of talking to oneself during such times and shallow breathing. It has really helped me in the past, especially during tough times, when i have asked myself how can i handle this situation better, inevitably most of the times i have reacted better than i would if i didn't ask the question . thanks a lot for all the suggestions in this discussion.


  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    No, the sky won't fall on my head if I'm five minutes behind !!

    Why is it that often we get so caught up in the 'busy-ness' of life that we can get ourselves quite stressed to get everything done, and get it done on time?!?

    By actually slowing ourselves down, we do achieve more because we become more effective and efficient.

    I come from a running background (have done a few marathons) and yet when my stress levels get really high and I feel like all I'm doing it running in my life, I actually STOP the running as exercise, and take walks or do yoga as exercise. The fact that I'm shifting the pace of my exercise actually helps me to shift the pace of how I'm leading my life!

  • Yolande wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Midgie

    I'm glad that you mentioned that by physically calming yourself down you find that you become a bit more patient - I have found exactly the same. I can get extremely hurried and I will also literally run around between places and almost run with my shopping trolley etc. - but then I also tend to get very impatient, even with myself. Just slowing down a little helps me to be more patient. I also need to tell myself that the sky won't fall on my head if I'm five minutes behind schedule...everything is still fine!

  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    This is a great tool with great suggestions on how to help yourself become more patient.

    My favorites are taking 10 slow breaths and actually slowing yourself down.

    Being patient is not one of my strong points ... yet, when I become aware that I'm being impatient (and sometimes a bit to sharp with others), by consciously taking 10 slow breaths helps to slow me down, center me and ground me. After than I am able to more easily and clearly see the next steps and the best course of action.

    Additionally, by physically slowing myself down (rather than almost literally running between things) takes the edge of the impatience!

    Definitely worth a try the next time you find yourself getting impatient with things.

  • bigk wrote Over a month ago

    A very interesting article.
    Patience needs to be used in more than the obvious situations like helping advise on doing a task or to evaluate a task or a request to help someone get the skills needed to provide the information or item requested.
    Having patience is always a useful skill, using it is a better skill to achieve.

    There are many times when patience needs to be used especially when you have not recognized your own impatience can cause a few issues.

    Perhaps the reminder is using patience needs objectivity or needs confidence to be able to take decisions based on giving or allowing enough time for a colleague to complete the work you require or to get their input.

    Interesting reading...

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