Can one practise to be patient?
June 9, 2021 8:40 AM   Subscribe

I'm currently dealing with a situation that will go slowly, and forcing the pace would actively make matters worse. I know this. Yet, I am feeling impatient and tetchy and frustrated. This keeps happening over and over, probably fueled in part by anxiety (in therapy for it) and a stressful life that doesn't have a lot of free time, so go-go-go seems to be my default option. If you were someone like me and you've actively learned to be patient, or least not be accepting that everything can be on your schedule...tell me how, please.
posted by Nieshka to Grab Bag (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I mean, I hate to sound like That Person, but have you tried meditation?
posted by DarlingBri at 8:47 AM on June 9, 2021 [6 favorites]

Distracting yourself with something else, if you can.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:50 AM on June 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Meditation IS the answer. Give yourself daily 15 minutes where ALL you do is think about this situation in meditative fashion. That means: don't be judgmental. Listen to what is alarming you about the situation and see if you can file it into different emotions : "impatience... fear... uncomfortable... guilty for feeling impatient.... " and each time a new thing "about" the situation pops into your head, you look at what that thing is, see it, and move on to the next thing.

Just keep doing this in a focused way for 15 min. You think it will be easy because this situation is probably consuming a ton of your time. From now, going forward, tell yourself you can put off your current rumination in favor of focused nonjudgmental "meditation" at a daily time. Make it a routine. Within 3-7 days you'll feel WAY better about a LOT of things. Trust!
posted by Dressed to Kill at 8:55 AM on June 9, 2021

Yeah I am also a meditator and it's not that the meditation itself will always instill a sense of calm in you (I mean it might but...) but one of the things it did help me with was patience. Like learning to put some space, maybe just a little, between your feeling of anxious wanting/needing to do something, and the actual action of doing a thing. There are other ways to get there but meditation practice helped me a lot. I used Headspace to get me started and then just used some of the free guided meditations with insight timer.

I did a few other things that are helpful. One of which was having a "screen buffer" in the morning and evening. So like I don't get online for 45 minutes after I wake up and I get offline for at least 45 minutes before I go to sleep. Usually I read during that time but I can also catch up on household tasks or do other things. After a while it became clear that things like "Hcecking email FIRST THING" were optional and a thing I was doing to myself not a necessary part of being a human, even being a human living my life.

Other things like being deliberate when you do things like eating or showering and not trying to multitask through everything have been good for me. Like a few years ago I had a resolution that was "Watch more TV" where I'd just watch a show and not be on my phone, todying my house, whatever the tasks were, I'd just sit and watch and not do three things at once.

Make time for exercise. Multitask through this if you need to (listen to podcasts and go for a walk) but getting outside or somewhere where you can move around is also helpful to detatching from the hamster ball of Shit To Do.

This is all hard, and I don't love all of it, but it's really returned dividends in terms of being able to sleep better and more appropriately prioritize me vs all the other things in my life that needs some of my attention and/or time.
posted by jessamyn at 9:02 AM on June 9, 2021 [10 favorites]

Oh! and if you need something to incentivize you to meditate (I do sometimes) you can do it while you're wearing a face mask, or while you're soaking in the bathtub, or while you're waiting for nail polish to dry, or while you have fries in the oven. Sometimes I need that extra "anchor" to get myself to sit and focus on my issues. Makes it easier to fold the practice of meditation into my day.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 9:02 AM on June 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: When I attempt to meditate (except the relaxation exercise at night, which does work most days), my brain does this squirrelly thing where it'll start thinking of all the things I could do instead of meditating. Sigh.
posted by Nieshka at 9:09 AM on June 9, 2021

When I attempt to meditate (except the relaxation exercise at night, which does work most days), my brain does this squirrelly thing where it'll start thinking of all the things I could do instead of meditating. Sigh.

Honestly this is exactly what is supposed to happen! So what you do, is just as soon as your "monkey brain" wanders off, you NONJUDGMENTALLY say, "oops, come on back" and start again.

The practice of doing this IS what gives you the non-reactivity, the patience and the self-soothing you will use OUTSIDE of meditation.

meditation is never perfect - it's always practice. Practicing will make you stronger and better, even though you many never completely quiet the "monkey brain" that wants to wander off and do their thing.

Just when you realize your mind has wandered, you know the practice is working, and you can just head on back to the meditation. No judgment.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 9:11 AM on June 9, 2021 [16 favorites]

I'm pretty sure that brain thing is called Everyone's Brain Thing. Pop culture and some of the negative aspects of That Person Energy can false-impression overstate the moment-to-moment goodness of meditation practices, when mostly it's going to be your mind racing in fifteen different directions at once, throwing every psychosomatic-itch switch the bored neural homunculi can reach, adjusting up the gains on the sore-legs part of the sensory equalizer amp, etc.

But it's still a pretty useful tool in the cognitive kit! I've often described it to others as a kind of stretching exercise, involving safely extending into and holding a kind of controlled minor-dissociation (at least in the common 'mindfulness' forms of it)--with the focus of simply observing the brain-gerbils tearing ass around the metaphorical wheels and tubes, instead of identifying as them. It's not about always being that way by any measure, but it's about being able to be that way, building up the cognitive "muscles" and strength and flexibility to do so during stressful, impatient, etc times.
posted by Drastic at 9:16 AM on June 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

My husband learned this, and he did it through meditation (using the headspace app), therapy, and a book called Mind over Mood. He is the Poster Child for these things, in that his attitude, patience, and empathy have improved so greatly that he is a wholly unrecognizable person from when he started these things four or so years ago.
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:25 AM on June 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

A friend of mine has to spend a lot of time in line, and that’s why she started playing Pokémon go. Because I’m in Al Anon, I spend a lot of time reciting the serenity prayer even though I am a cranky atheist. Because it reminds me that I am not fucking in charge and I just need to accept that. Stressing over shit that I cannot change is both ineffective and actively harmful. So I try to practice being mindful and in the moment and grounded in my body and also use self talk to bring me back to reality. “I am merely uncomfortable, waiting is not going to kill me but stressing might.” Also, distraction.
posted by Bella Donna at 9:26 AM on June 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding what Dressed to Kill says about the squirrelly "oh i could be doing all these other things instead of meditating". That is what people who meditate often refer to as "Monkey brain", and it is always with you - in fact, it is the thing that might deep down be pushing you to be go-go-go al the time, and it's just louder when you meditate because it's freaking out.

Instead of comparing it to squirrels or monkeys, I use little kids as an analogy to describe how to handle it. Sometimes, if a little kid is playing in a playground, and their mother is off to one side, the kid will often call over to their mom "Watch me!" when they're doing something - "mom! Look how high I can swing!" "Mom! Look how hard I can see-saw!" "Mom! Watch me!" Now, suppose that the kid's mom is reading a book or doing something else, and doesn't respond. That just makes the kid double down: "Mom! Look how high I can swing! Mom! MOM! MOOOOOOOM!!!!!" And the kid just gets louder and louder until Mom responds.

Now, some parents react to this by yelling at the kid to stop bothering them, but it doesn't work - the kid will just double down and keep trying. And other parents react by dropping everything they're doing and responding to effusively to each thing the kid does ("wow, Presley, you're swinging so high!"). Which - well, the kid gets acknowledgement, but this isn't fair to the parent. But here's the trick - when the parents just react by looking up briefly and saying "yes, I see you" and then going back to what they were doing, that's enough for the kid. They just wanted to know Mom saw them, and then two seconds later they're back to what they were doing and Mom's back to what she's doing.

Those thoughts are like those little kids at the playground. They just want you to acknowledge they exist. If you ignore them, they'll pipe up louder and louder until you acknowledge them. If you try to tell them to go away they'll double down. If you react to them by saying "yes by all means let's go wash the dishes instead of meditating" or whatever, that's not fair to you. But if all you do is, as you're meditating, and a thought pops up like "Augggh I should be doing dishes or vacuuming," if you react to that by just thinking "yes, we should, I'll do that when I'm done," it'll be like the little kid saying "Mom watch me swing!" and the mom saying "yes, I see you" and then going back to her book. Those thoughts, as soon as you acknowledge them, will let go of you and let you get back to your meditation.

And, yeah, I hear you on the "wanting to jump ahead to actively DO SOMETHING NOW" thing, I get that too. It is literally happening with me right now - I just learned I am going to have to move in a couple months (when I wasn't planning on it), and I got into a bit of panic mode like "MUST GO ON ZILLOW AND CRAIGSLIST AND STREETEASY", and kept visiting them again and again in case something new had been posted in the last hour since I checked - but sometime this morning I made myself stop and do something else instead for a while, and whenever those thoughts came in all "but THE APARTMENT HUNT" I would remind myself I could get to that when I was done, really helped. That's the kind of mental reaction that meditating can help you build up. You may not ever be 100% free of mental trouble forever and ever, but this is indeed a good way to learn how to cope and manage.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:42 AM on June 9, 2021 [18 favorites]

If it's something that is on a timeline of weeks or days or months (which is what your question suggests to me), here's a tactic that has helped me. I have anxiety and while not necessarily go-go-go, when things are wrong, I tend to want answers and things resolved, and when I can't, I obsess and worry over them mentally. So this is a part of what has helped me box it and set it aside, if that makes sense.

If there's something that I need to check on, and I know there really isn't a point in checking on it until at least X date, I will put it in my calendar with a reminder for THAT future date. The soonest it's reasonable to check on it. If say, it's going to be sometime between 6-10 weeks from now, I'll set a reminder for 6 weeks, then 7, then 8, then 0, then 10 - and those are the ONLY times I'm supposed to check on it. Obsessive daily checking on it before six weeks is pointless, but another one of the reasons I obsess like that is because I'm afraid I'll forget. Setting the reminder gives me permission to forget, and compartmentalize it over there in a storage box.

I don't know if I'm explaining this very well. Basically, I try to hold so many things in my head as "active" that I lose some - and I know this about myself - and I don't want to lose them, even temporarily. I want to be able to deal with them as soon as realistically possible, or hit the optimal time for them, or a due date, whatever applies in the particular situation. And I can't mentally hold them all - but for some reason, my default is to try to. So I have to consciously, mindfully, use calendars or reminders or lists or something, depending on what it is, to know that something else is keeping track of it for me, so I can relax on THAT ITEM, and let it fall into my subconscious mind instead of what I'm actively holding. Once I got back into the habit of doing that with enough things, it was much easier to find calm and relax, because I wasn't trying to mentally do everything (even the stuff that didn't need to or couldn't be done) now, all at once.

As a result, there's been a benefit that seems counter-intuitive; I'm actually MORE productive, rather than less, because I'm a lot less distracted by all that mental clutter when I'm working on something. Focus comes easier. And creativity has been able to happen again.

Granted, I'm still not quite satisfied I've found the best tool(s) for the job. I'm constantly fiddling with new task manager apps, and have resorted to physical and digital sticky notes (right on my desktop), along with paper lists, because those seem to be the most effective for me. I need to SEE them. I really wish I had the skill to create apps, because I have a really good idea of the way I want a task app/organizer to work that would be optimal for me, and NO ONE SEEMS TO MAKE ONE LIKE IT. (At this rate, I'm going to give in and learn, just to satisfy my own life organizer desires. For all the time I've spent trying other apps, it might have been a better use of my time in the first place, now that I think about it.)
posted by stormyteal at 10:00 AM on June 9, 2021 [4 favorites]

Are you impatient with processes or with people? I've generally been good with complex processes as long as I have an understanding of why they are what they are and I can visualize the steps that are happening and how each one of those steps is going to take its own time. If it's something I'm working on myself, like a big project, dividing it into smaller tasks and being able to check the smaller tasks off also helps me recognize that progress is happening, even if the whole big thing doesn't seem to be moving at that scale.

People, on the other hand, took conscious effort for me. The first thing I had to do was understand that being more patient with people wasn't just a thing I could wish away or learn once and be done with it (the way I learn about things, like math or software or languages, or whatever). Whenever I start to feel impatient with a person I first remind myself that person isn't the same as me. They have different needs, different strengths, different expectations. Then I can think about how my understanding of where they're coming from might be helpful for them, and I can focus on making sure they feel like I'm seeing and hearing them for who they are. Basically I'm using my own impatience to push me to be more empathetic as a potential solution for the thing I'm impatient about. It still doesn't always work, but I am so much more empathetic and less judgmental than I used to be.
posted by fedward at 10:15 AM on June 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

This might not work for everyone (especially now during a pandemic), but I found that dancing as a follow in a partner dance forced me stop and wait for the leader to lead the next move. I had to practice being present while waiting for the next thing to happen. I found dancing to be a sort of moving meditation.
posted by Maeve at 10:24 AM on June 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Meditation has been well covered above. A self-management/regulation technique I use that could be helpful is the brain dump. It sounds like you have too many things in your head right now and it's making it hard to even start doing the longer term self-work like meditation. A thing you can do right now that might help is grab a few pieces of paper, find a quiet spot and set a timer for 15 minutes and write down *everything* that you have in your brain's to do list. This can be "at some point in the next three months I really need to make a follow up appointment re: Big Thing" to "out of eggs" to "I should go for a walk". Get it ALL down. This usually takes me about half an hour.

Then you can do a few things with the list; one option is just crumple it up and throw it away because it's really more about writing it all down than actioning, but if you do have things you need to action, put them on your calendar for when you need to do them. Then you don't think "in two weeks I need to do this, in thirteen days I need to do this, in twelve days I need to do this", you can not think about it until the date it needs doing. I'd also highly recommend crossing out all or most of the "I shoulds" if your life is as busy and stressful as it sounds right now. "I should" usually means the motivation is external and it doesn't actually *need* doing.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 10:27 AM on June 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Meditation sure is a great idea but I am someone for whom meditation has never worked for the same reasons as it has not worked for you. I keep thinking of lists of things I'd rather be doing, essays I'd rather be writing, things to do with the kids this weekend, etc.

Mindfulness is what did work for me. People talk about it like it's the same thing as meditation but it's not! Mindfulness is an instantaneous skill that requires no special effort or extra time.

Mindfulness means becoming aware of what you are doing/feeling/experiencing in the moment that you are doing/feeling/experiencing it. It sounds like you're already there? or at least almost there? that you catch yourself feeling impatient and antsy, and behaving in impatient or antsy ways, while you are doing it. Right? You're already observing yourself?

Hone that skill.

Each time you catch yourself, say to yourself, "Aha. I'm doing The Thing! I get one point for noticing." Maybe even make a game of it, see how many points you can score in a week. The idea is, when you develop a greater moment-to-moment awareness of when you're stuck in anxiety thought-loops (i.e. mindfulness), you become capable of consciously breaking out of those loops.

Mindfulness is 95% of the solution. The other 5% is to choose an action that will kick in like an automatic protocol every time you catch yourself doing The Thing, i.e. every time you score a point: something that will help you shift completely away from the anxiety thought-loop you've observed yourself being stuck in. Examples:

- drop down and do three push-ups
- drink a glass of water
- close your eyes and take six slow, deep breaths
- identify five colors you can see right now, four sounds you hear, three things you feel on your skin or in your body, two things you can smell, one thing you can taste
- sing the national anthem (or some other favorite song) in your head

Some people like to wear a rubber band around their wrist and snap themselves every time they catch themselves doing The Thing. IDK about you but that sounds like training a cat, it's punishment! I like it when I reward myself instead by doing something that's actually good for me. Kills two birds with one stone when I'm trying to cultivate a different habit like drinking water or exercising more. It's always more effective to substitute a new good habit for an old bad one, rather than simply trying to stop the bad habit.
posted by MiraK at 10:32 AM on June 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

Yoga. Also, consider reframing waiting so it is a task and has a more concrete end point (i.e. I am going to wait two weeks and then email X about Y).
posted by ASlackerPestersMums at 10:33 AM on June 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

(I can’t meditate unless I’m swimming)

For me it’s about framing. Frustration with obstacles is totally normal but it’s important to stay strategic. So it’s about profoundly accepting that this is the situation. These are the obstacles. You can’t do anything about the things you can’t do anything about. So, you stop fighting them. You focus on what’s under your control.

Maybe also, you think of what the worst case scenarios would be, and think through how you would cope with those.

(If this is a health related issue, I think things are a bit different. Can you share if it’s that, or work-related, just the general theme?)
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:52 AM on June 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

One way to practice patience is to notice moments where you already wait. This could be waiting for a website to load, waiting for an elevator, waiting for the bus, waiting for a doc appointment. Noticing is a big step. Then, once you notice, experiment with what you do in that waiting space. Try to be curious instead of judgmental, if possible.

I also find freewriting where every sentence begins with "I am waiting for..." a way to understand where patience is already happening in my life.
posted by 10ch at 11:57 AM on June 9, 2021

Response by poster: It's not a health related issue - the current trigger is minor in the larger scheme of things; this happens to be a habit (impatience couple with irritable perfectionism) that makes a lot of stuff in my life harder than it needs to be, and learning to be more chill in my approach would be generally helpful, methinks.
Thank you so much for all the suggestions so far! I'll keep meditation (or at least mindfulness) another whirl.
posted by Nieshka at 12:16 PM on June 9, 2021

I am going to go against the meditation stream here and suggest a different approach that doesn't involve cultivating patience at all.

Since you are highly organized and prone to get things done, why not reframe this situation in the context of project management? Projects involve multiple stakeholders with different priorities. Your task/project timeline currently has a dependency--waiting for this Situation to unfold.

That's not really different from waiting for the cement to cure in the foundation of your brand new home addition. Or waiting until the contractor is available to do 'the install'. (Or whatever.) Sometimes you just have to do other things until The Thing becomes ready for you.

In the meantime, you have zillions of other tasks or projects to attend to, so focus on those. Add the tentative Situation Resolution Date as a milestone and check back periodically to see how things are going and when you can act on the new situation.
posted by skye.dancer at 12:22 PM on June 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

When I attempt to meditate (except the relaxation exercise at night, which does work most days), my brain does this squirrelly thing where it'll start thinking of all the things I could do instead of meditating.

It's okay, that's the practice part. (Meditation is literally a practice.)

You could try yoga as a more physical form of the same thing if the physicallity would help you -- YOGA IS FUCKING HARD and takes patience. (It would also probably be good for you to learn to suck at something.)
posted by DarlingBri at 12:28 PM on June 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Sometimes I pretend I'm playing this (video/ role playing) game called real life. Unfortunately, the game designer has a tendency to be super annoying by choosing the most obnoxious ways to earn experience points. *shakes fist angrily at game designer*. In order to win, I need to strategize and look at the big picture. The game designer isn't entirely wrong though (just annoying). The experience I gain from defeating the nth level monster will be needed to defeat the n+1 level monster. In your version of the game, I could envision that the game designer would try to exploit player1's sense of perfectionism. Trying to play level one perfectly is a trap... so that player1 never reaches the round with the dragon guarding the treasure.

Another strategy is emulating someone whom you think would handle this situation well. Or asking yourself, what would you tell a friend to do? (and then do that).
posted by oceano at 12:45 PM on June 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

I found framing the situation as "I've done all I can, so whatever happens, will happen" calms me down.
posted by kschang at 1:30 PM on June 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

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