When you're having trouble regulating your emotions, patience can seem like a faraway feeling. Here are a few tips for cultivating patience that lasts.
Patience is a virtue, as they say—and they say that because it’s hard. It means having to wait, either for something you desire or for something you dislike to stop. It often means not knowing how long you’re going to have to put up with whatever it is that’s happening (or not happening). It often means staying calm and kind when someone—perhaps especially a child someone—is driving you crazy. Patience doesn’t improve when we shut down our feelings, refuse to let ourselves be frustrated, count to ten, or try to focus on gratitude. We don’t often think about it this way, but the true key to patience is kindness to ourselves.
How to Rethink Patience
When we are in a state that requires patience, we are, by definition, uncomfortable. We want something to change because we don’t like the way we feel while waiting. Rather than try to focus on the future change, what if we used compassion for ourselves to explore what the waiting experience is bringing up for us in that present moment?
We may notice, for example, that waiting for something we want is revealing a lack in us. What do we think is missing within ourselves? Can we be tender with the part that feels that it is not enough without this thing we are waiting for? Perhaps we find that something about the waiting is triggering something else—perhaps especially when our children are whining or crying.
We know we need to be calm and patient with our children when they are having a tantrum. So what is happening with us when we have to witness those big feelings? Were we forced to hide our big feelings as children, or even now? Does it feel like the tantrum is revealing some failure in us as a parent?
Rather than trying to force the child to stop crying by yelling or withdrawing and then berating ourselves later for being so impatient, we could offer ourselves (and the little children inside of us) gentleness and care. We could hold our feelings—even our feelings about losing our cool, if we did—with loving tenderness.
Coregulation for Cultivating Patience
Coregulation is a process that happens for all of us, but especially for children, where being close to a regulated body helps us to regulate our own bodies. In other words, being close to someone calm helps us feel calmer. Our children do tend to calm down when we are calm, but how do we make ourselves calm?
One way is to access the part of us that is compassionate, loving, and tender, and to apply that part to our inner children, to those parts of us that still feel like children inside who can be triggered by something happening on the outside. When we can meet our inner turmoil with love and steadiness, the turmoil can steady and slow down. That can help us stay present with the turmoil of another. In turn, they can calm down, too.
Waiting is uncomfortable, especially when what we are waiting for is uncertain. Our mindfulness practices encourage us to continually return to the present moment, to let go of the stories about the past, which has already happened, and the future, which is fundamentally unknown. What is happening in the present moment while we wait in uncertainty? What thoughts, feelings, or stories about ourselves arise in the experience of uncertainty?
We cannot force or wish ourselves to be more patient. But if we can inquire into what we really need in the present moment and hold that for what it is, the discomfort of being in limbo can lessen a little bit. It’s not that kindness to ourselves solves everything, and it certainly doesn’t make the bad feelings go away. But it can give us the ability to tolerate those bad feelings while remembering that nothing lasts forever. That’s the key to becoming more patient.
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