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Do you find yourself telling the kids to be patient, while feeling rather impatient yourself? Our daily life moves at a fast pace, with everything from a dinner recipe to a new pair of shoes simply a mouse click away. If a web page loads too slowly we feel agitated, and daily traffic snarls bring out our inner grump. Think you could use more patience? You're probably right.
Nature, or nurture?
Is patience a learned trait, or are some of us just born with more? Turns out, it's a little bit of both. The famed fight-or-flight response that kicks in during times of stress, as well as depression or symptoms of anxiety are all biological responses your body throws out when patience is short. Kids, who are known for being rather impatient, have the excuse that their brains are still developing, even into their 20s. Take the biology away and you're left with the circumstances of your life that also affect patience. If you tend to be overscheduled and rushing from here to there all day, you might be nurturing impatience without even realizing it. And those kids? They are watching you become impatient, which in turn implants the idea that waiting is bad. Great, right?
Recognize the signs
Toni Bernhard, J.D., author of How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow shares that recognizing impatience in yourself isn't always easy. "When things aren't going our way (for example, we're stuck in traffic), we tend to think that the cause of our impatience is external to us — what's going out 'out there.' But, of course, the cause is what's going on in our own minds — that is, our response to whatever circumstances we're facing," she says. "So start by setting the intention to watch for impatience arising in your own mind as a response to not getting what you want right away." What makes you feel impatient may not be the same thing that makes your spouse impatient. You need to know your own triggers and anticipate them. By recognizing times when extra patience would come in handy, you'll be one step ahead in turning it around.
Turn it around
Can you rewire your impatience and your temperament? According to M.J. Ryan, executive coach and author of The Power of Patience, it's a mix of persistence, acceptance and calmness that make up the feeling of patience. You won't be able to become an incredibly patient person overnight, but you can try a few tricks and strategies that will not only help you feel more patient, but model that for your kids at the same time.
- Distraction — Sometimes the simplest way to be more patient in a situation is to distract yourself. Remember road trips as a kid, before we had movies playing in the headrest and a fully-charged iPad? The only way to survive the boredom and impatience of a family road trip was to distract yourself. Find little things to make a mental list of, like how many babies you see in the airport terminal or how many women you see wearing hats. Teach your kids little mental games like this for distraction at the grocery store, during halftime at the ball game or waiting in the pediatrician's office.
- Talk it through — If you sense that your impatience is flaring up, listen to the voices in your head, then talk back to them. Did you choose the only line that isn't moving at the grocery store? Talk yourself down (in your head) by asking yourself what the worst outcome is. Will you be late for an appointment? Or just home 10 minutes later than you had hoped? Thinking about worst-case scenarios may help you realize that there really isn't anything to fret over.
- Breathe — Sounds simple, but when your body is tense and impatience sets in, you aren't breathing properly. This makes you feel even worse. Relax your shoulders, close your eyes (unless you're driving) and take a series of long, slow breaths. Inhale deeply, exhale slowly — feeling better already? You can teach your kids to do this breathing trick when they feel impatient by counting to five as they inhale and exhale. Tell them they are blowing away their impatience, it just might work.
Feeling more patient already? Good. Now go model that for your kids, and you both win.