Practicing Patience

Happy New Year! This is the traditional time for making resolutions, which we all know are simple to make, but much more difficult to keep. Resolutions imply change, and making changes requires patience. It’s such a valuable component of character that St. Paul considered it evidence that a person was living in faith: “...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” he wrote to the Galatians.

Like everyone else, I struggle with learning to be patient myself. Patience is also a problem my clients ask about. Shakespeare recognized how important patience was to healing: “How poor are they that have not patience!” he wrote. “What wound did ever heal but by degrees?”

Making any change, including keeping your resolutions, requires patience because no change happens instantly. The amount of patience you have in daily life and in relationships can determine how much you enjoy your life.

The opposite of having patience is being impulsive. Impulsiveness in all of us arises from the emotional aspect of the mind. When we act thoughtlessly on impulses, we cannot maintain resolve, and it’s easy to be run around by the opinions of others, or by outdated information we learned in early childhood. Learning to be patient and remain calm reduces and relieves stress and worry. Cultivating patience is really learning impulse control—it's an issue in self-control. You can learn how to do “emotional maintenance” and shake off stress, keep on track of what you want to do, and let go of frustration when something is getting to you. Patience is learning how to wait until you’ve thought before acting and made sure you understand the options and take control of your own ideas and decisions. It's a growth process, a transformation of self through awareness and learning.

To acquire patience, we must learn not to act on impulse, but change our thinking and attitude, and reach out for support and encouragement. To learn the necessary patience and determination to reach long-term goals, practice on small things first, and learn how to sort through what is worth exercising patience, and what is not.

Seven Steps to Help You Learn Patience:

1: Wait: The old advice to “count to 10 before you respond” is a great way to learn patience. Give yourself a chance to give your best response.

2: Use Perspective: Put your impulses or desires in perspective—will it be important an hour from now or fifteen minutes from now? Most of them won't be.

3. Self-understanding: If you are tempted to act on impulse, understand that the impulse is normal, but you don’t have to be run by it. Reactions and impulses are normal—it's how thoughtfully we act on them that counts.

4: Take a longer view: If you’re reacting because someone upset you (e.g.: a friend who hurt your feelings) or then give a little prayer of thanks that it wasn't worse, say a blessing for your friend (who probably needs it) and you'll feel better. If you are tempted to break a resolution, pause a minute and consider your bigger goal—then decide if the momentary impulse is worth setting back your goal.

5. Give yourself a break: If you act on an impulse before thinking about it, acknowledge that you did it, then forgive yourself and get back on track. If you find yourself acting impulsively a lot, then maybe your goal is too rigid, and you need to allow a little more room for yourself.

6. Consider the source: Impulses are often a reaction to outside circumstances—for example, wanting dessert because it’s there, when you wouldn’t think of it otherwise. Make sure what you do is what you really want to do.

7: Celebrate: Remember to celebrate your accomplishments and all the times you do what you intend to. Frequent small celebrations are a way to reward yourself for patience, and to increase your motivation to be even more patient.

Learning patience is the surest way to be able to accomplish your goals and dreams. I wish you the happiest of new years in 2007!


Author Bio:
Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., (www.tinatessina.com) is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California, with over 25 years experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 11 books, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction (New Page); How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free (New Page); The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again (Wiley) and The Real 13th Step: Discovering Self-Confidence, Self-Reliance and Independence Beyond the Twelve Step Programs (New Page.) Two new books will be out from Adams Press in 2007. She publishes the “Happiness Tips from Tina” e-mail newsletter and has hosted "The Psyche Deli: delectable tidbits for the subconscious" a weekly hour long radio show. She is an online expert, answering relationship questions at www.CouplesCompany.com and Yahoo!Personals, as well as a Redbook Love Network expert and “Psychology Smarts” columnist for First for Women. Dr. Tessina guests frequently on radio, and on such TV shows as “Oprah”, “Larry King Live” and ABC news.

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