Finding patience

In today’s fast-paced world, patience is becoming a lost art, says life coach Jan Aitken.

In a world of instant gratification, patience is becoming a lost art. We can contact someone on the other side of the world almost instantly.

Gone are the days of writing a letter to friends or relatives overseas and then waiting for a couple of weeks or more for a reply.

Now we can download and watch a whole series of our favourite programmes in one sitting. No more gathering with friends to watch the final episode of your favourite soap and then waiting for the next series (like waiting to find out who shot J. R. in Dallas!). You could spend days discussing what had gone on between the characters and who said what and who looked sideways at who.

Today searching the internet gives us an answer to almost any question in a matter of seconds. Seldom now can you have a robust discussion about a topic, or spin a complete load of codswallop about something before heading home and reaching for an encyclopedia to find out the truth. Nowadays someone will whip out a smartphone and check the facts immediately. Where’s the fun in that, I ask.

I’m not saying that technology is bad. I love the mod cons.  But I do think it’s good to take a moment and think about how things have changed and try to redress the balance a little.

We are much more "connected" these days. Some even say we are suffering from "hyper-connectivity".

Among its negative effects are a need for instant gratification and a loss of patience. A study conducted by the University of Massachusetts in 2012 found that around a quarter of internet users abandon an online video if it takes more than five seconds to load, and half jump ship after 10 seconds.

Our ability to wait isn’t much better in other areas of our lives either. Just sit in a traffic jam for a few minutes and see how irate people become and witness some of the stupid driving manoeuvres drivers make just to save a few seconds.

Previously, communication, entertainment and various tasks just took us longer. We had to be patient, there wasn’t much else you could be. Waiting for something created a sense of anticipation and excitement. Having to plan and wait taught us to be patient right from when we were children, but now we are much less patient.

Why does that matter? A 2004 study published in The Journal of Personality found that mastering patience and the capacity to exercise self-control correlated with higher self-esteem, better grades and better interpersonal skills. It found being patient makes people more engaging, confident, healthier and just plain more likeable! What is there not to like about embracing patience, especially at this crazy time of the year?

You’ll often hear people say "I’m running out of patience" or "I’m losing my patience". But patience isn’t a commodity you purchase by the tank and can use up. Patience and impatience are feelings.

M. J. Ryan, an executive coach and the author of The Power of Patience, says patience is a mixture of "persistence, acceptance, and calmness. When people with these three qualities find that something is not going their way, they can keep on keeping on".

Taking a moment to focus on becoming more patient might just save your sanity, especially with the Christmas crazy season just around the corner.

Here are my top tips for redeveloping the art of patience. Yes, you can learn to be more patient.

In the short term to help with silly-season frustrations:

• Breathe  deeply and slowly for six or so breaths. It helps to calm your system and creates a little space to help you respond rather than react.

• Understand that your expectations and understanding of a situation are probably not the same as other people’s. Neither of you is right or wrong, you’ll just need to negotiate.

• Factor in a little more time for travelling, shopping etc. Give yourself some breathing space and take the pressure off.

• Set up a family calendar of events, parties and end-of-year activities etc, so there are no last-minute surprises. Think about transport and meals in advance.

• Do something towards your Christmas preparation every day. Start by making a list of what needs to be done, bought, arranged and organised.For a more long-term approach try building some of these tips into your family’s life. Children are like sponges and they will learn from watching how you handle situations, so try to be a great role model for them.

• Practice mindfulness on a daily basis.

• Slow down, plan your day. Build in a little more time than you estimate for doing things.

• Learn to distract yourself. The ability to let your mind wander, whether through day-dreaming or actively applying your imagination, is a skill that bolsters patience.

• Try playing a game with your children (or even yourself!) when waiting in queues.

• Pick the longest queue and join it knowing you’ll be there a while. Try out the suggestions above.

• Grow veges or flowers; you can’t hurry mother nature.

• Do an old-fashioned jigsaw puzzle. The bigger it is the more patience you’ll cultivate.

• Take a technology holiday. Turn off the gadgets and disconnect from the world for a while. It will still be there when you get back!

- Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach.

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