Life is full of expansive and constricting moments. I used to think that if I meditated regularly and did enough affirmations, that my life would be perfect and easy forever. I remember getting a flat tire while driving my mom to an event we were excited about, and saying to her, "But I meditate! This isn't supposed to happen!"
Well, I learned quickly that difficult and uncomfortable situations still happen. I can of course improve the quality of my life in many ways, but there will always be things we cannot control, such as traffic, crazy weather, long lines, other people's actions, our dog that won't stop barking, and so on.
Serenity Prayer God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr
If you have more Pitta dosha in your mind-body constitution, then patience may be something you need to be more mindful at cultivating. It is a skill you can acquire, and it will soon become second nature.
Start experimenting with some of these techniques with minor irritations and work your way up to handling bigger challenges.
Tools to Increase Patience:
Accept That You Feel Impatient: when you start to feel impatient, don't fight it or feel bad. Don't force yourself to feel calm. Simply notice how it feels in your body. Is it hot? Tight? Sharp? Where do you feel it in your body? Breathe with the sensations and allow them to be. Witness them as if you are an outside observer. You can honor feeling impatient without lashing out on someone else or increasing your stress levels.
Know your triggers. Figure out what frustrates you and why. It could be certain events or words. Perhaps it is when other people are running late, a colleague doesn't meet a deadline, or you have to stand in a long line Ask your family and friends for feedback if you’re not sure about what usually sets you off. Experiment with ways to reduce your exposure to certain triggers. For example, if traffic stresses you out, leave early enough or at different times of day so that traffic doesn't make you late. If a friend or colleague is always late, ask them to be on time, tell them an earlier time (and be there early just in case), bring a book to read while you wait, or simply accept and expect that they will be late.
Keep a journal. While you’re developing more patience, it helps to keep a record of your activities. Use your phone or a notepad to track the number of times you feel stressed and describe the situations. Later you can look back and notice a pattern. You can reflect on these triggers and ask yourself: are they as frequent or inconvenient as you think? Are there are ways you can adjust your own behavior? Are there boundaries or requests you need to set with other people? How can you accept it as something that is out of your control?
Slow down. Rushing around creates more tension. Pause for a moment when you feel overwhelmed, so you can resist the urge to speed up. When possible, start getting ready for an event or a deadline with enough time in advance so you don't have to rush. While in activity, practicing being in the moment.
Meditate on your breath. Try to maintain a daily meditation practice. Even a few minutes of deep breathing can be beneficial. Put aside other thoughts as you focus on each inhalation and exhalation. Practice being mindful throughout your day, while walking, washing the dishes, typing, sitting at a stoplight, etc. The more you can be mindful during activity, the more calm and accepting you will feel during all situations, even unpleasant ones.
Relax your muscles. Scan your body when something disturbing happens, so you can release tension quickly. Smooth your brows and unclench your jaw. Soften your neck and shoulders. Gently rub your back or any sore spots. Take a deep breath in through your nose and exhale.
Take care of basic needs. Dehydration, hunger, and lack of sleep can threaten your composure. Carry a water bottle and healthy snacks with you so you can refuel as needed. Go to bed early and aim for at least 7 hours of sleep each night.
Reduce Stimulants and Stimulation. Sometimes we can aggravate our nervous system and increase a general feeling of impatience by drinking too much caffeine, or eating too much chocolate or food that is spicy and sugary. In the hot months, enjoy more fruits and vegetables, and in the cold months eat more warm cooked foods. Loud noise, wind, or environments that are too cold or too hot can increase general irritability. So can saying yes to everyone and everything, taking on too much responsibility or not asking for help.
Enjoy the weather. Heat, cold, rain, and snow can teach you to embrace change or at least tolerate discomfort. Buy a beautiful, warm coat or think about plants that need water to grow. As my good friend Noah used to say during the chilly rainy foggy days in Washington State, "Well it's a good day if you are tree frog!".
Advanced Exercises for Increasing Patience:
Delay gratification. Practice waiting for what you want. Postpone purchases for a day or two before you buy new shoes or sports equipment. Go for a walk before you eat dessert.
Set priorities. Are you trying to do too much? Delete nonessential tasks from your to do list. You’ll have more time for the things that really matter to you.
Adjust your expectations. Technology conditions us to expect things quickly, like groceries delivered to your door or streaming movies and music on demand. Remember that important projects usually require significant time and effort.
Evaluate the outcomes. Losing your patience might be tempting if the clerks at the DMV escorted you to the front of the line and fed you ice cream while they completed your paperwork. However, you usually just wind up feeling less-than-satisfied when you lose your patience.
Listen closely. Do you become edgy when your children ask multiple questions or coworkers talk so long that a meeting runs overtime? Instead of tuning them out, give them your full attention. You’ll probably feel calmer and you may learn something new.
Be thankful and helpful. Gratitude and generosity are the ultimate recipe for patience. Count your blessings so you can keep minor irritations in perspective. Think about what you can share with others instead of focusing on your own comfort.
Increasing your patience will make you happier and better-liked by others. You’ll experience less stress and find it easier to get what you want.