The ultimate superpower that overcomes and transforms obstacles. It enables you to sidestep frustration and keep moving forwards.
A personal story
Like you, I was not born patient. Over time I’ve learned to be more patient. Fortunately, life has blessed me with lots of opportunities to cultivate patience. Here's one example: I didn't fly in an aeroplane for 15 years. It wasn’t because I was afraid of flying and it wasn’t because I was an eco-warrior doing my bit for the environment. It was because I chose to stay and live in England illegally. I won’t go into my reasons for this, but let's just say I'd decided England was my home but lacked the paperwork to back up my claim.
I also deeply wanted to travel… but I wanted to live in England more and I knew that if I left I wouldn't be able to return. So I chose to stay. Back then, there was an obscure rule (long since changed) that if you managed to stay in the UK for 14 years without committing any crimes, like identity fraud, you could apply for residency.
An immigration lawyer tipped me off about this rule when I’d been in England for 4 years. He added that it was also illegal and that he didn't recommend I try it. But I walked out of his office determined to do exactly that. I knew I had at least 10 years ahead of me before I could apply for British residency.
Needless to say, this gave me a fantastic opportunity to practice patience. I’d like to say the years flew by and it was all plain sailing. But I had many doubts and fears of being caught and deported. This experience was a kind of emotional marathon where I learned how to keep moving forward one step at a time.
The serenity prayer was very useful during these years. Because it was clear that I couldn’t speed up time – I had to accept something I couldn’t change, and then have the courage to change the things I could. So that’s what I did. I got busy living a good life: having relationships, learning Ninjutsu, learning yoga and meditation and setting up my first business.
Then one day it was all over. I was a legal resident of the United Kingdom and could step onto an aeroplane and come home without fear of deportation. What a feeling!
Something that helped me practice humility during and after this experience is the knowledge that my former president, Nelson Mandela, was imprisoned for 27 years before he was finally released. He did more time than me and rose to greater achievements than I ever will. That doesn’t take away from my own challenges and triumphs, but it does put them into perspective.
What is patience?
Wikipedia defines patience as: "...the ability to endure difficult circumstances. Patience may involve perseverance in the face of delay; tolerance of provocation without responding in disrespect/anger; or forbearance when under strain, especially when faced with longer-term difficulties."
Patience allows us to absorb the challenges of life without knee-jerk emotional reactions which too often make our situation worse.
Why is patience important?
It’s important because almost nothing happens when we want it to. Each day presents us with a thousand opportunities to practice patience, whether it’s standing in line at the checkout counter or waiting for a light to change while driving. One of the downsides of our digital age is that many things that used to require a lot of time and therefore patience have been optimized and automated. This means we have fewer opportunities to practice patience. When our patience muscles get weak then the stress rises in our lives.
Practicing both acceptance and humor and cultivating humility enables us to be less mentally and physically stressed. I’m not saying stress is bad, by the way – some stress is good, but why don’t we remove the unnecessary stress of a lack of acceptance and patience? There are going to be a lot of other things we need to save our energy for, when things really go south. And that happens for all of us sooner or later.
One of my own favorite quotes is:
“There is only one thing worse than not getting what you want, and it’s getting what you want.”
Not getting what you want is very, very good for you – if you have the right attitude. It gives you a golden opportunity to practice all the concepts! Acceptance, courage, forgiveness, humor, humility and patience. What a gift, right?!
Getting what you want gives you a short sense of satisfaction and then an emptiness that you need to fill with something else, be that an experience, a person or a thing. And if it’s smooth and shiny with flashing lights and tastes like chocolate, all the better!
What patience isn’t
Often from the outside, practicing patience can seem like we don’t care. Because you’re not freaking out about something. Freaking out is not helpful, even though we all do it sometimes. Patience is also not a passive process, it’s not about just sitting around waiting for a door to open.
Patience in business and life
Timing is so important in life. Often, some people just seem to be at the right place at the right time. What is harder to see is how long they had to wait for the right moment and how much time they spent preparing to be ready for that moment so they could make the most of it.
Knowing when to be patient and when to pivot to something else is not so easy and is more of an intuitive process. I’ve found in my own life that I can keep knocking on doors but they just don’t open until they open. But if it’s a path I’m really committed to then I need to make sure I’m ready to walk through that door when it does open – because doors don’t stay open forever.
How to practice patience
If a door hasn’t opened for you yet, it can help to imagine what skills and resources you will need once that door does open. Then focus your time and energy on developing those skills and resources.
It can also be helpful to zoom out a bit. What do I mean by zoom out? I mean broadening your focus to other areas and challenges. If the road ahead is blocked on one project then look for other roads that help you keep moving forward on your path. For every frustration you have in your life, there are multitudes of ways you can move forward in other areas. Shifting your focus away from those roadblocks and working on what you can, is both practical and empowering.
What’s holding you back?
Perhaps you really, really want something and are struggling to let go. This is going to amplify your feelings of frustration. You may need to practice a little humility and a little humor too.
Need some help?
The serenity prayer can be very helpful when it comes to practicing patience. But we all need a little support sometimes. A good coach can help you stay on track and remind you when you need to be patient and, more importantly, what you can do to shift your focus to situations and relationships you can make progress with.
It’s not easy to work out what we should accept or change and when we need to be patient. The serenity prayer is a great tool and the Concepts of acceptance, humility and humor are helpful too. A good coach can really help to unlock the frustration you feel and get you moving forward.