Redefining the Practice of Patience

My sweet Izzy (my second oldest dog) doesn’t seem to have much longer on this earth. She’s the kind of dog that stares into your soul with the biggest smile and a constant tail wag, looking cute no matter what she does. She’s also the kind of dog to literally eat your homework, eat corners off of Christmas present boxes, eat remote controls, nudge the pantry open and rip open everything she can knock down with her nose…true stories. Understandably, it leads to a ton of frustration and the occasional wanting-to-scream kind of anger, which accomplished nothing.

I’m not usually one for inserting definitions into my posts, but this one is important. The literal definition of patience from Google is “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.” LOL. If we talk about patience like Google defines it, I can tell you that I’ve been “patient” maybe like five times in my entire life.

Let’s stop pretending that feelings are bad. Getting angry and upset are human, inevitable emotions that you have no control over. It’s completely normal and healthy to feel upset – those feelings show that we care and help us to uphold the things we value. Attempting to suppress those emotions is a ton of work, and actually does more harm than good. We tend to act like patience is a feeling you can gain mastery over. Patience isn’t an emotion, nor does it lie within your emotions. Patience is a reaction.

Scratch that previous definition of patience in your mind. Here’s 3 ways to increase patience while also being a human with human feelings:

  1. Acknowledge your feelings without judgment in the moment. By the time you consciously realize you’re angry, you brain has been sending signals throughout your entire body – your amygdala has been activated, your heart rate has already increased, your adrenaline has spiked, your adrenal glands have already released stress hormones. You can’t tell your hypothalamus to take back its signal to your pituitary glands like “just kidding everyone, we don’t actually need all these anger hormones anymore”. Suppressing these feelings and attempting to ignore those natural bodily responses will only make them come back with a vengeance. Notice what you’re feeling, physically and emotionally – but don’t act on it (see step #3).
  2. Increase your awareness. When you practice acknowledging your feelings, you can increase your awareness on what’s underneath the anger – is it that you feel violated, betrayed, or hurt? Being more honest and vulnerable with yourself allows you to connect with others on a basic human level. You can identify triggers and patterns to your anger, and you can then become one step ahead. This doesn’t mean that your anger won’t ever get the best of you again – it just means that you know why you’re being so activated. When I find my notes from work ripped to shreds and my planner half eaten, I feel violated – like what I had put time and energy into had been taken from me. Being aware of that can help me see the way out of my anger more clearly – how to prevent it from happening again, how to have a better system, or that I just have to replace my things. I can then focus on solving the problem rather than freaking out.
  3. Choose your reaction. Easier said than done, I know, but your behavior is the one thing you have full control over. Ask yourself if it’s going to matter in 5 years, 5 weeks, or even 5 days. Grant some understanding to the recipient of your anger – we’re all just stumbling through life together. This doesn’t excuse what happened – you’re angry for a reason, and whatever it is, it’s valid. It may not be warranted, though. Communicate to them how you feel beneath the anger, and share what about it had made you so upset. You can’t control if they listen to you – I can guarantee that Izzy never listens to me. You can rest assured in the fact that you didn’t let your anger control you, and that you handled and de-escalated a tough situation in a calm way. If this is a struggle, go back to #2. If your emotions are too heightened to react in a reasonable way in the moment, take a break and come back to it when you’ve cooled off.

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