So many things we do require patience whether something as ordinary as brushing our teeth with an electric toothbrush for two minutes (BORING), working hard to meet a deadline, babysitting our grandchildren, volunteering to tutor a pre-teen, figuring out the best way to deal with the current political situation, or listening to our kids vent to us on the phone and not judge them.
However, as we have aged, our patience has been playing hide and seek. It comes and goes sort of like a love affair. We fall in love and want to stay but that isn’t always the case.
Try as we might, there are so many layers of thought and personal experience that come together to explain our shorter fuses and in many cases our ability to focus and slow down. We wondered why, so we dug in to figure it out. In general, it’s related to a poor sense of timing, hyper-charged behavior based on our always racing to meet deadlines and moving too fast, and expectations that everyone moves at the same pace we do.
The importance of patience hit Barbara like an Ali punch to the stomach when she fell on ice and broke her arm in three places. She has never been a patient person—except with her work and grandson--and this mishap would impact her work and everyday living. Told she had to do numerous tough exercises to strengthen her arm and go for hand therapy three times a week, she has had regular meltdowns with the pain, mostly in the evening. It will take her hard work to gain full use of her arm and hand again, but she believes she can do it for she overcame singlehood after age 50 and a very tough divorce—a more formidable task.
Margaret can be the wild west of patience, perhaps, in part thanks to her ever multiplying years and the numerous situations in which she finds herself racing to keep up with changes, especially in technology. In addition, stick her in a long line at the supermarket, waiting for an elevator, behind the wheel of a car in terrible traffic or languishing at a red light, or waiting for a server to take an order, and her patience flies out the window faster than any motivation to remain calm. But when her husband fought a five-year illness, as the only caregiver she became a model of serenity, fortitude, and staying power.
Through it all, we have come to the conclusion that patience is, for people like us, a conscious decision. And we know we can exert patience when needed. We both cared for aging parents and Barbara is still a caregiver for her 97-year-old mother. We diet when we have to although it could take weeks to shed excess pounds; bake following exacting directions and stand for long periods on our feet waiting for a cake to cook in the oven, focus calmly to learn how to program our remote control for the TV, and acquire a new skill on the computer or on our smart phones because we have to for work.
To support our latest campaign to cultivate more patience, here are some exercises we are testing:
- Breath.In –count to three—and out count to three. Repeat 10 times. Before losing it, just count to 10 –we’re sure you’ve heard this from your mothers. These are techniques to calm down.
- Slow down. It’s okay to walk, talk, and think slowly. Example: If you lose something such as your keys, sit down and think about what you did with them. If you can’t find them at first after a frenetic search, stop looking. Then resume your search after a five-minute break.
- Channel high energy into a sense of humor rather than impatience. Laugh at yourself crawling under beds and tables on the floor of your bedroom while searching for “lost” glasses, keys, or cell phone.
- Analyze if you’re really in a hurry or just in a hurry to finish. Perhaps you don’t need to frantically complete a project or get to a doctor’s appointment. Sometimes we rush because that’s just what we’re used to doing.
- Better time management—there is plenty of time to get everything done if we are organized. Mentally organize yourself: write everything down or put it on your smart phone, do one task at a time—baby steps or you’ll get overwhelmed, fill out a calendar whether paper or on your e-device; organize your work space and home space: designate a place for everything, de-clutter, don’t buy more stuff, divvy up chores, label everything; organize your day—establish a routine, prioritize by making a chart or list, check off tasks when finished.
- Try meditation or mindfulness. If you take five or 10 minutes and concentrate on your breathing—perhaps while riding the subway to work or flying on an airplane—you can practice this skill and feel refreshed. There are apps for this to help with the process.
- Get enough sleep. Without it, we all tend to be edgy and anxious.
- Eat certain foods that calm one down such as various teas, asparagus, avocado, blueberries, milk, almonds, oranges, salmon, spinach, dark chocolate. Maybe cut out that second cup of coffee.
We realize our patience lives in contradictions, but it’s not too late for us to change. It might require heroic effort, but we appreciate that in doing so we’ll be happier, easier to be around, and probably live healthier and longer more fulfilled lives.