To develop patience, practice the pause.
February 21, 2021
When you’ve been trapped at home with your family for months, drained of compassion by the Groundhog Day experience that has piggy-backed on Covid, the antidote to wanting to rip your children’s faces off is patience.
We want to be compassionate and loving, to ourselves and others.
But what if compassion is the last thing on your mind when irritation, annoyance, and fear have taken center stage? Compassion for anyone or anything is all but impossible without patience, a more substantial and reliable characteristic.
Patience is my elusive hero. I’ve been working on increasing it for years. I marvel at those who by nature respond to life — good, bad, or indifferent — with equanimity and thoughtful responsiveness.
That is not me. It is who I aspire to be.
In an article in Lion’s Roar, Norman Fisher, a Buddhist writer who has long been a mentor to me through his books, explores why patience is the most substantial and reliable of all characteristics. Check it out here.
I’ve written about patience before. I write to hold myself accountable, and to continue working on improving my practice of it.
In his blog post, Strategies for Increasing Patience, motivational speaker and leadership coach Greg Bell quotes Harvard professor Dr. Edward Banfield, who concluded, “patience is the key to success.” Through personal experience, I agree.
Both Fisher and Bell offer various strategies for increasing patience. But on my planet the pause is the behavior change that stands head and shoulders above the others in allowing me to express patience.
The pause can save you years of regret, strengthen your relationships, increase your sense of self-efficacy, and reduce your stress.
When you work on pausing before speaking or reacting, even for only two seconds, you create a habit of thinking first, which allows you to respond rather than impulsively react.
It’s a simple concept but a hard habit to master.
We don’t just need the pause when we’re stressed or have had a bad day. We can even get in trouble when we’re excited about something. Impulse buying has created tremendous credit card debt in this country. Something sounds good or looks good, and we react immediately to satisfy a momentary, short-term feeling.
Regrets & Relationships
The pause allows us to look at long-term implications rather than short-term gains. It can save us painful regret that follows after impulsive, unthought-out actions. Years later, we can find ourselves still slapping our heads asking, “What was I thinking?”
Well, the truth is, we weren’t.
Here are a few examples of life without the pause that can create regret and undermine relationships.
If I’m having a serious disagreement with my partner and blurt the first thing that comes to mind, I am attempting to satisfy a short-term feeling of discomfort. In that reactive moment, I’m not thinking about the consequences. I am pushing him away rather than creating a connection.
The pause allows me to ask myself, “Will the next thing that comes out of my mouth get me closer to what I want — closeness with my partner — or further away?”
Reactiveness satisfies a short-term, uncomfortable feeling. I’m not fond of your perspective, so I’m going to try to talk you out of it.
The pause gives our relationship a much better chance of thriving and growing.
In a moment of insecurity and reactivity, I told a friend what I thought of her behavior toward me. The problem was that it wasn’t what I really thought. I told her what I was feeling in a moment of insecurity. And I lost a friend.
The pause works for me because it’s simple and makes sense. When I look back on my life and my relationships, practicing the pause has reworked the second half of my life. I have fewer regrets and more satisfying relationships than the first time around.
Picture this: You are in a meeting and there’s significant discord. But you have learned the art of the pause. You wait until everyone blurts what they have to say instead of interrupting with your viewpoint. You wait patiently for an opportunity to ask questions or offer a thought, knowing that you will have nothing to regret because you are responding rather than reacting.
How does it feel to be the only grown-up in the room?
Self-efficacy is the sense that we can handle things effectively — that we can count on ourselves to respond appropriately to life. It goes hand in hand with self-confidence.
Stress is a significant trigger for reactivity and responds well to the pause.
When stressed, we often feel pressured to react immediately to everything that life throws at us. In reality, there is very little that requires an immediate reaction. But we tend to respond like every situation is a house on fire.
The pause allows us to manage stress rather than be overwhelmed by it. It enables us to stop saying yes when deep down, we want to say no, I don’t know, or, maybe later.
The most straight-forward way to practice the pause is to do two things.
Breathe all the way out and soften your body. Soften by dropping your shoulders and relaxing your jaw, and your belly and hands and feet. Those two behaviors, breathing all the way out and softening your body, kick your parasympathetic nervous system into gear, allowing it to calm down the sympathetic nervous system’s fight, flight, or freeze response to being triggered or poked or stressed.
It helps to bring playfulness into the mix. When we start taking self-improvement too seriously, we can become boring, or worse, self-shaming when we don’t achieve our goals as quickly as we’d like. Adopting an attitude of playfulness allows us to congratulate ourselves when we have a success, rather than shaming ourselves for the times we blow it.
Nothing reinforces positive change more than noticing how it feels when we achieve a goal we’ve set for ourselves. If we ignore the successes, improvement becomes a torturous process. And it’s almost like the successes didn’t happen. It’s just more pleasurable to pay attention when we’re playful.
As I was writing, I was aware my job isn’t to enlighten you but to enlighten me. But if it helps you in any way, I’ll be thrilled. Two seconds, sometimes that’s all it takes.