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 leave your children to fend for themselves 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.
My early years were spent dealing with the train wreck that impatience can create. My dad modeled that if you want something that you haven’t yet earned, you try to talk someone into making sure you get it. That was a lesson I wanted to unlearn.
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 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?”
Here is an example of life without the pause in a relationship.
I’m having a disagreement with my partner and blurt the first thing that comes to mind. In attempting to satisfy a short-term feeling of discomfort, in that reactive moment, I’m not thinking about the consequences. I push him away when what I really want is to connect.
The pause allows me to ask, “Will the next thing that comes out of my mouth get me what I want–closeness with my partner–or push him away?”
Reactiveness satisfies a short-term, uncomfortable feeling. I don’t like your perspective, so I’m going to try to talk you out of it.
The pause works. It’s simple and makes sense. The second half of my life,, when the pause became a more often used tool, leaves me with 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. While everyone is throwing out their ideas and opinions, talking over each other, you wait patiently for an opportunity to ask questions or offer a thought. The room becomes quiet and everyone is listening because you patiently and thoughtfully took it all in before you formed an opinion. You respond rather than react.
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. And patience.
Stress is a significant trigger for reactivity and responds well to the pause.
When stressed, we often feel pressured to react immediately to every random whim that shows up. In reality, there is 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.
To practice the pause, use your breath and your body.
Breathe all the way out, and at the same time, soften your body.
We breathe all the way out so that we’ve emptied our lungs and can take a full in-breath.
Soften by relaxing your jaw, dropping your shoulders, relaxing your chest and belly, arms and hands, legs 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 the sympathetic nervous system’s fight, flight, or freeze response when it’s been triggered 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 easier to pay attention when we’re playful.