According to wikipedia, patience is the state of endurance under difficult circumstances, and is studied as a decision making problem, involving the choice of either a small reward in the short term, or a more valuable reward in the long term. When given a choice, all animals, humans included, are inclined to favour short term rewards over long term rewards. This is despite the often greater benefits associated with long term rewards.
No wonder it’s so difficult to avoid compulsive behaviors when we are evolutionarily inclined to choose instant gratification over long term happiness.
But how much better would our lives be if we were all patient? Compulsivity is mixed with this primal fear of “I’ll never have this opportunity again. It’s now or never…” Which is why so many people fall prey to compulsive spending, compulsive eating, compulsive sexual behavior, get rick quick schemes and all sorts of compulsivity. This is a very animal behavior. Patience is a learned, newer, evolved behavior that is not instinctual.
Of course patience (or lack of) and eating disorders go hand in hand. For compulsive dieters who alternately restrict and binge, there is the inherent fear that we only have that one single opportunity to have that ice cream sundae, because come Monday, we can never have anything like that again. And on the flip side of it, comes dieting. The belief is that we need to be thin immediately, so if we do something drastic, like cut out all carbohydrates for 2 weeks, we will lose a dramatic amount of weight in a very short period of time. This is rather than taking time to get to know your body, understand what it needs and cultivate mindful eating and intuitive eating and healthy exercise. This takes patience.
So as animals, if patience is not instinctual, how do we cultivate patience?
1.) Patience is a learned trait, so first off, tell yourself that you are going to be patient with this learning process. It’s not going to come instantly. So every time you lose your patience, forgive yourself and accept that you are working against human instinct.
2.)Decide what patience means to you. How are you choosing to be patient? What does that pertain to? What kind of patience do you want more of in your life?
3.)Try some patience exercises. My favorite is washing dishes. Rather than loading up your dishwasher (if you have one) make a plan to wash your dishes slowly and mindfully. As you do, allow yourself to actually savor the experience of washing the dishes. Feel the warm water on your hands, enjoy the satisfying feeling of completion as each dish is cleaned, try to enjoy the time as it passes. Listen to music, breath, let yourself relax into the chore rather than waiting for it to be done. When you begin to allow yourself to melt into your world in the present and enjoy your time moment-by-moment, you are learning patience. The opposite of patience is trying to quickly reach the end.
4.)REMEMBER TO BREATHE! When you are feeling impatient (either standing online or waiting in traffic, or running late or wanting to exercise or eat compulsively) take a break and turn inward and just breathe. Bring yourself into the present and get away from the future.
5.)When it comes to food and weight, remind yourself of all the diets you have tried and where it’s brought you and all the time that you’ve wasted. Take it day-by-day and even moment-by-moment (rather than saying something like “i’m cutting out all fat, sugar, and wheat for the next 30 days”) and each day make an intention about finding health and well-being. And if for some reason you find that you’ve had a slip, forgive yourself and move on to the next moment. Each moment in your life gives you an opportunity to choose the behavior that you want.
6.)Keep the big picture in mind. Remember that the opposite of patience is impatience and compulsive behavior. When you find yourself ready to act out compulsively, slow down and think about what is really important to you. For instance, if you all of a sudden find yourself wanting to return a text message but you’re driving, either pull over to do it, or wait. The safety of yourself and others around you is more important than reading or returning a text.
7.)Figure out what people and what situations trigger your impatience or compulsive behavior. Try to make it a game. Practice patience around these people or situations.
8.)Visualize the future the way you want it to look and then just let it go. Know that you can have the life that you want but not instantly, that the journey is important as well.
9.)Laugh a lot. Especially when things aren’t going as planned. Having a sense of humor about yourself, life, the world around you can help you to relax into it. Life is too serious to be taken too seriously.
10.)Let go of the impatience and anxiety in your body. When you are feeling tense and impatient, notice where you hold it in your body. Breath into those tight spots and try to let them loosen up.
11.)Eat something delicious very, very, very slowly. Take a half hour to sit and eat this thing that you love. Don’t scarf it down, let yourself savor it, taste it, feel it. Engage all your senses. When you are finished, don’t immediately grab more. Know that you can have more at a later time or another day.