Do you often feel there’s simply not enough time to do everything you need to and want to in your life? Have you noticed that the pace of your life is faster than it used to be? Do you struggle to wait, without picking up your phone or looking for a distraction?
If you do, you aren’t alone. The more I speak with people, the more I hear how much they are struggling to manage the internal and external pressure to keep up, stay ahead, move quickly and achieve more in their careers and life. Patience is down and stress and overwhelm are up.
We have been “sold” the idea that fast is best and that time needs to be “hacked” and our lives “fast-tracked”. Advances in technology have removed the need to wait in so many areas of our lives; we now have instant downloads, same-day deliveries, text messaging and online grocery shopping. By seeking to “save” time, however, we have, in fact, sped up the pace of life.
This shift in pace has been accompanied by a shift in expectations. We don’t just expect fast from others, we also expect it from ourselves. In her book Speed, Stephanie Brown writes, “We literally have at our fingertips the tools to do so much more than we actually have the human capacity to do well, and it has created an impossible bind that leads to chronic stress and a sense of failure.”
The expectation that nothing should take time means we have lost self-compassion around our own progress. We have raised the bar so high and in doing so also raised our stress levels. As we try to achieve more in less time, we live with stress on a day-to-day basis, increasing our risk of developing stress-related illnesses like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression, asthma and Alzheimer’s disease. The fast life is undermining our health, happiness and lifestyles.
How can you shift the way you perceive time so you can relearn the art of patience and start to reap all the physical and mental benefits from embracing a slower pace of life? By challenging the assumption that fast is best, by focusing on what you have achieved and not always on what is still to be done, by being present, by simplifying life and by challenging yourself to wait, you can rewire your brain to feel more patient in your life.
6 Practices For Developing More Patience
- Trust Your Journey
Do you often feel you should be further along in your journey than you are? Do you get caught up comparing where you are to where others are and feeling flat and frustrated as a result?
When you live from a belief that you should be further along in your life, it’s difficult to be patient. Instead, you are likely to feel frustrated, disappointed and agitated with your life and yourself.
The problem with living your life from a place of “shoulds” and comparison is that it ignores the fact that progress and success take time. Having spoken to a lot of successful business owners about their journeys, I have found that for most of them it wasn’t until they hit the five-year mark that they started to get traction and earn good money in their businesses — definitely not overnight success!
Where in your life are you expecting quick results and not being patient with the process? Are you being exceptionally critical of yourself and what you are achieving in your life? Have you stopped trusting your own journey?
When you place pressure on yourself to be somewhere you aren’t yet, you shift out of the present moment and focus on what is lacking in your life, becoming less grateful, optimistic and energised.
Becoming more patient is not about pulling back from striving for growth and progress in your life, but it is about feeling OK to take time arriving at your destination and enjoying the process of getting there.
What if where you are in your life is exactly where you are meant to be right now? What if within this moment, good or bad, you are learning something that will move you forward in the future, that will provide you with valuable insight and experience?
- Take Time To Look Back
When you feel impatient, it’s often because you are looking into the future at where you want to be and feeling unhappy with where you are right now. Some self-help thinkers believe you shouldn’t look back to your past, as that’s not where you are going. I believe, however, that there’s a danger in only looking forward.
When you look forward, you are looking at what is yet to be achieved, which can make you feel like you are always “behind the eight ball”, playing catch up to reach your next milestone. Always looking forward can rob you of your ability to enjoy the moment, celebrate your successes and feel proud and good about the progress you are making in your life.
When you take time to reflect on your past, you remind yourself of the challenges you have overcome, the adversities you have moved through and the times you challenged yourself to step up and do things that were out of your comfort zone.
Try this activity: grab a piece of paper and pen and ask yourself, “Where was I this time last year?” “Where was I this time five years ago?” and “Where was I this time 10 years ago?” Often when you do this activity you realise how far you have come in such a short time, helping you to trust the process more and not feel as impatient and stressed moving forward.
In the same way that a farmer doesn’t plant a seed and then dig it up the next day, expecting growth and then getting frustrated that it is still a seed, you can develop more patience in your life by understanding that growth takes time.
- Understand Your Fear Attached To Time
Do you actually believe fast is better? Do you feel nervous or anxious when you think about slowing down, resting or working less?
We all have feelings and beliefs around time, but those beliefs are not always true or helpful. I have struggled with the idea that I am being lazy if I am not always doing something. Subconsciously, I believe success comes only from hard work and long hours and that resting is unproductive.
However, after burning out and developing chronic fatigue syndrome in my 20s, I had to re-think my beliefs around time. I realised that my beliefs around time had actually made me sick and that I needed to redefine rest as being productive and necessary for health and happiness. Learning to not place such high expectations on myself and to enjoy resting is something I am still learning, even now I have recovered.
What beliefs do you have around time? Do you have any fear around slowing down and stopping?
When you understand the why behind your thoughts and behaviours, you can begin to challenge them and choose new thoughts and responses. Choosing to live a slower pace of life and resisting the push to always be working harder and faster is going to make you feel uncomfortable. If you can move through the discomfort and develop new healthy habits around how you spend your time and the pace at which you work, you can find a new way of living that’s far more sustainable and empowering.
- Reframing Your Thinking
Are you driven by the thought, “I don’t have enough time”? How would your life change if you flipped this thought and instead said, “I have all the time I need”?
When you reframe how you feel about the time available to you, your brain starts to think differently. Your brain focuses on the time you have and what can be done in that time, rather than on what is perceived as a lack of time.
When you think, “I have all the time I need”, your brain begins to visualise you achieving what you need to in your timeframe. Visualisation is a powerful tool. Neuroscientist Sarah McKay says, “Thinking and doing are the same in the brain. The same brain regions that are activated when completing a motor skill are activated when mentally rehearsing the same task.”
Seeing yourself reaching a deadline primes your brain to feel like you have already done it. I use visualisation a lot when I have a tight deadline. I decide what time I want to have completed what I am working on and then I close my eyes and visualise doing what needs to be done. I finish the visualisation by imagining myself looking at my watch and seeing the time I had chosen to be finished by.
It’s amazing how well this works and how the image of you achieving your outcome in time keeps you focused, on-track and optimistic. Visualisation lowers your stress levels as you shift out of impatience, allowing you to move through your tasks feeling in control, calm, patient and trusting that you have all the time you need.
- Simplify Your Life
What if your belief that you don’t have enough time is actually because you have over-filled your life, believing you can do it all? Is a jam-packed schedule causing you to feel impatient, stressed and frustrated?
If you’re feeling frantic and pressured because you have taken on too much, what jobs, events and commitments could you remove from your diary, postpone or re-schedule, or even get help with?
It’s easy to believe you need to do it all, that you need to be there for everyone else all the time, never asking for help and saying yes even when you should be saying no. Just like the meaning you have attached to time, it’s likely you also have deep-seated beliefs around developing healthy boundaries and saying no to others.
Could you give yourself permission to slow down, to say no and take on less and enjoy the moments of your life more?
For some people, the fear of freeing up their diaries and not being crazy busy means they would actually have to confront things in their lives they know aren’t working: jobs, relationships, unhealthy habits, finances and other unresolved issues.
The problem with staying busy to not feel the discomfort of facing the truth is that the challenges and issues don’t go away but continue to grow. Are you filling up your diary because you fear creating space in your life and mind to reflect?
- Challenge Yourself To Wait
Have you wired your brain to find waiting incredibly difficult? Have you become hooked on instant rewards? Is your “patience muscle” a bit flabby? To strengthen your ability to withstand waiting and delay rewards, challenge yourself to wait for something you normally access instantly.
Could you wait till midday to check emails and social media? Could you save up for a purchase instead of putting it on your credit card? You can retrain your brain to not expect everything now and, in doing so, recapture the joy and anticipation of delayed gratification while also learning greater patience.
Have you reached a point in your life where you realise that fast is not always best, that fast is actually costing you the chance to feel happy, healthy and in the moment? When you can challenge your thinking around time and what you expect of yourself, you can begin to revalue slow and to live your life with more patience, self-compassion and contentment.
This article by Jessica Lee first appeared in WellBeing magazine and can now be accessed at www.wellbeing.com.au along with other great articles on wellness, health and everyday neuroscience.