Mindfulness: How to Transform Impatience Into Patience
- May 2, 2017
- By Ruth Gentry, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist
- Categories: Cover Story, Healthy Mind, Wellness
As a psychologist, I often hear questions and desires like, “I want to learn how to be more patient with myself, my family, work and recovery from injury or losses.” These are difficult questions to answer because there is no blueprint for life and the challenges we all experience. However, we can become impatient with ourselves expecting our adjustment to change, to happen quickly – “I should be over this grief, this injury” and so on, and so on. Essentially, we can become our own worst enemy by setting expectations for ourselves to be at a certain place or time in our life, instead of just being okay with where were are in this moment.
Learning patience takes practice, and learning how to be compassionate with oneself takes time, as well. We can learn how to transform impatience into patience through calmly accepting things in our life through present moment focus. When we become more patient through bringing awareness to the present moment, we soon realize that much of our time is caught up in thinking about the past or the future. Not that there is anything wrong with this, but if we are constantly going over the past or what is to come, we are missing THIS moment and our present experiences.
Does that mean we just accept pain, and suffering? No, but we can learn how to accept these experiences by allowing ourselves to feel whatever we are feeling moment to moment. Often people just want the sadness, anxiety or emotions to just go away. However, by becoming more mindful of the moment, we allow ourselves to come to terms with things as they are, even if our sensations or thoughts are painful. This allows us a different way to cope with the challenges life may bring.
But, what does it mean to live in the present? Here are some suggestions to get started with mindfulness practice.
Pay attention by noticing environmental sensations such as sounds, sights and touch that make up your present moment. You can choose any task to practice mindfulness such as breathing, walking, eating, petting your dog or interacting with your children. The goal is to not latch onto a particular sensation or get caught up in your thinking about past or present, but rather observe what comes and goes in your mind.
In some sense, we have to go with the flow of our thoughts and emotions, which can be uncomfortable for people who are first starting this practice. Start by bringing your attention to your breathing by breathing in through your nose, allowing the air to your belly and letting your abdomen expand fully. Imagine that you have a balloon in your belly and, when you breathe in, the balloon inflates. Next breathe out through your mouth and allow yourself to notice the sensations fully, as if you are deflating the balloon. If your mind wanders, just notice where it has gone and redirect it to your breath or to the activity you’re doing in the present moment. You may have to do this over and over again, notice the mind has wandered and redirect back to the present moment. There is no right or wrong way to be in the present moment, just notice the mind has wandered and direct it back.
The benefits of mindfulness have been well proven with research, showing that it offers benefits for physical and psychological well being. If we are able to focus more on the moment, we are less likely to get caught up in worries about future or any regrets about the past. As a result, this can reduce anxiety, depression and irritability along with improving stress and relationships. Research shows that mindfulness is not only linked with improved stress management, but also associated with decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Further, it has also been shown to be effective in reducing the impact of chronic pain, lowering blood pressure, improving gastrointestinal distress, bolstering the immune system and improving sleep.
If you can start to experience life more in the present moment you will eventually train your brain into experiencing more gratitude naturally. As a result, you will likely be calmer, healthier and a happier person. To be truly patient is simply to be completely open to each moment, accepting each moment for what it has, to knowing that things can only unfold in their own time.
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- Jacobs, et. al. (2013). Self-reported mindfulness and cortisol during a Shamatha meditation retreat. Health Psychology 2013 October 32(10): 1104-1109.
- Full Catastrophe Living, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., pages 33-40