If you are part of a family—any family—you’ve learned that patience is a tremendous virtue. To love other people requires patience. It’s difficult sometimes. In our age of immediate gratification, we can experience it all in seconds. Our culture seems to work against developing this essential attribute, but patience has long been considered a virtue in every culture. Michelangelo said, “Genius is eternal patience.” Aristotle said, “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” How does one cultivate patience in a society that rewards immediacy?
Important vs. Not Important
Stephen R. Covey, in his seminal and best-selling book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, suggests we focus on first things first. Covey divides important and urgent issues into a two-by-two quadrant matrix with “Not Important” and “Important” on the left axis and “Urgent” and “Not Urgent” on the upper axis. He suggests that while exercise is important, a crying baby can be both urgent and important. By consciously identifying what is important versus not important and what is urgent versus what is not urgent, we can gain more influence over our lives.
Stress Triggers and Patterns
We learn from statistics that everything regresses to the mean. This is true with our own lives as well. We default to certain behaviors given certain circumstances. If we can identify triggers that challenge our patience and patterns that lead to our frustration, we can then focus on changing those triggers. Impatience is often a symptom of other issues. Solve the issues and miraculously you’ll develop more patience.
The Fiction of Control
While working to solve underlying issues can improve our patience level, not everything can be so controlled. In fact, the more experience you have, the more you realize that we have far less control than we think we do. By admitting where we have influence but no control, we can let go of those issues that waste our time and our energy. And by gaining more time and energy, we miraculously gain more patience.
When my grandfather was ninety-eight, he asked a group of middle-aged men if they wanted to know how to live to be one hundred. They all answered yes. He paused, looked thoughtful, and then said, “Keep breathing.”
The first thing most people do when stressed is to hold their breath. Dr. Ben Bernstein, in his book Stressed Out for Parents, co-authored with Michelle Packard, writes that stress creates a physiological response—the body thinks it’s dying. This leads to a vicious cycle: no breath, dying, more stress, no breath, dying, more stress . . . So if you want to gain more patience, remember to breathe. Dr. B., as he’s known to his students, suggests that we take a deep cleansing breath when stressed and let it out slowly. Repeat three times or until you feel your stress level subsiding.
Keep a Journal
Writing about our feelings has long been a method of recording triggers and patterns. Exploring where we have control and where we don’t, and identifying what frustrates us. Recording our feelings in a journal has a way of uncovering what we’ve been exploring subconsciously. By keeping a journal, not only do you record history and memories, but you also positively deal with issues that affect your patience. Keeping a journal is powerful, adding an element of gratitude has a profound way of influencing your point of view. And having a positive and grateful point of view has a tremendous influence on your patience.
So as you love your family, practice some patience. You’ll find that family is to be enjoyed, not just endured.
Christopher Robbins is currently the co-founder and CEO of Familius, a trade book publishing company founded in 2012 with a mission to help families be happy, a mission that has helped Familius be one of the top fastest-growing independent publishing companies in the US for the past three years as reported by Publishers Weekly. Christopher earned a BA in English and an MBA from BYU. He has served on numerous boards including Writers@Work and the Independent Book Publishers Association. Christopher currently lives in the central valley of California with his wife, four of his nine children, and their cat and dog.