How to Be a Patient Person ___ Tips for Staying Calm in Today Hectic World
I watched the old man’s fumbling fingers as he slowly counted out the coins, one by one. I was all but dancing with impatience in the checkout line and sighed with exasperation. Hearing me, he smiled apologetically – a tiny smile of
humiliation at being feeble and holding up the world’s business.
Then I became contrite. Putting myself in his shoes, I realized that someday they might pinch my feet. I too, could
become dependent on the kindness of strangers. I patted his frayed sleeves. “Take your time,” I said. “There’s no hurry.”
It occurred to me how often I have acted impatiently --- honking my horn the instant the light changed, speaking sharply to someone slow to understand. Did it matter? It did. When you’re impatient, you’re apt to be rude. And such behavior
is counterproductive, making people angry or stubborn or uncooperative.
I decided to try becoming more patient and to develop various approaches for calming myself in stressful situations. I
can’t claim that these techniques transformed me into a model of patience, but they have helped me eliminate some
impatience from my life and control most of it.
Allow for a margin of error.
A friend had passed the interviews for an important new job: at that remained was for the president of the company to
meet his wife.
At six, my friend and his wife were in the tunnel on their way into New York for a seven o’clock appointment. At seven, they were still in the tunnel, stuck behind an overturned tractor-trailer. When they finally reached the president’s hotel, he had gone, leaving no message. He would not accept an explanation the next day. “You should have planned for delays,” he said.
Impatient people don’t like to waste time, so they cut things too closely. They budge the exact number of minutes that a
journey or task should take, not allowing for the possibility of delay or the unexpected. It is better to provide a margin
for error. The more important your appointment is, the more time should be allotted. When an appointment absolutely
can’t be missed, it pays to allow ridiculous amounts of time.
Put things in perspective.
Not getting a coveted job is calamitous, but the consequences of being held up are seldom the serious. They are not worth getting impatient.
I’ve learned to ask myself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” If the answer is that I’ll miss the opening credits of a
movie or the start of a ball game, I calm down. Will I even remember next week that I was ten minutes late today? Putting matters in perspective should ease your impatience.
Humor helps. Think of ways to turn a trying situation into a funny story that will amuse your family and friends. Try to
make yourself into an observer, which may provide just the distance you need to keep your impatience at bay until the
delay is over.
One evening as an acquaintance was leaving for a weekend trip, her car wouldn’t start – and three friends were waiting
to be picked up on a street corner. She had no way of getting word to them; they were cold and miserable and worried
when she arrived an hour late. Since hearing her predicament, I’ve always arranged to meet people where they or I can be reached in case of delay. It enables me to be for more patients when things go wrong.
Traffic tie-ups are less likely to irritate if you’re not hungry, thirsty, hot, cold or in desperate need of a bathroom. I used
to be amused by an aunt who never drove anywhere without a box of graham crackers. I learned to appreciate her
wisdom last summer when a friend and I went for an overnight visit with other friends at their beach house. We started off at 11 in the morning. The drive should have taken two hours, but we didn’t reach our destination until seven that night. A truck loaded with mayonnaise had crashed, greasing the highway and making it impassable. If ever
patience was needed, that was the day. Fortunately, we had brought along a loaf of banana and a carrot cake as hostess gifts. By the time we arrived, we’d made sizable inroads on both --- but we were far less frazzled than if we’d been
Waiting in airports is one of the most trying features of modern life. I was watching torrential rains streak the windows
at Raleigh-Durham International Airport one morning when a man came up, took a word game from his pocket and asked if I wanted to play. We played with pleasure for the four hours our plane was delayed. Near us, a man worked on his laptop computer. One woman went through a stack of catalogues methodically, turning down the corners of the pages, filling our order blanks. The most impatient people—the ones who prowled the waiting area and complained
loudly—were those who had nothing to do but put coins in the vending machines.
I now assume I’ll encounter a delay, so I always carry a paperback. A friend works crossword puzzles.
Use your imagination
Recently, while waiting in a restaurant, I felt the tension rising. “Possess your soul in patience,” I reminded myself.
I remembered a swimming pool from my teen years that was often crowded and noisy and agitated on the surface.
Sometimes I’d fill my lungs, drop down at the deep end and sit underwater, while it was still and green and silent. So that day in the restaurant I dropped down to a place inside myself where it was serene and still.
If you’re too irritated to think clearly, use your imagination to transport you to a favorite place. “When I fell myself getting tied in knots,” a friend says, “I imagine myself in a peaceful spot on the bank of a river. It always helps the tension drain away.”
Live for the moment
A man I knew was always racing impatiently into the future. If we met for a drink after work, the first thing he talked about was where we’d go for dinner; at dinner, he rushed through dessert to get to a movie; at the movie, he was on his
feet before the last frame faded. And in the car on the way home, he was making plans for the next day, next week, next year.
Never did he live in the here and now. Consequently, he couldn’t enjoy life.
I’ve come to appreciate that life has its own timetable. It takes nine months to make a baby, 21 years to make an adult. It takes a long time to become a good violinist or downhill skier. It also takes time to become a success—and even more
time to become a success as a person.
Perhaps the last thing for controlling impatience is to examine your own contribution to it. Are you unwilling to grant children time to learn, or slow people time to accomplish a task? If impatience is only occasional, your annoyance will
pass. But if you’re almost always irritable and abrupt, you may well feel that you’re just too important to ever be kept waiting for anyone or anything.
You’re not, of course; none of us are. If we can accept that the world is ours to enjoy but not made for our convenience,
we’ll be better able to move through it equably, more patient with the ordinary vicissitudes of life and a good
companion to our fellow human beings – and to ourselves.