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Judith Orloff MD Headshot

The Power of Patience

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As a psychiatrist, patience is an invaluable skill that I teach all my psychotherapy clients. In my book Emotional Freedom I emphasize the importance of patience as a coping skill and how to achieve it. Frustration is not the key to any door. Patience is a lifelong spiritual practice as well as a way to find emotional freedom.

We need a new bumper sticker: FRUSTRATION HAPPENS. Every morning, noon, and night there are plenty of good reasons to be impatient. Another long line. Telemarketers. A goal isn't materializing "fast enough." People don't do what they're supposed to. Rejection. Disappointment. How to deal with it all? You can drive yourself crazy, behave irritably, feel victimized, or try to force an outcome -- all self-defeating reactions that alienate others and bring out the worst in them. Or, you can learn to transform frustration with patience.

Patience doesn't mean passivity or resignation, but power. It's an emotionally-freeing practice of waiting, watching, and knowing when to act. I want to give patience a 21st century makeover so you'll appreciate its worth. Patience has gotten a bad rap for the wrong reasons. To many people, when you say, "have patience," it feels unreasonable and inhibiting, an unfair stalling of aspirations, some Victorian hang up or hangover. Is this what you're thinking? Well, reconsider. I'm presenting patience as a form of compassion, a re-attuning to intuition, a way to emotionally redeem your center in a world filled with frustration.

To frustrate means to obstruct or make ineffectual. Frustration is a feeling of agitation and intolerance triggered when your needs aren't met; it's tied to an inability to delay gratification. At our own risk, we've become too used to immediate results. Emails zip across the globe in seconds. Parents text messages to their kids to come in for dinner instead of yelling from a front porch. You can get the temperature in Kuala Lumpur or the Malibu Beach surf report with a click of a mouse. Despite the digital age's marvels, it has propagated an emotional zeitgeist with a low tolerance for frustration -- not just when you accidentally delete a computer file, but in terms of how you approach relationships and yourself. Without patience, you turn into your own worst taskmaster. You treat spouses and friends as disposable instead of devoting the necessary time to nurture love. But with patience, you're able to step back and regroup instead of aggressively reacting or hastily giving up on someone who's frustrating you. You're able to invest meaningful time in a relationship without giving up or giving in. In fact, patience gives you the liberating breath you've always longed to take.

Frustration prevents emotional freedom. Expressing frustrations in an effort to resolve them is healthy, but it must be done from a non-irritable, non-hostile place. If not, you'll put others on the defensive. Wallowing in frustration leads to endless dissatisfaction, placing us at odds with life. This emotion makes us tense, kills our sense of humor. It also leads to procrastination; we put things off to avoid the annoyances involved. Conquering frustration will revive your emotional life by making it your choice how you handle daily hassles and stresses.

I'm defining patience as an active state, a choice to hold tight until intuition says, "make your move." It means waiting your turn, knowing your turn will come. Once you've gone all out toward a goal, it entails trusting the flow, knowing when to let the soup boil. With patience, you're able to delay gratification, but doing so will make sense and feel right. Why? Intuition intelligently informs patience. It'll convey when to have it and if something is worth working on or waiting for. As a psychiatrist, I'm besotted with patience because it's intimately intuitive, all about perfect timing, the key to making breakthroughs with patients. I can have the sharpest intuitions or psychological insights, but if I don't share them at the right moment, they can do damage or else go in one ear and out the other. With regard to this, I strive for enormous patience; anything less would impede healing.

I'm also struck by the fact that every world religion sees patience as a way to know God, an incentive for me to practice it, and perhaps you too. Whereas frustration focuses on externals, patience is a drawing inward toward a greater wisdom. Lastly, patience doesn't make you a doormat or unable to set boundaries with people. Rather, it lets you intuit the situation to get a larger, more loving view to determine right action. Patience, a gift when given or received, moves within reach when you can read someone's deeper motives.

To practice patience, try this exercise. I do it all the time to turn frustration around in long lines. I advise my patients to do this too.

Emotional Action Step: Practice Patience In A Long Line

To turn the tables on frustration, find a long, slow-moving line to wait in. Perhaps in the grocery store, bank, post office. Or if you're renewing your driver's license, dare to take on the mother of all lines in the DMV. But here's the switch: Instead of getting irritated or pushy, which taxes your system with a rush of stress hormones, take a breath. Tell yourself, "I'm going to wait peacefully and enjoy the pause." Meanwhile, try to empathize with the overwrought cashier or government employee. Smile and say a few nice words to the other beleaguered people in line. Use the time to daydream; take a vacation from work or other obligations. Notice the stress release you feel, how your body relaxes. Lines are an excellent testing ground for patience. To strengthen this asset, I highly recommend standing in as many as possible.

Practicing patience will help you dissipate stress and give you a choice about how you respond to disappointment and frustration. When you can stay calm, centered and not act rashly out of frustration, all areas of your life will improve.

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