THE BLOG
03/03/2016 12:11 pm ET Updated Mar 02, 2017

Cultivating Patience During Stressful Times

"Patience is not something that is based just in waiting until you get to do what you want to do, with those people you want to do things with. It is based in relating fully with a situation, even if it annoys the hell out of you." - Lodro Rinzler

Our sages tell us that patience is a virtue and that good things come to those who wait.

Patience sounds great in theory. When our kids want yet another cookie and we are in the middle of doing the dishes, we teach them to wait. Most of us understand that there are certain situations - like grocery store line-ups, traffic, public transit, airport security - that will require us to be patient.

But what about those moments when we are required to hurry? When things needed to be done yesterday, our inbox keeps flooding, and our kids are still screaming about the cookie? At times like these, patience seems like a dream of faraway landscapes and a luxury that we just can't afford.

While it may seem counter-intuitive, it is precisely at those moments when there is no time to waste, that we can benefit from patience the most.

This past month, I was up against one of the tightest deadlines I've ever had at work, and people seemed to be pulling at me from all directions. In a desperate attempt to remain focused on the present moment despite these pressures, I decided to give patience a try. Here are some ways that patience came in very handy:

1) Patience with the Situation

I came back from a 10 day vacation in Florida to a full inbox. I didn't know where to start and the e-mails kept coming fast and furious. I got a call from my boss requesting that I help her out with a few additional projects that had come in, and I felt my body begin to tense up.

My usual response when I feel that I am given more than I can handle is to freeze. I panic, feel like I can no longer function, and I begin to daydream about other careers I could pursue. None of these approaches would help me get through my inbox, be available and helpful to my boss, or figure out an approach to tackle the demands ahead.

So my first step this time was to be patient with the discomfort of the situation. While I felt like I could not get everything done, I acknowledged that I was reacting to the pressure in a way that was not helpful. I still felt the panic, I still heard the negative thoughts telling me to escape, that it was all too much and I could not handle it.

I stayed with the whole mess of things and allowed myself to relax into it. I took a few breaths. I reminded myself that this too shall pass, and that I had made it through busy periods before. Staying with the reality of a stressful time rather than fighting against it allowed me to then focus on how I could work with the situation and bring my attention, skills and talents to the problem at hand.

2) Patience with Other People, Mistakes and Repetition

During stressful times, it is not just us that are close to losing it. Everybody has different ways to reacting to pressure, and you will undoubtedly bear the brunt of other people's negative reactions from time to time.

You may have a boss that redrafts your work over and over, redrafting even her own prior edits. You may have a colleague who keeps coming into your office to complain all the time, or an employee who keeps making mistakes that you have to fix.

While our ultimate goal may be to complete a particular task or make it to a key milestone, I have learned that the many people who seem to be in the way of getting this done are actually the pathway to it. When under pressure, I used to have tunnel vision, seeing every redraft, every unnecessary interaction, and every mistake as precious time wasted.

The result was that I was constantly impatient, frustrated, resentful, and frankly, the preoccupation with wishing things and people were different kept me from being able to do a great job.

This time, I chose to see each person, each difficulty, each mistake, and each interaction as inherently linked with the project. I gave my full attention to each situation, each time doing the hard work of letting go of my idea of how things should be.

The result was that I was able to connect more deeply to the work, my team, and the process. There was an ease to my work because I was going with the current rather than fighting it, and viewing the humanness of the situation, including hiccups and annoyances, as an important part of my task, rather than an interruption.

3) Patience with Tasks Yet to be Done

When things are busy, tasks pile up. You are trying to get one letter out the door when something else blows up and there is an urgent meeting to discuss it. People are trying to get your attention to answer little details while you are still trying to get a grasp on the strategy. The printer breaks down, someone wants something redrafted, and there is a customer calling because he is unhappy. It all seems to happen simultaneously. What is one person to do?

I suggest choosing one task at a time, and giving 100% of your attention to it. This may seem impossible - there are so many different things calling for your attention! While this is true, the reality is that you can really only do one thing at a time. The magic comes from choosing that one task carefully.

You may begin the day trying to draft a letter. At this time, you are 100% focused on the letter. The urgent request comes in, so now you focus 100% on the transition. You may have to notify someone that the letter will be late as you need to deal with something else. Or, you get someone else to deal with the urgent matter. Figure out which it will be, then move 100% to that.

When people come to ask you little questions, give 100% of your attention to the person. Figure out if this is something that you can deal with now, or ask the person to return at a later time. Same thing with the customer who is calling - will you answer now or get back to him later? Make the choice, then stick to it.

You will be amazed at how much you can accomplish when you let undone tasks be, and choose to focus fully on whatever it is you are doing. Most importantly, you will be truly living and experiencing life rather than being a victim to your infinite to-do list.

I challenge you to cultivate patience this month, especially at times when you are feeling completely frazzled and overwhelmed.

You may just find that in slowing down and showing up fully, regardless of your circumstances, you will tap into an infinite well of patience. May it rejuvenate and energize you, and carry you through the tough times.