Developing Patience Begins with Ourselves

by Donne Davis on July 15, 2014

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My 91-year-old mother has some wonderful virtues, but patience isn’t one of them. And I confess that I’ve inherited her impatience. Whenever I witness her impatient behavior, I try to remind myself that I don’t want to be that way. It doesn’t always work. So I keep reminding myself that developing patience begins with ourselves.

Recently, I was the one who displayed impatience and my mother and husband were there to witness it. We had just spent a wonderful afternoon seeing “Jersey Boys” and I was driving back to my mom’s place. It was a Sunday afternoon and we weren’t in a rush but there I was stuck behind a driver who seemed to be taking forever at the stop sign. I stayed calm for the first intersection but when she stopped at the next one and didn’t move, I couldn’t restrain myself and honked my horn. I couldn’t see in front of her so I just assumed she was taking her sweet time again.

The driver rolled down her window and yelled “Do you want me to drive over those cars in front of me?!”

I immediately regretted my impatience and felt even worse because I had two witnesses in my car. I wish I’d yelled out an apology; instead, I just laughed in embarrassment.

It reminded me that patience is a practice that must be worked on for a lifetime. I’ve read and re-read M. J. Ryan’s book, The Power of Patience: How to Slow the Rush and Enjoy More Happiness, Success, and Peace of Mind Every Day.  I even reviewed her book on my blog. Yet, I still find myself behaving impatiently when it’s uncalled for.

Ryan writes that the longer she’s pondered patience, the more she’s come to see that impatience is actually a symptom of perfectionism. If we expect ourselves and others to be perfect (I’m often guilty of that one, too) and if we expect subways and elevators and voice-mail systems to be flawless, then we’ll lose our patience every time some imperfection shows up: lost luggage, blown timetables, rude waiters, fussy in-laws, impatient mothers, and slow Sunday drivers!

Conversely, the more we see life as messy and unpredictable, and people as bumbling through life the best they can, the more patience we bring to the circumstances and people in our lives.

But we can’t do that unless we start with patience for ourselves, by treating ourselves with compassion for, and curiosity about, our foibles and failings. If we expect perfection from ourselves, we’re rigid, inflexible, judgmental. Any mistake is unacceptable so we push it away and pretend it never happened. We don’t learn from our errors and are therefore condemned to repeat them.

If, on the other hand, we treat ourselves in a tender, gentle manner as a loving mother would treat her newborn child, it’s possible to acknowledge our mistakes and make wiser choices in the future.

In the future, I hope I have an opportunity to display my patience in front of my mother and be a good role model for both of us.