I recently realized that I live most of my waking hours in a state of perpetual striving. There’s a nagging voice at the back of my mind constantly adding new items to my to-do list. My phone is littered with notes made at odd times of the day and night, reminding me to email this person, pitch that idea, edit my website, write this blog post, make a healthier meal plan, and complete a complicated DIY craft project with my kids.
The lists spill out over the pages of my notebooks and diary, onto sticky notes and scraps of paper in my purse. The to-do list is an ever-evolving beast that is never satisfied, and leaves me feeling impatient, frustrated, and restless. Can you relate?
Overstimulation sets us up for failure
We crave peace — to be fully present in the here and now; to soak it all up; to be grateful for all that we have. But our minds constantly skip ahead to the next task. We barely notice when we reach or surpass one goal because we’re so focused on what we haven’t achieved yet.
We live in an unnaturally fast-paced culture, with a 24/7 digital connection to the rest of the world. With all the noise that surrounds us, we feel pressure to cram as much into our schedules and brains as possible.
One of the many consequences of this overstimulation can be that we end up holding ourselves to impossible standards and get impatient with our limitations and seemingly “slow” progress. There are so many things we could do, and we’re more aware of all our options and potential than ever. It can be hard to remember how impossible it would be to actually do it all.
Patience can unlock productivity and open the door to growth
Research shows multitasking damages our productivity and can negatively impact the way our brains process information. We know that rest is essential for our well-being and creativity. The benefits of disconnecting from our tech and making an intentional choice to slow down our lives are more and more widely discussed.
I’ve found in my own life, however, that understanding the benefits and actually internalizing those beliefs are two different things. One of the trickiest aspects of choosing to unplug and slow down is to tune out that frantic, impatient voice telling us that we’re not achieving enough fast enough. So what’s the solution?
Patience is the antidote to this sense of restless striving — especially learning to have patience with ourselves. Here are a few ideas to help you cultivate this in your own life.
Tips for cultivating patience
1. Understand that your energy will ebb and flow
Despite what our post-Industrial Revolution capitalist society would like us to think, we’re not machines, and our bodies have more in common with the natural world and the seasons than our constantly switched-on devices. Research shows that our brains rarely work well for long uninterrupted stretches of time, and, as Inc. put it, “An 8-hour workday only makes sense if you’re screwing in widgets on an assembly line.”
You’re probably already aware of your favorite time of day, and have a sense of whether you work better in the morning, afternoon, or evening. This applies to the seasons, as well — your productivity and whether or not you’re feeling at your best, in general, can be hugely influenced by other factors like your hormonal cycle, your health, and whatever is going on in your life at that particular time.
Remembering you’re not a machine and that your mood, abilities, and needs will be constantly shifting and changing can help you become more patient with yourself.
2. Grow in self-awareness
In their online course, A Seasonal Year, Maddy Lawson and Eleanor Cheetham suggest mapping out the year to find where your energy is naturally highest and where it’s lowest. Think about what kind of work fills you up, and what kind of work leaves you feeling more drained. Consider which seasons find you scribbling down new ideas like there’s no tomorrow, and which ones make you feel like hunkering down and staying firmly in your comfort zone.
Once you’ve learned to recognize your own patterns, you’ll be better placed to think creatively about how you can work with your tendencies, rather than against them. We don’t always have a choice about how much work we have on our plates or how we spend our days, but we usually have at least a little more choice than we think we do. And growing in self-awareness is the first step toward becoming more patient with yourself.
On my own journey towards self-awareness, for example, I’ve learned that my energy tends to be the lowest in the winter. So now I can prepare myself to be less ambitious and more patient with myself during that particular season.
3. Stay curious about your roadblocks
Nir Eyal, the author of Indistractable, encourages us to watch out for the moments when we start to procrastinate and question why we’re putting something off. He points out that there’s always a deeper emotion underneath the instinct to procrastinate — whether that’s fear of failing, not knowing how to do something, weariness and feeling too burnt out to engage with it, or just plain boredom.
When you cultivate a habit of observing the things that trip you up — that hold you back from making the progress you’d like to make without judgment — you can have more empathy for yourself instead of beating yourself up or calling yourself lazy. Keep in mind, though, that this isn’t about making excuses or trying to get out of doing the necessary work. When you can say, “That’s interesting, I’m trying to put off doing this thing because I’m really tired right now,” it’s easier to be patient with yourself. This allows you to find potential solutions — like rearranging your schedule in order to tackle a task later on with renewed focus and energy — rather than just getting frustrated with yourself.
4. Notice, celebrate, and cultivate gratitude for the good
I’m guilty of not taking the time to reflect on — or celebrate — the good things in my life. I recently achieved a dream I’d been harboring for years, and after about five minutes of feeling excited and happy about it, I went back to worrying about the next thing. This experience helped me realize that patience is a habit — a mindset that we have to cultivate — and that it’s intimately linked with gratitude.
It can feel kind of corny or egotistical to stop and pat yourself on the back when something goes well or you handle something in a way that you’re proud of, but as I get older I’m realizing how important it is to celebrate the small victories. Regularly refocusing on the bigger picture can help you see how far you’ve come, have a deeper sense of gratitude for where you’re at, and make peace with the time it takes to get anywhere good.
Patience is a virtue
Ultimately, having patience with ourselves helps us to develop deeper patience for others, and it all starts with understanding ourselves better. These tips will help you to self-assess, put patience into practice, and reap the benefits of increased self-awareness and productivity throughout your life. It might seem counterintuitive, but when things speed up, we should slow down — and watch the wonderful results that patience provides.