Love is patient, love is kind.
Even if you’ve never read a Bible in your life, if you’ve been to a wedding or funeral, you’ve probably at least heard these few famous words from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.
He goes on to explain that love “does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Loads of books, poems, movies, and scholarly essays have been written about these few sentences and their timeless truth. But what I find particularly remarkable about this reading is that the first adjective listed — before even kindness — is that love is patient.
I don’t think that’s an accident.
In the age of insta-this and auto-that, patience is increasingly a hard virtue to master — and might be why the modern era struggles with loving others, including ourselves.
“We live in an instantaneous culture. Press a button and you can get what you need fairly quickly,” explains Lauren Cook, clinical counselor and speaker on mental health and wellbeing. “That instant gratification is rewarding and we forget the value of waiting for something.”
Our brains are simply out of practice when it comes to patience and the value of waiting and delaying gratification. The good news is that patience is a virtue — it’s a skill that we can improve in the more we practice it. Here’s how.
Be mindful of your own triggers
“If you are struggling with impatience, the first step is to look inward and figure out what is causing you to feel that way,” explains Robyn Flint. She’s a writer with a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling. “Is it really the situation or is it your mood? Sometimes when we are struggling with our own mood, situations may hit us the wrong way, leading to impatience and other feelings and emotions.”
Essentially, an impatient reaction may have nothing to do with the situation at hand, but instead be coming from somewhere deeper.
So think about taking a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon to start exploring what particular triggers bring out the impatient beast in you — and take heed to see if you discover a pattern in the upcoming weeks. Call up those who know you best, and ask them if they’ve noticed what sets you off. Flint suggests giving yourself time to collect this information. “Learn patience by giving yourself time to learn. A lesson in patience often takes a lesson in patience.”
Define what patience looks like for you
As you begin to explore your triggers, focus on how growing in patience could transform your life — as well as those in your life.
“Come up with your very own definition of what patience is for you,” advises Christopher Jackson of Coaching and Counseling in Connecticut. “When doing so, ensure your definition does not contain any judgment about someone else’s idea of what patience is. This is very important because it will … open up a possibility for change, neurologically.”
Essentially, you need to figure out how your life would be different if you were more patient. Make sure you’re not doing this solely to please another person and their one-dimensional version of patience.
“Identify one area of your life in which being patient will benefit you most each week,” Jackson says. “Do not try and apply patience to everything right away.”
Go back to your triggers and examine what would pay the biggest dividends. Consider what would make the biggest impact, and work from there. Maybe it’s how you handle conflict with your spouse, or your boss’ managing habits, or your co-workers’ insane political opinions. What will make the biggest difference in your life? Start with that for a week. Then see if you can continue it for another couple of weeks before you add in another area of focus.
Remind yourself of your ‘why’
“On a sheet of paper, write who would benefit from you becoming a more patient person,” says Jackson. “Then ask yourself why that is important to you, and write down three ways how you can deliver that to them and at the same time, feel a win for yourself.”
Over time, the habits of patience will become easier, and more applicable to other parts of your life. Ultimately, learning patience takes practice, so we need to be patient with ourselves as we build up tools. In this arena, in particular, learning how to take care of yourself can make a huge difference. After all, you’re far more likely to give someone the benefit of the doubt when you’re not totally demoralized.
So remember to be patient with your own shortcomings. All too often, how we treat and judge ourselves translates to how we treat and judge others. Go gently — patience is an ongoing practice we’ll be working on for our entire lives. It may be never-ending, but it’s well worth beginning.
After all, it’s the first ingredient to really loving those around us.