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The Power Of Patience – A Lost Virtue

Written by: Dr. Pamela Stoodley, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 
Executive Contributor Dr Pamela Stoodley

What would you say if I asked, "Do you have patience?"

A black and white photo of glass.

People typically see three categories of responses when they hear the word 'patience'; they either …

  • Have it

  • Hate it

  • Struggle with it


So what is it about patience that some individuals who possess it are touted as 'saints', while those who don't or struggle with this lost virtue are considered unfortunate?


Let's back up a little first to define patience.


Is it a personality trait, a skill or a genetic factor predisposing someone to a predetermined level of patience (or lack thereof)?


Every individual carries a distinctive personality. It's what makes us different from the next person. Qualities like extroversion, introversion, conscientiousness, openness, agreeableness, etc., combine to create a personality. This unique combination of traits has the power to shape how a person thinks, feels, and behaves in various circumstances.


It makes us who we are.


And this predominantly influences our interactions and experiences.


So where does patience fit into all of this? Well, to say it is a personality trait means it first started as a learnt behaviour. We are all born uncivilised and with intense, animalistic instincts.


We teach children, to eat like humans because eating like animals comes naturally to us. To be kind because biting, scratching, and hitting come naturally to us. To speak the truth, as lying (to avoid trouble), comes naturally to us.


So is the case with patience. A child is not automatically born patient. They are creatures that developmentally and neurologically exhibit extreme impulsivity. They want things NOW and detest having to wait … for anything!


We teach them to wait their turn, breathe and count till ten when frustrated waiting for the said turn and regulating related emotions that arise if the promised turn takes longer than their liking or never eventuates.

And there's nothing they can do about it. It is how their brains, specifically their prefrontal cortex regions, are designed for survival.


The Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) in Japan published a new study recently. It revealed that the serotonin release in the orbitofrontal cortex (the brain area just above the eye sockets) and the medial prefrontal cortex (the area forming the middle of this region) is vital in regulating patience.

This study indicates that patience is mastered only after age twenty-five! Yes, that's how long it takes for a brain to fully develop (undergoing a redevelopment during our adolescent years) and then halt. We obtain control over our impulses to a certain degree.


The foundation for it all, however, is – practice.


Does genetics have a role to play? Surely, if a parent lacks patience, their offspring will automatically have none. Right?


The answer to this question lies in epigenetics – the study of how your behaviour and environment can affect how your genes work. What this means is if Mr X is hypertensive and Mrs Y is diabetic, then their offspring Z has a higher chance of being predisposed to both hypertension and diabetes without necessarily developing either – provided they do something about their lifestyle choices (i.e. diet, stress management, movement, emotional regulation, sleep etc.)


So, in short, no, an impatient parent's offspring can learn to develop patience too.

But what if you've missed the boat as a child with learning and developing this crucial skill and have now grown into an adult with the notion that your personality is devoid of any patience, thereby rendering you 'impatient'?


Well, there is hope. But before that, let's address the actual question.


Do I really need patience? Why can't it simply be a trait I possess, and we leave it at that?


Touching on some of the benefits of patience may help you decide.


Being patient helps with –


1. Decision Making – Those impulsive purchases, lack of savings for a better future, and premature decisions arising from anger, fear, sadness or even ecstasy are essential scenarios where a patient attitude is pertinent.


2. Natural Flow – Ever tried to rush a creative process, make bread rise fast or hurry along the growth of a plant? You could try, but needless to say, the results wouldn't be what you expect without executing patience during the process. Ever wonder why, if you lack patience, you can still wait for Christmas or your birthday? It's because of the element of familiarity. The actual test of patience is waiting for the unknown or the unseen.


3. Equanimity – Maintaining calmness and composure in a challenging event. Think road rage, waiting in line impatiently, hurrying a child along or losing it at the cashier who perhaps takes their time at the checkouts. Impatient people get easily frustrated, and this transpires into anger. And the more times this cycle repeats, the stronger the neural connection becomes.


Lack of patience - > Frustration - > Anger


4. Persistence – Long-term goals like weight loss, building muscle, learning a new skill or even dropping a habit takes time and, you guessed it, patience. In this day and age of instant gratification, the inability to see results right NOW often leads to disappointments, to say the least, to something as serious as stress, anxiety and depression. It's why you often see impatient people getting anxious and jittery, wriggling or resorting to nail biting and describe themselves as feeling antsy waiting for the result of something – instantly!


5. Tolerance – The primary reason for intolerance towards someone's way of doing things is because it conflicts with our way of doing them, which can often lead to disputes because tolerance of someone's different way of being simply involves patience on our part. Thus, a lack of patience directly affects one's tolerance level.


6. Better Mental Health – As elucidated above, possessing the skill of patience allows you to be present – the fundamental way of acquiring awareness when handling one's emotions on a day-to-day basis. This state of attention leads to a less stressful and more blissful existence, ultimately affecting your overall mental health.


If all these benefits sound good, let's dive into the how.


a. Conscious Waiting - Pick an activity during the day that allows you to wait consciously. When your meal arrives, wait an extra minute before you dig in. When you wake up, wait a few additional minutes before you check your phone. Challenging yourself regularly to increase your wait time helps build that patience muscle.


b. Monotasking - Multitasking is a form of impatience that is ineffective at achieving quality goals. When you do one thing at a time, you do it with focus and patience, removing the need for rushing through multiple items at once.


c. Kaizen - You've often heard me speak about this Japanese principle and its effectiveness in managing yourself. Guess what? It applies to patience building too. When setting short-term or long-term goals, breaking them into smaller achievable goals makes the journey more manageable and less overwhelming. You automatically develop a sense of patience towards the entirety of the task. I describe more about this process in my book Cracking the Happiness Code’.


d. Reframe - We live in a world conditioned for hurry. When we encounter situations that are not in our control, we feel uncomfortable, which leads us to get impatient. If you think about it, an impatient and patient individual must wait for something to happen. The only difference is that the patient person does the waiting with the right attitude. Changing our mindset about the way we view the situation helps with being patient.

For example, when stuck in traffic, instead of thinking, "How long is this going to take?" reframe your thoughts to something more positive. "I'm grateful I have a car to commute safely daily." Your brain soon gets the message that you view a challenging situation with a different perspective – one that involves patience.


e. Scan - Quickly scan your body to check what muscles are tense. You will soon realise your shoulders have risen, you have clenched jaws or palms, or you could even have shallow breathing. Consciously relax all your muscles and follow this with three deep breaths. You are sending a message back to your brain that you are not in danger and therefore need to switch from survival mode to a more relaxed state. An infallible way to ensure scanning with breaths comes easily to you when needed is by practising mindful meditation when not faced with a challenging event.


f. Monitor - Note the triggers that cause you to become impatient. If you're having trouble identifying what they are, stop and think about the last time you felt this way. What caused it? This exercise helps you understand why certain events cause a sense of frustration within you and why you react a certain way.


g. Lifestyle - Another factor that affects patience is lifestyle. What we eat and drink, our medications, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, drugs, exercise, and sleep are what affect development and maintenance of patience.


Research on neuroplasticity has shown that the brain can change and adapt in response to experience and training. So even if you think you've turned out impatient because of a genetic or biological component, your patience can still be modified and improved through intentional practice and repetition.


"Today is difficult, tomorrow is much more difficult, but the day after tomorrow is beautiful. Most people die tomorrow evening" – Jack Ma.

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Brainz Magazine Dr Pamela Stoodley
 

Dr. Pamela Stoodley, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Dr Pamela Stoodley is a polymath with her range of specialties in being a general physician, child and adolescent psychologist, neuropsychologist, counsellor in addictions psychology and a nutritionist. Dr. Stoodley's first book 'Cracking the Happiness Code' teaches people the way our minds work and how best to use it to our advantage. Her life's mission is to show people how they can break the myth of a hard-wired brain and leap forward into the world of neuroplasticity for their own mental (health) agility. Her wish is to be able to empower every human on this planet ‒ from toddlers to retirees, the weapon of Mastering our Minds.

 

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