Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How To Become Patient

On Sunday I wrote about patience. If you read it (and thank you for being a reader if you did), maybe you were left wondering something like “Oh, you want me to become patient. That’s nice. How? Is this like Chevy Chase’s line in Caddyshack: ‘Be the ball, Danny. Be the ball’?”

No. Not exactly.

If patience is a discipline, then there should be some objective ways to practice patience, just as you would practice music, or regularly workout while getting in shape. Our patience, or lack of patience, can be broken down into habits and behaviors. We’ve learned these, and in most cases we can unlearn them while learning new habits and behaviors.

I have no idea how far any of us are capable of changing in the area of patience. Honestly, I don’t. But I bet that any of us are capable of at least a little bit of change.

Think about something that causes you to lose your patience. Is it a certain discussion with your wife? Is it a behavior of your kids? Your boss or coworkers? Customers? Traffic? Crowds at the mall?

Can you avoid that situation? Can you change a routine to avoid whatever it is that sets your patience off? Can you ask those around you to change a behavior?

I’ll share a couple of case studies from my own life in an effort to make a point.

  • When our kids were still babies, I realized that my wife and I somehow ended up having an argument every single night. After a while, I realized there was a pattern. I finally came to the presence of mind to analyze what was going on. What happened was, each night, around 10 PM, I would decide it was time to go to bed so I could get up at 5 AM to go to work. My wife would stay up for a while. As soon as I got up to go to bed, my wife would start handing me a list of things that she wanted done. Change a diaper. Give Caleb a bottle. Take the clothes out of the washer and put them in the dryer. Get this. Do that. I noticed that this pattern got me very frustrated. Once I realized what was triggering the argument every night, then it was time to make a few changes. I would try earlier in the evening to anticipate what my wife might want me to do BEFORE I needed to try to sleep. I also asked my wife to let me know what she’d like done earlier in the evening, the things I guess I’m not bright enough to figure out myself, so I’m not suddenly hit with 2 hours of chores that late at night.

  • Earlier in our marriage, especially after we were able to bring my wife home to take care of the kids, we would have regular arguments in the afternoon. I realized this often resulted from me being jumped on the second I got home from work with a list of demands. While I understood that my wife had been alone with the kids all day, I had also been at work and drove home in traffic. Often, I hadn’t gotten any more sleep than she did. I’ve compared notes with other men, and most of us claim to need what I call “transition time” after getting home from work. We need a few minutes to mentally switch from “work/commute mode” to “home mode”. I don’t know why, but we do. Women don’t seem to understand this concept as they don’t seem to need this transition time. In any case, over the years, we’ve both learned to make allowances for this. When I come home, I try to at least find out where everything is at, greet the kids, and make sure she’d doing OK. She also doesn’t try to load me up with extra stress until I’ve been in the house for a few minutes. If it’s one of those days when my workday or commute were especially traumatic, she’ll let me take a few minutes in my computer room to bring myself home. It’s been a while since we’ve had a “transition time” argument. I know men who will go through a ritual after work. They’ll pull up in the driveway, and go through a process of “taking off” all their cares and worries from work and leaving them in the car, or on the doorstep. I’ve tried this, and it didn’t work as well for me.

There may be times when the conditions that trigger a lack of patience cannot be avoided (like traffic), or the other people involved refuse to change or adapt. In those cases, you are left with the option to either maintain the status quo, or change your response. In the event that your loss of patience is a trigger for something else, like a drinking binge or financially destructive spending spree, then you may have to develop a plan to deal with the trigger in a different way.

Here are some things that work for me:

1) Replay the scenario in your mind. At least in my case, most of the events that cause me to lose my patience are repetitive, or share common elements.

2) Think of other ways to respond. In this case, you can have some fun with it. Use your imagination for a while. Sometimes I warm up to this exercise by running Zach Braff Scrubs daydream type sequences through my mind. It’s fun.

3) Settle on a realistic reaction to the scenario.

4) Run that reaction through in your mind over and over again, until it becomes more natural.

5) Find other ways to prepare yourself for the situation. Memorize a related Bible verse or motivational quote. Listen to a relaxing song. Read something funny. Read something inspirational. Just find something that works for you and run with it.

And finally, for a more long term solution, read some books about that area of personal relationships, whether marriage, parenting, or work. People who are truly successful in their lives and relationships read a lot of non-fiction books. Most people that I know who see little to no progress in areas of their lives (yes, that includes me) don’t bother to read books about those areas. For some reason, I neglected to read any books on marriage or fathering for years. I picked up a few recently, and they’ve been very helpful.

I tend to add books that have been a help to me to my Amazon Store. Buy one of them. You’ll help both of us.
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