Patience: the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.
“Patience guards us against losing our presence of mind so we can remain undisturbed even when the situation is really difficult.” 14th Dalai Lama
The field of psychology does not contain many references to patience, but the spiritual traditions extol patience as both a virtue and an important tool. In Buddhist tradition, patience is one of the six paramitas (or perfections). These are virtues that are to be perfected with continued practice, leading eventually to enlightenment. In Christian tradition, patience is one of the “fruits of the Spirit” i.e. manifestations of a spiritual life.
Mindfulness is one area where psychology has borrowed from spirituality. Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR), based on the spiritual practice of mindfulness, has over thirty years of scientific research. Mindfulness has also aided in the treatment of mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, trauma, addiction, and more.
Patience is another area where psychology could borrow a tool from the spiritual toolkit, yet it has not. Perhaps because patience is often thought of as a virtue–something you have–rather than a skill that can be learned. But patience is both a virtue and a skill.
I believe that most things in life are skills that can be learned. We practice the skill of mindfulness as part of our program, and we can also practice the skill of patience. Viewing patience as a skill, and a tool in your wellness toolkit, can keep you on track and get you through plateaus.
So, how do you practice patience? You simply set this as your intention, and seek opportunities to practice. I learned this when I started training in Aikido. Steve–who teaches Aikido as well as weight loss–would often say that Aikido is a way to practice patience. That was the first time I heard patience described as something I could practice. Learning Aikido’s complex movements was quite frustrating, and a daily exercise in patience, but it has paid off enormously. I was never a person known for her patience. Yet with years of practice behind me, people actually tell me I’m a patient person.
To practice means to do something over and over with the goal of improving. It is okay if you are not good at it at first. Start to view daily life events as opportunities to practice and improve. Just like lifting weights, you become stronger and stronger each time you push yourself and have your patience tested. It is uncomfortable at first, but you will get stronger. Traffic jam? Consciously practice patience. Long line at Trader Joe’s? Practice patience. The scale not moving? Another opportunity to practice patience….
These are informal, daily ways. But you can also strengthen patience by adopting a formal practice of meditation, yoga, tai chi, pilates, or a martial art. Daily seated meditation helps you to train your mind. While meditating, you have to deal with a wandering mind. Bringing the mind back—again and again—to the present moment, is a key exercise in patience. And any type of exercise that is done in a mindful way can help improve patience. For example, yoga poses strengthen patience by training your mind to focus on your breath and body, and by enduring difficult poses and uncomfortable sensations.
Over time, you will notice a ripple effect in your life as you become more patient in other areas. And once you sharpen the tool of patience, you can use it to help with weight loss.
Practicing the skill of patience can help you to:
- get through plateaus
- adjust to new habits
- handle setbacks
- tolerate cravings, and
- ride out the difficult emotions involved in emotional eating.
So why not grab some weights and begin strengthening the patience muscle?