It can seem that patience has become somewhat of a foreign concept these days. Certainly, we have become accustomed to nearly everything being immediate (on-demand), faster paced and easy. This might be at least partially due to technology, marketing and the way our society has become increasingly designed to expect instant gratification. However, no matter how much technology advances, our lives will always evoke times where patience is necessary.
While the ability to order through an app and skip the line at Starbucks is a welcome advancement, life’s bigger milestones generally do not come as easy and require fostering patience. Whether you are growing tired of going on date after date to find that special someone, attempting to get pregnant for months, or applying for jobs or graduate school for years on end, waiting can be painful.
While those longer journeys can be taxing, some of the smaller and more innocuous moments in our lives can get the best of us. Personally, traffic can really test my nerves and cause frustration. Other times I may find myself frustrated while talking to relatives who insist on bringing up the questions that I have previously asked them not to ask me. For you, those tougher moments could be your child misbehaving “again” and lead to you losing your cool.
We can all point to how factors with which we have little or no control can cause us to become impatient and frustrated. A more powerful impatience, however, can come from lack of patience for ourselves.
We all have moments where we think we should be thinner, stronger or more successful by now. This inner impatience can fail to recognize our efforts, the gains we have made in other areas, the reality that our lives do not fall into simple linear paths, or the obstacles that may be in our way.
As therapists, we regularly see an often overwhelming lack of patience during treatment. It is not unusual for a client to ask how many sessions it will take to feel better or “fix” the problem they have identified. This is certainly not our client’s fault, but rather an extension of a medical or curative model to treatment that extends from a simple remedy approach to treatment that we all ascribe to acute illnesses. Patience in therapy is further stifled by expectations from insurance companies and legitimate financial constraints that encourages a model that “cures problem A” and fails to fully consider that treatment is more often about intrapersonal growth obtained through the therapeutic process, rather than the resolution of a particular concern. In reality, therapy is a component of a life-long journey of self growth. Trying to rush insight and get to the “happy” phase often misses the lessons learned during that journey. Effective therapy is very much about the emotional investment and vulnerability that you employ in a session. This process opens us to a direction towards growth that can continue to flourish once treatment has been discontinued.
We also should ask ourselves “how can expect others to be patient, if we are not able to exhibit that patience ourselves?” Any journey brings unexpected moments, stressors, and frustrations. In that sense, life is, in itself, an exploration of patience and the process of how we move from one step of our lives to the next. When those stressors emerge, we have a choice to demonstrate patience or impatience. Can we just learn to accept the moment for what it is?
For me, the theme of patience ties back to an earlier post on Wellness Wednesday about mindfulness. By practicing mindfulness we learn to tolerate discomfort and that fosters patience. So maybe the next time you are caught in a line or in traffic, take a mental step back and ask yourself if you can take control of “waiting” and allow this moment to pass without strong feelings of frustration. If you are unable to foster patience, can you respond in a way that does not amplify the suffering that you or others experience? We must accept that we do not always have control over a situation or how others around us respond. We do, however, have some control over our own attitudes and reactions. Sometimes the best option is to take a deep breath, let go, and see if we can be patient with the current situation. You will be quite surprised how often that little step leads to far more gratifying outcomes and a journey to that outcome that is paved with less suffering.
This week I took the plunge and did something that I have been thinking about for a long time. It has been years since I took part in an organized hobby activity, but, with a push from a family member, I decided that it was finally time to stop googling it and actually sign up and show up.
I often encourage my clients to invest in themselves by practicing self-care. But self-care means more than just self-compassion, relaxation and rest. To me, self-care means participating in self-actualization and growth fostering experiences. We often do not think of hobbies as growth opportunities, but they certainly can be. So yesterday I took part in my first ceramics class.
It was immediately apparent that this was going to be more than just fun artistic hobby time. The benefits of the class started from the excitement of having something to look forward to in my calendar. For me, the class was a time to detach from my phone for a full three hours, and boy was that something that was foreign to me. The class also pushed me to be fully focussed on the present moment, my attention on my creation instead of my future responsibilities, worries and to-do lists. By focussing on the wet clay, instead of getting caught up in the past and future, I was practicing mindfulness while also creating art. Taking three hours to focus on something for the entire pursuit of pleasure felt freeing. This class was not for work or professional development, it was purely for me. It felt meditative to let my hands be in control rather than my busy mind. As the third hour approached, I became more appreciative of the repetitive motions and sensory exploration of the clay between my fingers. It felt exciting and satisfying to see my creation improve and more closely approximate what I had intended as the minutes progressed.
The most interesting thing that I took from the class was the feeling of being challenged. It has been a while since I have attempted to learn a completely new skill. I had to consciously fight the urge to compare myself to others that seemed to grasp the hand motions and techniques with greater ease. I had to remind myself that perfection is not the goal and that learning means things start off hard and slowly, but with practice gets easier.
Learning a new skill is healthy for your brain, excellent mental exercise, and an opportunity to train your sense of resilience. Avoiding struggle is avoidance of growth and a failure to explore what life can truly foster in us. During childhood, we are taught that we need to try different hobbies and that we should not give up when things are difficult. As an adult, we sink into what we are good at. We choose careers in line with our strengths and focus on everyday routines that become somewhat mindless and habitual. As a result, adults may forget that mistakes and challenges foster growth. We need to remind ourselves that small challenges prepare us for the big challenges that we cannot easily anticipate. By adaptively working through challenges we can train our brains to approach future struggles with that same adaptive perspective instead of crumbling in despair.
So next week, when I look at the non-symmetrical bowl I made, I will be reminded that I can continue to work on what is not easy for me instead of letting my imperfections and difficulties defeat me.
One of my goals with each weeks #WellnessWednesday is to inspire readers to think a bit deeper about their day to day experiences and use that thoughtfulness to encourage either acceptance or action. I similarly spend a lot of time perusing the internet for my own personal inspirations, during which I came across a great article from NPR that had me thinking more deeply about how mainstream North American culture teach children to regulate emotions compared to how other cultures approach this. While we have certainly moved forward in this regard over the decades, it also seems that other cultures are approaching this in a unique, and sometimes better, way.
The Other Side of Anger: How Inuit Parents Teach Kids To Control Their Anger (Authors: Ichaeleen Doucleff and Jane Greenhalgh) explores an alternative parental response to anger. Specifically, the article touches upon how the Innuit community traditionally responds to tantrums and outbursts through demonstrations of patience and storytelling rather than time-outs or consequences.
The article explains how responding through narrative can be a tool to help children understand the repercussions of their actions in a dramatic creative way. This approach to behavioural outbursts reminds us that mirroring back anger through yelling and threats are rarely successful for young children who need time to learn to self regulate. The Inuit community informs us that yelling only teaches children to respond with a raised voice when they are angry or to run away from you when they are upset. By not yelling, we model self control in moments of anger and then when the child is calm we can explore other ways that they could have reacted. This practice further helps children to learn perspective taking and critical thinking, which underlie the development of empathy.
The article is an interesting read and can act as a reminder to caregivers who already act in such a fashion or a valuable alternative approach for those who find themselves stuck in a retaliatory emotional battle.
You can find the original article by clicking here.
Last week on Wellness Wednesday we discussed the concept of mindfulness and how a regular meditation practice can help people increase their present moment awareness and move forward throughout their day in a deliberate manner. Undoubtedly, several readers viewed that article and reflected on their previous unsuccessful attempts at meditation. Do not be fooled, building a regular meditation practice is not easy. You may wonder if you are doing it right, you may wonder whether it is really working or not, or you may be struggling to simply build a mindfulness routine.
It can be beneficial to think about it as going to the gym. Sometimes people are able to just get to it and work through these challenges on their own. At other times, you may benefit from a gym buddy or personal trainer. In mindfulness circles, that buddy and trainer is MUSE. As a side bonus, this buddy/trainer can read your mind (well sort of)!
MUSE is a personal EEG headband from a Toronto based start-up called Interaxon. It was designed to bring neurofeedback, training, and habit building to the meditation process through the pairing of the MUSE Headband and the free Muse app (Android and iOS).
The MUSE app/headband provides you feedback during a meditation session to assist you in returning to your point of focus when you become distracted or distressed. It also provides the user a wealth of data that can help track their progress and understand how their mindfulness practices are helping their brains grow. This includes how many seconds your brain maintained a calm or active state, how often you become distracted, and how often you were able to disengage from those distractions and return to your point of focus. The data is displayed graphically in your app and helps you track your progress and decide when to step up your training by increasing the duration of your meditation.
Some of my clients also enjoy using MUSE without the headband. If the scores do not matter as much to you, you can simply engage in the various provided meditations, easily adapt your length of time, and provide a good mechanism to track your frequency of practice. I really enjoy the ability to customize my practice to my personal taste, a feature not available in many other free or premium apps. Specifically, I like that I can choose the number of minutes I want to meditate and be able to choose the background soundscape theme that I prefer. MUSE also provides a number of different meditations that are focused on the mind, heart, body, and breath. Finally, you can also choose ones that have minimal to no narration or those with more guidance along the way.
Getting into the habit of meditation can be tough, but with MUSE a simple three minute a day practice can help build a lifetime of mindfulness.
The MUSE Headband can be found online at http://choosemuse.com or through online vendors like Amazon.
FLEX Psychology currently uses Muse with a diverse range of clients. While we maintain a collegial relationship with the MUSE team, this post was not funded nor supported by Interaxon. All MUSE hardware used by FLEX Psychology was purchased independently at regular price.
Jessica is a member of the clinical wellness and learning support team at FLEX Psychology. Jessica started Wellness Wednesday out of a desire to provide further opportunities for her clients to extend their wellness journey to all avenues of their life. You can learn more about Jessica by clicking here or by learning more about her and the clinical team at FLEX Psychology by clicking here.