I looked back from my kayak to see people shouting and waving their arms at the man in the truck. Furiously backing his trailer down the boat ramp, he was headed straight for the girl scouts in kayaks at the bottom waiting patiently for their turn to be pushed off into the river. Unable to quite believe what I was seeing, it quickly became clear that this was the same man who moments earlier had been yelling at the kayak rental staff from across the river for blocking up the boat ramp he wanted to use.
So enraged at having to wait his turn to use the ramp, he proceeded to make a scene in front of the group of paddlers setting off on what should have been an enjoyable 10 mile paddle down the river to raise funds for their Girl Scout camp. Deciding he just couldn’t wait any longer, he pulled his boat up onto the beach alongside the boat ramp, fetched his truck and trailer, and began backing it down the ramp towards the last few paddlers still waiting to go at the bottom. It was only the screams of the girls and the frantic shouts from the kayak staff that finally made him put on the brakes.
We all lose our patience sometimes. Life is full of annoyances and frustrations that can push you to the end of your rope. Sitting in traffic, websites that won’t load, or the noisy chewing sounds from a colleague in the next cubicle can all make you feel like you want to explode with rage. Trying to stay calm and patient can seem like an impossible task. IF ONLY IT WOULD JUST STOP!!!! ARGH!!!
“Patience is the calm acceptance that things can happen in a different order than the one you have in mind.”David G. Allen
Do you consider yourself a patient person or do you have a short fuse? Can you smile and whistle through frustrations or do you want to lace up the boxing gloves and start dishing out punishment? How can we deal more effectively with our frustration, so that we can approach challenging situations more rationally and calmly for the sake of ourselves and others?
A study from the 2012 Journal of Positive Psychology showed there are 3 distinct challenges to our patience:
1 Interpersonal challenges
AKA Other People Suck.
People can be so flipping frustrating! Whether it’s an annoying colleague, the slow walker in front of you (just MOVE TO THE SIDE so we can all get on with our lives!) or some other super annoying person getting on your last nerve, interpersonal challenges to our patience are an unavoidable source of frustration and misery.
2. Life hardships
This is the one I personally struggle with the most – having the patience to find the silver lining during life’s ongoing trials. We are all guilty of wishing we could change things instantly. If only we had a magic wand and could abracadabra our way to the perfect life, everything would be awesome. Unfortunately life doesn’t work like that and requires that we work hard, set goals, and are patient. Perhaps you want to escape a soul-sucking job, are fighting your way back from an illness, or dealing with relationship stress. It takes time, patience, grit, and the ability to stay positive throughout the storm knowing that it’ll all be worth it in the end.
3. Daily frustrations
The long line at the checkout, getting stuck in traffic, or finding out you didn’t click ‘save’ before your laptop crashed and lost the report you’ve been slaving over for the last two hours. Daily frustrations are the third test of our patience, often resulting in (sometimes extreme) outbursts of rage and anger (as demonstrated by the ‘gentleman’ at the boat launch).
There are four simple yet effective strategies you can use to help bolster your patience and help you deal more calmly and effectively with frustration when it arises:
Identify and avoid your triggers
One of the simplest ways to deal with frustration is to avoid it altogether. Much of the daily frustration we face could be avoided with a little thought and planning. For example, leaving five minutes early or taking an alternative route to avoid traffic, pre-ordering your coffee so you don’t have to wait in line, or preparing in advance for encounters with an annoying colleague so you can keep them short and sweet.
Take some time to identify some of the things that trigger frustration in you and see if there are ways to either reduce their impact, or avoid them completely.
The ABCDE approach
Unfortunately, not all sources of frustration can be avoided. In such situations it may be more effective to challenge your negative thinking and calm yourself down rather than getting yourself wound up. Dr. Martin Seligman, considered the ‘founding father’ of positive psychology, proposed a simple ABCDE strategy to help you identify and challenge your beliefs about a frustrating situation and elevate your thinking to a more positive state.
To demonstrate how it works, imagine you’ve just been cut off in traffic by someone going way too fast and driving recklessly.
A = Action
Identify the specific action or situation that has triggered the negative response. In this case, you were cut off in traffic. Try to pin it down to a specific instance, such as ‘this specific individual driver cut me off’ as opposed to the broader ‘I’m always being cut off by other drivers’.
B = Belief
Ask yourself ‘why did it happen?’ Your aim is to identify your initial negative belief about the situation. You might find your belief is something like ‘because that driver is an idiot’, ‘because the traffic is awful and everyone is fighting their way through’, or perhaps ‘because driving is just so dangerous these days’.
C = Consequence
Next, identify the consequences to you if you continue to hold this belief. For example, continuing to believe the driver is an idiot may fill you with anger and rage, or believing that you have to ‘fight your way through’ may cause you to drive more aggressively, raising your stress levels and making you feel even angrier.Continuing to believe that driving is becoming more and more dangerous may increase your overall levels of anxiety and stress, or may even lead you to become more hesitant to drive at all in the future.
D = Dispute
The fourth and most important step is to dispute your belief. What other explanations could there be for the other driver’s actions? Perhaps they were speeding to the hospital to see a loved one, or were late to pick up their children. Perhaps they had just received bad news, or lost their job, or something else outside of their control could be causing them to drive faster than normal.
It is entirely possible that driving in a reckless manner is completely out of character for that individual, and that extenuating circumstances had caused this behavior. Believing they are an idiot may be entirely inaccurate, and they might normally be a very courteous and safe driver.
Let me be clear – I am not condoning cutting people off in traffic or reckless driving for any reason. However, by disputing your initial negative interpretations of the cause of the situation with other possibilities, you can lessen the intensity of the anger and frustration you feel in that moment. Instead, you can replace it with empathy or understanding for the driver, or gratitude that you are not in their shoes.
E = Energize
The final step is to create momentum behind your positive upswing and actively seek to energize it. As soon as you start to feel a shift towards a softer, calmer feeling, try to build on it with more positive thoughts. Congratulate yourself for turning your negative thinking around and let yourself feel good about feeling good! You can even ramp up the energy with some upbeat music, or anything that lifts your spirits even higher. Adding energy and momentum to your positive state will reinforce and strengthen your ability to think more positively in the future and put your feelings of anger and frustration behind you. You might even start to enjoy yourself sitting there in traffic!
It’s incredibly hard to feel angry, frustrated and grateful at the same time. Turn your attention to things that you can be grateful for in that moment to help shift you away from anger. You may be sitting in traffic, but you could choose to feel grateful that you have a safe, reliable vehicle to travel in, that you have the ability to drive and the freedom to go where you wish, or that you are glad you left a few minutes early and plan your time well so that you will not arrive late to your destination.
The ‘three things’ gratitude exercise, in which you write down (at least) three things you are grateful for each day, has been shown to significantly improve levels of positivity and wellbeing long-term if practiced consistently. Personally, I try not to fall asleep at night until I’ve counted at least five things that day that I am grateful for. It helps me fall asleep in a more positive frame of mind and sleep more soundly than if I was still feeling angry and stressed.
Emotional Freedom Technique
This is one of my favorite techniques for releasing anger, frustration, anxiety, and any kind of resistance/limited thinking in general. It has even been shown to work effectively on releasing physical pain.
The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or ‘tapping‘ as it is more commonly known, is a simple routine of tapping gently on certain parts of the face and upper body that correspond to meridians, the energetic pathways that flow throughout the body. Tapping on these meridian points is said to release energy blockages and negative thoughts, restoring you to a more balanced state.
It is though to work by sending signals to the amygdala, part of your brain’s ‘fight or flight’ response, interrupting and reducing the stress response and helping you to feel calmer. While the scientific research in support of EFT has yet to really prove it’s efficacy beyond a placebo effect, there are many advocates of the method that have used it with great results.
Four by Four breathing
I’m a big fan of the four by four breathing method used by the Navy Seals, also known as ‘box breathing’. This super simple technique helps you quickly regain your cool and feel calm under pressure (something Navy Seals know a LOT about!)
Here’s how it works:
- Take a long, deep breath in for a count of 4 seconds
- Hold it in for a count of 4 seconds
- Breathe out slowly and smoothly for a count of 4 seconds
- Hold the outbreath for a count of 4 seconds
- Repeat until you feel calmer
This is a phenomenal technique you can use discreetly in public to help calm yourself down extremely quickly (unlike tapping, which may get you some funny looks around the office if you try it in meetings).
So there you have it. Five strategies to help calm you down in the face of life’s frustrations and help you cultivate more patience. I’d love to hear how you get on using them, or if you have others that work well for you that you can share – please leave me a comment below!
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