Who isn’t impatient every now and again? It’s hard not to be. You’re late for work, and your kid is having a casual conversation with their socks as time ticks by. Here comes the impatience. You’re stuck behind a slow driver in the fast lane. Yup, feeling impatient. You made reservations for a very rare date night, but your partner isn’t out of the shower yet. Impatience strikes again. These situations are largely unavoidable. What isn’t, however, is how to deal with — and communicate about — the impatience that vibrates through your body and could easily result in anger or other unpleasant reactions. Becoming more patient takes practice.
“Impatience,” explains Erin Dierickx, a marriage and family therapist in Seattle, isn’t the lack of patience. Rather, she says, it’s a response triggered by a task, phrase, or behavior that often stems from outside factors like strength and anxiety. The major risk of impatience as a parent, she notes, is that it can be poorly communicated to others, “which can negatively affect our relationships.”
In parenting, impatience often occurs when you get hyper-focused on immediate goals. “We may need our child to get dressed and put on their shoes to get out the door,” says Chelsea Fielder-Jenks, a therapist and founder of Thrive Counseling and Consulting in Austin, Texas, “Yet they are doing everything except what we are asking them to do.”
When this happens, she says, we enter into a power struggle with our child and our feelings of impatience, frustration, and anxiety build. It’s easy to rush to thoughts like Why don’t they just listen to me? and We can never get anywhere on time!.
As these types of situations are so legitimately discouraging, the challenge of impatience, according to both Fielder-Jenks and Dierickx, is that it’s often justifiable. The way you respond, however, may not be. So what can you do to curb your impatience? Here are eight tactics to try.
1. Take Several Deep Breaths
There’s a reason deep breathing is regularly recommended when you’re dealing with stressful situations: it’s rooted in our own survival instincts and designed to keep us safe.
“Our brains sometimes go to the extreme rather quickly because we might assume a matter is urgent,” explains Dierickx, “Most of the time, it’s not life-or-death, and one of the brain’s best indicators of that is oxygen.”
The anxiety associated with impatience usually results in hyperventilation — quick, short breaths designed to initiate the brain’s fight-or-flight response. Taking a few seconds to breathe deeply, and with control, can remind your body that, though you may feel uneasy, you’re probably not in danger, and you can catch your impatience with a productive response.
2. Relax Your Muscles
When you feel impatient, your muscles also have needs. It’s smart to give them what they want: attention. One way to do that, per Dierickx, is progressive muscle relaxation.
“Start with your toes, then move upward through your calves, thighs, belly, chest, arms, and face,” she says. “As you do, tense each body part for several seconds, and then release.” Devoting a simple 60 seconds (or so) to this exercise can distract you from what’s making you impatient and, more importantly, help you remind your body that you are in control.
3. Identify the Impatience in Your Body
We tend to assume that impatience begins in the brain. But, even though that’s where our emotions come from, they can manifest anywhere. Dierickx’s advice? Access the impatience in your body.
Notice what happens when you start feeling impatient. Does your chest get really tight? Do your arms and fists clench?
“By recognizing what’s physically happening with your body, you can give it specific attention,” she says. This technique can help you preemptively recognize moments of impatience and take action before it arises.
4. Declare Your Impatience
Speaking up about what’s making you impatient can be fulfilling and productive. Obviously, you should practice tact and finesse to make sure you do it without sounding like a jerk. But according to Dierickx, voicing awareness is an essential step in combating impatience.
“By acknowledging that you are feeling impatient, you are empowering yourself to recognize your experience and communicate how it is affecting you to others,” she says. “It can also provide you the chance to ask for help, for them the chance to offer help, or for each of you to choose how to respond.” The key here is context. By clarifying your experience, you can help those around you respond effectively.
5. Provide Validation and Instruction…
Impatience thrives on disconnection. If either you or your kids don’t know what’s going on or expected in a given situation, it’s a recipe for a meltdown.
“Validation, which is both a verbal and non-verbal response that communicates understanding, is what facilitates connection,” explains Fielder-Jenks. “Help your children understand the what and why of your request after validating their feelings.”
Remembering to say something along the lines of, “I know you’re upset because you want to play with your toy right now, so why don’t you bring it with you to your room while you’re getting dressed?” in a calm tone helps get this point across.
It’s important, per Fielder-Jenks, to pair these validating statements with validating actions. This helps shape behavior and communication, which can mitigate similar situations over time and ultimately taper your impatience.
6. …and Consider Adding Rewards
“Validation statements and actions go a long way,” says Fielder-Jenks. The key is to make the rewards meaningful, and use them to ultimately promote the desired behavior or routine.
“They don’t necessarily have to be extrinsic rewards, like toys, stickers, or candy — though those can be effective, too,” she says. “We can also acknowledge intrinsic rewards. For example: ‘If we do a good job with our morning routine, then we can listen to our favorite song while getting dressed and will have a happier morning together. It feels better starting our day off happy, right?”
As a parent, the more you can positively influence desired behavior, the less you’ll have to deal with situations that feed into your impatience.
7. Find a Distraction
A simple tactic to help quash your impatience? Busy yourself. “Doing something with your hands can be particularly effective in distracting our brains,” says Dierickx. Playing a game on your phone. Doing some physical exercise. It’s about figuring out what works best for you. “I love to walk,” Dierickx says. “But I find that’s when I tend to ruminate the most. So I’ve learned I need a high-intensity workout to really distract my mind so I can cool down.”
8. Consider the Big Picture
If you’re feeling impatient, dwelling on that feeling isn’t going to be productive, helpful, or pleasant. It helps to think about the big picture.
“When we are feeling impatient, rather than getting caught up in the immediate goal, it’s often helpful to remind ourselves to keep a larger perspective of the situation,” says Fielder-Jenks.
If you get impatient with your child, it’s important to remember, for instance, that they aren’t doing these things out of spite or to intentionally upset you. If you’re impatient with your spouse or a friend, think about the end result. Will you be late for dinner? Late to a movie? It happens. Reminding yourself of the big picture is important.