This post by Jan Bruce, CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, first appeared on Forbes.com.
As an entrepreneur, I pride myself on my move-fast-take-no-prisoners approach to work. And I believe there’s a lot to recommend a degree of impatience: it feeds your drive, ambition, tenacity, persistence.
But despite its usefulness, impatience does have a dark side: It’s a breeding ground for frustration, stress, and anxiety. When it becomes a habit, you can get accustomed to motion, rather than progress and achievement. And when things take longer than you want, as they often do, your expectations can lead to guilt, frustration, or dissatisfaction. If you allow yourself to be defined by this, you are choosing a posture in the world and at work that leaves you vulnerable and out of control.
Here are some strategies for coping:
Identify the thought. Part of regaining control and calm is being able to identify the thought that’s triggering impatience, and changing it. Fact is, you may not even be aware that these thoughts are operating beneath the conscious level. But the sooner you get honest about what’s causing it, the sooner you can let it go. Deep-rooted beliefs like, “Things should go the way I expect,” and “Life should work out for me at every turn,” are a recipe for frustration.
Challenge these age-old beliefs with new ones that support a flexible, not rigid, view of the world, such as: “I can only control my actions and my responses, and do the best I can given the situation.”
Reframe the situation. It’s easy to turn impatience into a full-blown belief that everyone has it in for you, and that everyone else—your co-workers, the government—is conspiring to slow you down and keep you from achieving your objective. This is the heart of frustration, an emotion defined by the sense that you don’t have access to the resources you need to do your job—be it money, time, support.
What will really happen if this doesn’t happen right now?
What am I missing and how is it keeping me from doing what I need to do?
Is there another way to get what I need to get done?
Who can help me?
How can I help someone else? (See Glenn Llopis’s piece on Forbes about how the practice of listening and practicing empathy can also help you practice patience.)
When you choose to view what’s happened today (a lot of it probably dumb luck or a lousy coincidence) as separate, unrelated issues, you can stop seeing your impatience as the inevitable end to a self-told story about the world treating you wrong.
Resist saying, “That’s just how I am.” It’s one thing to acknowledge a tendency, and another to define yourself by it. You are not defined by any single emotion. Your impatience is like an emotional child throwing a tantrum; she simply wants to be heard. Rather than shush it, listen to it. Mindfulness has become incredibly popular these days, and this is a perfect opportunity to practice one of its most powerful precepts: Allow yourself to feel what you feel without feeding it. Mindfulness meditation teaches that if you acknowledge and accept even the most negative feeling, it loses its power.
And remember you’re not driven or controlled by this or any other single emotion. As with every other feeling, good or bad, you can experience it and acknowledge that it’s happening, without letting it take the wheel.