"THE TWO MOST POWERFUL warriors,"
wrote Leo Tolstoy, "are patience and time." One thing
you can do when you're being patient is think. One of
the reasons Gandhi was able to eject the British out of India
is that he didn't react impulsively. He was patient. He waited
until he knew what he needed to do, and he waited for the right
time to do it. He thought long and hard about what he was going
to do until he got a good answer. He didn't rush it. He didn't
act prematurely. "No problem," wrote Voltaire, "can
stand the assault of sustained thinking."
Patience gives you the power to control
yourself and control your life. And you don't really need to
learn to be patient. It isn't a skill. You don't have
to do anything to be patient. You have to not do something.
Patience isn't a skill it's a decision. Patient people
have simply made it a habit to make the decision to not do something.
Instead of getting tense, they decide not to. Instead of yelling
at people and getting mad, they decide not to. Instead of driving
too fast, they decide not to.
There are two ways to be patient, but only
one of them is any good. The first is to restrain yourself, but
stressfully. Grit your teeth and not do those things you normally
do when you feel impatient. The second is to actually relax and
feel comfortable when you know that's what you need to do.
You'll probably have to go through the
first to get to the second. The second way comes about when you
fully realize in that moment that becoming impatient is counterproductive,
and that you don't have to react that way. There are other alternatives.
When you want to buy something and you
don't have to have it immediately, which is usually the case,
put it off for a week. Tell yourself if you still want it the
following Monday, you can go ahead and buy it. Sometimes when
Monday comes around, you will have decided you don't really want
it. Your patience has just saved you money and kept your house
from getting cluttered. And demonstrated the control you have
in your life. You are not the passive victim of your own impulses.
You can set your impulses aside. You can do it by simply setting
a date in the case of buying something. You can do it in the
heat of the moment by repeating a helpful statement in your head.
Read more about that.
Once I was in a heated argument with my
wife and I suddenly decided to try to make it until one o'clock
without saying anything. There was a clock right in front of
me. One o'clock was only twenty minutes away.
That was a long twenty minutes because
she had apparently taken the same vow at the same time.
I was tempted to speak. About every thirty
seconds it would get intense. But when I'm angry it's almost
always a bad idea. I had that little target to shoot for (waiting
until one o'clock) and that kept me going.
I made it, and I'll tell you something:
That twenty minutes of silence made all the difference. Instead
of being ashamed of myself for saying hurtful, exaggerated, ugly
things, I was proud of myself for exercising a little self-control.
Self control has bad connotations for some
people. It is true that it's possible to have too much
self-control. But that's probably not true of you. Most of us
are much too low in self-control and more of it would be a good
Patience is doing nothing right away rather
than doing something right away. Ideally, it's doing nothing
while being relaxed and feeling fine about waiting. The mental
tricks you use to feel fine don't matter. All you have to do
is ask yourself, "If I did feel fine about waiting, what
would I be thinking?"
"But," you might be asking, "how
would I know? I've never been very patient."
"It's okay," I would respond,
"you don't really have to have experience for this one.
Just pretend. You'll discover you do know, now that you
think of it."
"A friend of mine was an hour late
last night," you might say to me. "How would I do it
"Okay. Imagine during that hour, you
waited for your friend and you were quite content to wait. What
were you thinking?"
"Well then imagine you saw a stranger
waiting for a friend who was an hour late, but the stranger looked
content and happy. What would you guess the stranger was thinking?"
"Probably nothing about his friend.
Maybe he was daydreaming about something," you reply.
"Right. That's good. That's one way
to be patient: While you wait, have pleasant daydreams. What
might be another way?"
Now you're getting warmed up. The juices
are flowing. You say, "Maybe the stranger was remembering
something that happened years ago. A treasured memory. And he
was so lost in thought, he totally forgot he was waiting for
"Great. That's another way to be patient.
"He could be planning his day tomorrow.
He could be simply observing the life around him. Or maybe he
has decided to wait only a half hour and if his friend doesn't
show up, he is planning on leaving, and maybe that kind of tickles
"You're doing great. Those are all
workable ideas. Once you set your mind to it, you can find ways
of being patient. It's the decision that counts. You must decide
to be patient. And repeating this thought to yourself really
helps: Usually patience gets better results than impatience."
the hourglass of time
In WWII, a soldier was seeing a doctor
for combat fatigue (now called post-traumatic stress disorder).
The soldier was a nervous wreck. The doctor had seen soldiers
like this, and knew what to say. "Think of your life as
an hourglass," the doctor said. "The thousands of grains
of sand in the top of the hourglass all pass slowly and evenly
through the narrow neck in the middle, one grain of sand at a
time. You and I and everyone else are like this hourglass. When
we start in the morning, there are hundreds of tasks which we
feel we must accomplish that day, but if we do not take them
one at a time and let them pass through the day slowly and evenly,
we are bound to break our own physical or mental structure."
The soldier later wrote that it helped
him deal with the rest of the war, and was helping him in business
too. "Instead of getting taut and nervous," he wrote,
"I remember what the doctor told me. 'One grain of sand
at a time. One task at a time.' By repeating those words again
and again to myself, I accomplish my tasks efficiently without
the confused and jumbled feeling that once almost made a wreck
Repeat this to yourself again
Usually patience gets better
results than impatience.
If I was patient right now and
what would I be thinking about these circumstances?