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Science and the saints can show you how to become more patient


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Cecilia Pigg - published on 04/20/21

It may just be the most important virtue you can cultivate today.

Patience may be the most critical but least practiced virtue in society today. Countless circumstances and experiences cause us frustration hourly — the local or national news, the effects of COVID-19, or the divisions present in our country and our world, so easily seen on social media. How do we react to the frustrations we experience in our day?

If we react calmly, we are practicing patience. If we react by becoming stressed, angry, or bent out of shape, we are not practicing patience. Would the world be a better place if we all reacted peacefully to disruptions and negativity? Common sense says yes. So do scientific studies.

Take this 2012 study on patience, for example. It shows that not only do patient people have a better quality of life, but that it is quite possible to become more patient if you are not very patient currently.

Here are a few tips from both saints and current science on how to become more patient. 

Growing in empathy will help you grow in patience.

In the study previously mentioned, the participants had to answer questions about how they would generally react to a certain situation. Then, they were told to look at the situation from a different perspective and had to reevaluate their response. The example given was: imagine that you’re sitting in a movie theater and the person behind you kicks your seat several times and answers her phone during the movie twice. How would you react?

The participants responded that they would think “people are so annoying” and be upset about the interruption of their movie experience. But then the people conducting the study asked the participants to consider if they might have ever kicked the seat in front of them in a movie theater by accident. The whole point of the exercise was to open people’s eyes to look at situations in their lives with a new, empathetic lens. This exercise produced measurable results that showed the importance of growing in empathy to increase patience. 

Meditation will help you grow in patience. 

The 2012 study also included 10-15 minute sessions of guided meditation to help the participants become more patient. Included in the meditation was a section where people were asked to wish loving thoughts on everyone in the world — moving from a loving mentor or parent to their worst enemy to those they had never met.

Many of the saints would agree with this step — except they would probably refer to it differently. Secular or eastern meditation is not what they would recommend. Instead, St. Teresa of Avila, for example, would say that mental prayer can help you grow in many virtues, including patience. For St. Teresa, putting yourself in God’s presence and spending time with Him was key to life. Connecting yourself to God, who is love, enables you to love those around you better. And if you love people as God does, you will be patient with them despite hurts and frustrations.

You can practice patience with people around you, during life’s hardships, and during little daily annoyances.

Sarah Schnitker, the woman behind this particular 2012 study on patience, identified three types of patience. These were interpersonal patience, patience during life hardship, and patience during daily hassles. In order to grow in patience in one area, it is helpful to practice patience in all three areas as often all three types are related. For example, the receptionist at the front desk of the hospital could be taking a long time to come help you, which makes you late to visit your aunt who only has a few weeks left to live. In that situation, you are probably frustrated with a person (interpersonal) who is making you late (daily hassle) for a visit with someone you love who is dying (interpersonal and life hardship). 

The three steps to success for patience?

Practice reframing situations in your life to help you catch yourself when you react impatiently. Strengthen your relationship with God so that you can learn patience by loving those around you. And don’t overlook the tiny ways you can react well every day to prepare you for the extra challenging times that will require huge amounts of this essential virtue. 

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