How to Be More Patient

Once you figure out what triggers your impatience, you can look at things with a whole new perspective. Lightspring/Shutterstock

You may not consider yourself the patient type.

Maybe you came to that conclusion at an early age, when your exhausted parents relented to your demands — and let you tear into those Christmas presents early.

Maybe your first-grade teacher pointed this out when you were squirming out the door before the recess bell even sounded.

As a grown-up, how many times do you pound the "close door" button in the elevator? And are you skimming through this story right now?

You're not alone. Impatience has become the hallmark of a harried society — a culture that pounces from one quick payoff to the next.

Impatience: Bad for our health

Hands poking out of an elevator
The seconds we save in trying to get somewhere faster aren't worth the toll all that stress takes on our health. Pavel L Photo and Video/Shutterstock

Forget the fact that tailgating in traffic or making rash decisions is downright dangerous for a lot of people. There are plenty of links between impatient people and a host of health issues. A 2011 study, for example, suggests it may even be making us fat.

"If you are willing to forgo present satisfaction for future benefits, you are patient," John Komlos of the University of Munich told WebMD. "If, however, you want your satisfaction right now, then you are going to have that extra dessert and that extra ice cream and you are not going to be able to forgo the pleasures of today."

Then there's your poor heart, wearing down fast from always living on the edge. You don't need a mountain of research to connect the dots between impatience and hypertension, soaring blood pressure and even heart attacks. (But in case you do ...)

"Being impatient could cause anxiety and hostility," Daniel Baugher, a professor at Pace University in New York City, told LiveScience. "And if you're constantly anxious, your sleep could be affected, too."

And on top of all that, impatience makes us poorer. Forget the spendathon that is Black Friday/Cyber Monday/Christmas/Sale du Jour. Consider any investment you ever made that you cashed out on too early. Financial planning is all about the long game.

And just in case you still cling to the notion that impatient people get more done, consider a 2015 Columbia University study that found the opposite — impatient people are most likely to be chronic procrastinators.

Patience: A learned skill

A snail crawling over stacked coins.
When it comes to financial planning, slow and steady always wins the race. Anant Kasetsinsombut/Shutterstock

The good news is you weren't born that way. Just like with empathy — another virtue that's under siege these days — we can learn to be patient.

Even as modern must-have-now society conspires against you.

The first thing to do, as anyone who has ever kicked a bad habit will tell you, is to recognize that you have a problem.

Writing in Psychology Today, author and former professor Toni Bernhard suggests finding the trigger. Impatience usually flares up during one of several situations.

Specifically, Bernhard notes, "when people or our environment aren't conforming to our expectations, even in circumstances over which we have no control."

Think about that when you rage against gridlock on the morning commute. Or snap at a colleague for not being so quick to heed your all-important advice.

Another trigger? When you're not conforming to your expectations of yourself. Like when you took all those Italian lessons before the big vacation — and still ended up not being able to order a meal in Rome.

In every case, when expectations aren't met — even when they're entirely unrealistic — impatience is bound to rear its blood-boiling head.

Breaking the habit

Woman standing in line at check out counter.
There are all kinds of every-day circumstances that test even the most saintly patience. LStockStudio/Shutterstock

Once you've found that trigger though, things get a whole lot easier. Most importantly, once we understand that what makes us impatient isn't within our control, we can change the way we perceive that situation.

How much is that line at the movie theater really hurting you? Traffic moves as traffic will move.

"I remember a friend, about 25 years ago, who was in the process of changing a destructive habit," psychologist Jane Bolton writes. "He had learned to say to himself, 'This is merely uncomfortable, not intolerable.' It helped him enormously to break his habit, and helped me begin to look at my own avoidance patterns."

Then there's everyone's favorite modern bugaboo, technology, and its perceived role in shaping a speed-addicted society.

"We no longer enjoy pausing. Or remembering. We log on, tune in, dial up and speed off like drag racers, leaving in our wake a swirling cloud of historical dust, memory, perspective and people," Arizona Republic columnist E.J. Montini once wrote.

The thing is, that's our technology. Our phones. Our Instagram accounts.

So why not take a regularly scheduled break from the techno-treadmill? Can't do it on your own? We can help.

If you've made it this far without skipping any lines, congratulations. You're already on your way.

Of course, we'll never be able to completely scourge ourselves of impatience. It's as human as plunging a finger chocolate chip cookie dough. Besides even paragons of patience can't quite kick the impulse.

Toddler reaching for a cookie.
And who hasn't been here before?. fizkes/Shutterstock

"Do I still feel impatient? Of course! I still drive in traffic, wait in line and go to the movies," self-help author Valerie Frankel told NPR. "But I have been better about not letting impatient-related rage take over. I no longer fantasize about a slow cashier's head bursting into flame."

But at least, with a little understanding of what exactly makes us want to set people and things on fire, we can learn to step back — and see that most of these things are out of our control.

Who knows? Maybe we can even teach our kids to understand that Christmas is on Dec. 25. Not a day earlier. Because Santa says so.