On the Journey 

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Learning to flex your patience muscle
Posted 01/20/2020 06:35PM

on our monthly theme for January 2020

From Head of Middle School Brenda Stockdale

When was the last time you patted yourself on the back for being patient? Hey, great job! I'm being really patient right now. Maybe never? Don't worry! Most people's default is impatience, particularly in today's fast-paced society, with information and resources at our fingertips.

As you know, Country Day's theme for January is PATIENCE. As we begin a new year, many of us have conjured up idealistic resolutions to make us better human beings. We soon realize, however, that it's challenging to fulfill these personal promises, and we eventually abandon them. With a little patience, however, we might be able to hold on to our resolutions, even if that means modifying them a bit as the year unfolds.

We all know the adage, "Patience is a virtue," meaning it's a morally excellent quality. So of course we all aspire to be patient people, right? Researchers claim patience is actually a skill that can be learned, and it needs to be nurtured and practiced daily. Being patient has many advantages, such as giving us time to think more clearly, allowing us to evaluate a situation before jumping in with both feet, and having faith that a methodical approach has greater potential to yield positive results. Yet, in this world of quick answers and immediate gratification, exercising patience can be one of the most challenging activities of all.

When was the last time you were stuck at DIA, having missed your connecting flight? You might have watched in awe as an angry, impatient traveler in front of you at the customer service desk ranted at the airline employee to hurry up and find them another flight to get them where they need to go pronto. Do you remember the other passengers in line who stood quietly, waiting their turn? Maybe not. It's the impatient person who grabs the most attention, and hopefully teaches us that we don't want to be like that.

Over the years, I've spoken with countless parents - and believe me, I was (and still am) one myself - who are impatient for their children to accomplish various milestones, such as learning to read, taking an advanced math class, or making the starting line up on the basketball team. Yet, as hard as it is in the moment, we have to trust that our kids will get where they're meant to go in due time - that is, if that's what they aspire to. (If your child doesn't want to be a starter, patience might not come in handy.) Mastering a particular concept in math, or writing a well-crafted essay, takes practice. Children need to try and try again on a regular basis to understand mathematical concepts and master various writing skills, just as they do when learning to play the piano or memorizing lines for a play.

In her book Limitless Mind, Stanford professor Dr. Jo Boaler says, "If you aren't struggling, you aren't really learning. When we're struggling and making mistakes, those are the very best times for our brains." Haven't we seen our kids wrestle with a difficult history question or a complicated scientific dilemma, lamenting, "I can't do this" or "I'm not smart enough"? Their natural tendency might be to give up. However, with persistence, trial and error, and a "growth mindset" (Carol Dweck), Boaler suggests that students can learn these things in due time. An appropriate response would be, "You can't do this yet" or "You haven't learned this yet."

Not only can patience and persistence pay off academically, but they can also benefit us in many ways, regardless of our age and stage. The research suggests that practicing patience can:

  1. Improve our health. We get better at focusing on being calm and optimistic, the antidotes to anxiety and negativity.

  2. Improve our relationships. We have a greater capacity to live in the moment, zeroing in on people around us instead of on ourselves.

  3. Help us make better decisions. When we take the time to assess a situation, we make fewer mistakes.

  4. Help us achieve our goals. We look at things in a more positive light, with a clearer head, and trust in the process.

We have myriad opportunities to practice patience every day - from sitting in traffic, to looking for a parking place; from waiting for our children to take out the trash, to searching for a lost assignment; from learning to read with speed and accuracy, to understanding abstract concepts. Why not use each of these instances to take a deep breath and capitalize on the occasion to flex this patience muscle? As Leo Carver at the Chopra Center says, "By cultivating a practice of patience, you're able to let go of things outside your control and live with less stress, anxiety, and frustration." And what about that New Year's resolution? You just might want to modify it by adding, "I'm going to be more patient with myself when..." as you reach up and pat yourself on the back.

More blog posts from Brenda Stockdale

 

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