The True Meaning of Patience:12 min read

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It is often said that patience is a virtue as it helps us maintain our character in the face of challenges or the absence of our desires. However, patience is quite difficult to explain, not to mention practice.

Does patience mean waiting idly, doing something that seems not to be working at the present, or is it letting go of immediate expectation?

Like other virtues – such as love, and honesty, – patience is multidimensional, relies on other virtues, and can be explained or demonstrated in different ways in different circumstances. 

To one person, patience might be simply enduring pain, to another it might be delaying gratification, while to another it might be accepting what is – be it themselves, others, circumstances, or the world.

One thing is clear no matter how you look at patience: it is rooted in the understanding of our circumstances and acceptance of our limited capabilities.

When we are impatient, we are essentially saying that we do not want to wait. And, often, we do not want to wait because we either lack understanding or do not really appreciate how little control we have over things.

Needless to say, anger (explosion) or sadness (implosion) or both, often follow when we run out of patience.

What Truly Is Patience?

About 10 days ago, my niece broke her thigh bone, and for the past 10 days, she has been sitting/lying at a spot (healing). Many people snap when they are asked to sit at a place for more than a few minutes. They are clearly impatient. But, can we say they are impatient because they have a choice, or is it that my niece’s patience isn’t really patience because she doesn’t have a choice? Perhaps, under extreme conditions, it can be difficult to choose between patience and impatience. For example, it can be hard to choose patience when your palm is over a lit candle. Yet, patience can still be exercised.

So, what is patience?

Patience, in its essence, can be viewed as a valuable skill – a mastery of the capacity to endure waiting, withstand delay, navigate through difficulties, or bear annoyances without yielding to complaints, anger, or sadness, all the while sustaining a constructive and resilient mindset.

In most cases, people who snap when asked to sit in one place for a few minutes lack patience because they too easily give in to their boredom, frustration, or sense of entitlement, rather than enduring it. My niece who sits down (despite not having a choice) is patient because she is not whining about it, and doing nothing is in fact the constructive thing to do in her circumstance. 

What is the importance of patience?

Traffic lights demonstrate the value of patience; they intermittently ask us to wait and stop because we are not the only ones using the road. And, these minor delays tend to save us from traffic jams and crashes, and in fact, can help us get to our destination faster. So also, in life, we ought to embrace patience as it often saves us from trouble, helps us recover, and oftentimes leads us to success.

But, unlike the traffic lights with the neon lights to show, and the cops to enforce them, the need for patience in life is not obvious and the punishment for the lack thereof is often nebulous yet harsh. For example, it may not be obvious to a quitter that their lack of patience is what may be denying them the success they crave (and have, in fact, been impatient about).

The other day, I accidentally scalded my nephew’s feet. And, it was when I was consoling him for his pains that it dawned on me that I had never been patient enough to hug him – to feel his emotions -, until that day. It was an eye-opening experience for me: at that moment I realized the impatience of parents – to spend time with their kids, to listen to their complaints, to explain to them the reason behind certain actions and demands, and so much more – ends up scalding the relationship and experiences with the kids (far more than hot water ever can). It is not enough to give them everything (material), you must be patient with their folly, mistakes, stubbornness, tantrums, and so much more (or worse?).

Patience is important in almost all aspects of life; and it can involve our tolerance of physical discomfort, emotional turmoil, spiritual vexations, professional setbacks, and so on. Artists, writers, and other creative individuals often need patience as they work through creative blocks, refine their work, and wait for inspiration to strike. Medical professionals (as well as patients) need patience for treatments and recovery to take place. Entrepreneurs (as well as investors) need patience for their investments to pay off. Teachers (as well as students) need patience for lessons to sink in. We can go on and on.

Patience is important because it’s the hidden foundation of personal growth and success in all aspects of life. In a world where more and more people are heedlessly chasing instant gratification and quick fixes, those who truly understand the value of patience are often the ones who achieve lasting accomplishments.

  • In relationships, patience allows us to build strong bonds and deep connections. It lets us take the time to truly understand and empathize with others, smoothing out conflicts and misunderstandings. Without patience, relationships can easily become strained, leading to missed opportunities for love and companionship.
  • In personal development, patience is the key to mastering ourselves, and new skills, as well as overcoming challenges. Whether you’re learning how to code, pursuing a fitness goal, or acquiring new knowledge, it’s the ability to persist through (repeated) setbacks and (painfully) slow progress that ultimately leads to mastery.
  • In the pursuit of goals, patience prevents us from giving up prematurely. Many breakthroughs and innovations are the result of relentless effort over extended periods. Patience ensures that we don’t give up on our dreams when stuck in a rut or faced with initial failures or setbacks.
  • In the realm of decision-making, patience allows us to make more thoughtful and considered choices. Patience saves us from regret as it enables us to weigh the pros and cons, gather information, and make informed choices that align with our long-term goals.
  • In the face of adversity, patience gives us the resilience to weather life’s storms. It helps us endure hardships, knowing that better days can be ahead if we stay the course. Without patience, we’re more likely to succumb to despair when confronted with challenges.

So, just as traffic lights keep our roads safe and efficient by reminding us to pause and yield, patience serves as a guiding light in our lives. It keeps us on the right path, preventing collisions with rash decisions and missed opportunities. Patience helps us navigate the twists and turns of life’s unpredictable and bumpy journey, leading us toward success and fulfilment.

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What Are The Types of Patience?

As mentioned earlier, patience comes in different types. Below are some of the main types of patience we have:

Interpersonal patience: 

This is the ability to be patient with other people, even when they are frustrating or difficult. It can be especially challenging to be patient with loved ones since emotions and expectations are often high, but it is important to remember that everyone (no matter how close or reputable) makes mistakes and can disappoint.

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood and birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are unnatural.”

― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Life hardship patience: 

This is the ability to be patient through difficult times in life, such as illness, job loss, or the death of a loved one. It can be difficult to stay positive and hopeful when things are tough, but it is important to remember that difficult times will eventually pass. Better still, it is important to understand and accept that there will inevitably be difficult times in life; and that most times, the suffering refines and improves you.

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

– Helen Keller

Daily hassles patience: 

This is the ability to be patient with the minor annoyances of everyday life, such as traffic jams, long queues, and computer glitches. It can be easy to let these small things get to us, but it is important to remember that they are not worth getting upset about (because they are merely transient).

“Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.”

– Joyce Meyer

Stoic patience: 

This is the ability to accept things that are beyond our control. It is not about giving up, but about finding peace and acceptance in the face of adversity or lack of success.

“To bear trials with a calm mind robs misfortune of its strength and burden.”

– Seneca

The keys to patience: How do you cultivate patience?

One thing I noticed recently was how much, pretty much all of nature has the knack for striving against the odds – how much living things tend to keep on trying to survive despite the harsh conditions, continuous attack, and hopelessness of the situation. 

There’s a flower in front of my house that has endured flooding, harmattan, and my nieces who keep trampling, breaking, and cutting it. That flower has absolutely refused to give up sprouting new shoots despite the fact that it has been (and may continue to be) oppressed. And, this is the attitude of most plants (especially weeds).

Whatever the nature or application of patience, it requires some form of forbearance of pain or forgoing of immediate rewards or pleasures in favour of long-term goals. That is the key. This of course requires discipline, and guess what, you need to practice patience day by day to truly be patient. As I mentioned earlier, it is a skill after all.

Below are some helpful tips to help you cultivate and develop your patience:

  1. Practice mindfulness and self-awareness to recognize impatience.
  2. Set realistic expectations for yourself and others.
  3. Learn and practice effective stress management techniques – such as deep breathing – to calm yourself.
  4. Challenge your negative thoughts. When you feel yourself getting impatient, ask yourself something like, “Is this worth getting upset about?”
  5. Reframe the situation. For example, instead of seeing waiting in traffic as a waste of time, see it as an opportunity to do something else, like reading, relaxing, or connecting with the person sitting next to you.
  6. Engage in hobbies or activities that require/train patience, like drawing, painting, gardening, or meditation.
  7. Focus on long-term goals to maintain perspective.
  8. Seek to understand the perspective of others in challenging situations.
  9. Embrace setbacks and failures as opportunities for growth.
  10. Cultivate gratitude to appreciate the present moment.
  11. Learn to prioritize and delegate tasks. That way you will feel the things you are doing are worth your time.
  12. Learn from role models who exhibit patience in challenging situations. Ask yourself “What will they do?”
  13. Build a support network for encouragement and perspective
  14. Practice forgiveness and let go of grudges to improve patience in relationships.
  15. Continuously educate yourself about the benefits of patience to reinforce its value.

I think to really be patient, we have to adopt the attitude of the flow/weeds – to keep teaching when the kids seem not to be learning, practising when we seem not to be getting it, investing when there seems not to be returns, working out when we can’t see the abs, loving when all we get back is indifference, pushing even when the odds are against us; remaining patient till we are either uprooted or rewarded. 

“However long the night, the dawn will break.”

– African proverb

Conclusion: What is the power of patience?

My niece’s thigh bone is healing. This period of patiently waiting for the bone to heal has helped us appreciate the human fragility and tested the strength of the love in the family. The family (parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, etc.) have been able to demonstrate love. And, hopefully, she (and the family) will be more cautious and prepared because Earth can be a hazardous place.

The power of patience is that it allows us to transform the pain of waiting into the joy of hope, while helping us to understand our journey better, appreciate the present moment more fully, and aspire for a brighter future. 

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I enjoy writing long-form SEO content for self-help and personal development blogs. I can also do simple graphics design and copywriting. I’m an author, coach, logician, introvert, and storyteller. I love simplicity.

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