You’re stuck in line at the post office. Your coworker missed his deadline for the project you’re working on together. Your two-year-old is throwing a temper tantrum, again.
There are situations that try even the most patient among us.
But experts want you to know that even though we all vary when it comes to how much patience we might naturally bring to any given situation, we can all work on it and improve.
It’s like being athletic, explains, Debra R. Comer, Ph.D., Mel Weitz Distinguished Professor in Business at Hofstra University’s Zarb School of Business, who researches organizational socialization and behaviors.
Some people are naturally athletic and others are less inclined, but even the most un-athletic person can train and get better, no matter what base level you start from. The same is the case with patience; with practice, you can get better responding with patience, she tells NBC News BETTER. “It’s something that people can work on if they want to.”
Here’s what you should know about patience and how to get better at it.
Patience depends on personality, your personal history and the situation
Personality plays a role in why some of us tend to respond to life’s delays and setbacks with more calm than others. Studies have shown, for example, that people who are more conscientious, agreeable, and open to new experience tend to have more patience — and people who have fewer of those traits tend to be more likely to be impatient.
But those factors are definitely only part of the story, Sarah A. Schnitker, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Baylor University, tells NBC. “There are a lot of predictors not related to personality traits that determine patience, too.”
The habits we develop, ability to regulate emotions, and our expectations in a given situation all affect our capacity to respond with patience, as do situational variables like whether we’re overtired, ill, hungry, stressed, or, even, overheated, Schnitker adds.
In some of Schnitker’s research published in "The Journal of Positive Psychology" in 2012, she and her colleagues characterized three types of scenarios that would require someone to respond either patiently or impatiently: life hardships (facing, for example, a chronic illness or disability you’ll have to deal with over the long-term); interpersonal interactions (settling a conflict or struggle with a spouse, friend, child or parent); and daily hassles (traffic jams, flight delays, spills, tangled necklaces, and getting transferred a half dozen times before being able to talk to the person that can help you figure out why your Internet isn’t working).
Just because you tend to be patient in one of these categories of situations doesn’t mean you’ll be patient in all. For example, just because you’re the type of person that can patiently listen to your friend’s every relationship freak out, doesn’t mean you’re the type of person who isn’t going to get irked when you show up to find an unusually long line at the post office.
Here's the thing: Patience is not the opposite of impatience
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Schnitker says it helps to think about patience on a spectrum: Patience is the ability to be calm in the face of adversity, frustration or suffering, and in any given situation you’ll respond with some amount of patience (or lack of it).
Either you respond with patience (right in the middle of the spectrum); with a deficiency of patience (the type of impatience where you have no ability to be calm, which leads you to an overreaction); or with an abundance of patience (the type of impatience where you stay so calm you become disengaged from the situation or stop caring).