10 Tips for Cultivating Patience in an Impatient World

As an elementary school teacher, my wife finds great fulfillment in helping her sixth graders improve their math skills. But she almost always has to deal with a few students who moan about having to learn new things. They lack the patience to correct their mistakes and practice until they’ve achieved mastery. Their impatience in turn tries the patience of their teacher.

At church, at home, and in the workplace our impatience can start to feed on the impatience of others. Since none of us have the patience of Job, all of us try each other’s patience. Stopping this vicious circle requires a little more patience from all of us. This means being willing to give others – and ourselves – time to change.

Of course, patience is not always a virtue. Sometimes teachers need to send disruptive students to the principal’s office. Sometimes we need to seize the day and take immediate action. Justice, courage, and kindness often call on us to make a difference without delay.

But it goes without saying that most of life’s challenges require patience. It takes patience to accomplish worthwhile goals. It takes patience to face unexpected trials such as serious illness, financial setbacks, and failed relationships. It takes patience to deal with life’s daily problems, including backed up freeways, bad weather, and slow lines at the grocery store.

One of the obstacles to developing patience is that our modern world caters to convenience and immediate gratification. We don’t need to grow a garden when we can pick up whatever we need from a convenience store. We don’t need to spend our time with home-cooked meals when restaurants and pre-packaged meals are always available. We don’t need to save up money to buy a new car when we can get a low-interest loan and buy it now. We don’t need to wait a week for our favorite television show when we can watch the entire series over the weekend on Netflix. And we don’t need patience to travel a thousand miles when we can hop on a plane and be there in a couple of hours.

So how can we cultivate patience in an impatient world? Here are ten tips.

The first two are taken from a 2017 journal article published in the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality by Sarah Schnitker and her colleagues at Fuller Theological Seminary.

1. Attach meaning to suffering.

Schnitker describes how religious communities generally promote the idea that some forms of suffering can be redemptive, leading to self-mastery, empathy, and greater life-fulfillment. This is what she calls a “transcendent narrative identity.” It provides the strength to look beyond present suffering and work toward a future where our lives have changed for the better.

2. Learn to control your emotions.

Schnitker and her fellow psychologists identify emotional regulation as another core aspect of patience. It’s easy to become frustrated, annoyed, and even bitter when things don’t go our way. But acting on negative emotions almost always makes situations worse. When I start to get impatient, I try to imagine how I would respond in my present circumstances if I were patient. Every once in a while, this sort of cognitive reappraisal helps me respond more calmly with a long-term perspective.

3. Look to nature for inspiration.

Ralph Waldo Emerson offers this advice: “Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” It takes time to develop a strong root system that can support sturdy branches and bear fruit. We’re more likely to develop patience when we understand that disappointment and heartache can make us more capable of tasting the fruit of happiness in the future.

4. View patience as a golden mean

Aristotle helpfully describes most virtues as the golden mean between two extremes. For example, true courage is found somewhere between cowardice, on one hand, and recklessness, on the other. In a similar way, possessing patience means that we avoid foolish, impetuous actions. But it also means that we avoid a passive or lazy acceptance of suffering, injustice, and mediocrity.

5. Be humble enough to take small steps

For me personally, patience implies the willingness to take small steps to improve my life and the lives of those around me. Building a business, raising a family, and getting an education are made up of little things that add up over a long period of time. This same principle applies to recovering from the emotional wounds caused by unhealthy relationships. Shakespeare’s Othello explains it best: “How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees?”

6. Be consistent in taking the small steps

In working toward an ambitious goal, I find that I need to set aside non-negotiable time every day, even if it’s just a few minutes, to do something concrete. If I go more than a day or two without taking any steps toward realizing my goal, the future that I had envisioned grows dim and I begin to lose hope. This is one of the reasons why scriptural counsel often pairs patience with diligence.

7. Be a finisher

Because I’m naturally an impatient person, I tend to get discouraged and move on to something else when I don’t see results as quickly as I’d like. This brings up the importance of personal commitment. Devote yourself to worthy causes and see your projects through to the end. Knowing that you’re a finisher can help you stay the course.

8. Don’t try to control other people

Self-mastery is one of the cornerstones of a happy life. We need to control our emotions, our thoughts, and our actions. But one of the surest paths to unhappiness is trying to control other people. Persuade family members, friends, and strangers through your example. Then give the people you love room to change. Try to remain pleasant and never give up on them.

9. Remember how tough you are

Patience is more about toughness than weakness and passivity. When life gets overwhelming, remind yourself of the many challenges and difficulties you’ve overcome in the past. You’ll find hidden strength and happiness if you just keep moving forward.

10. Cultivate hope for a brighter future

Patience is much more than a willingness to endure suffering. It’s about believing in a brighter future that comes one small, imperfect step at a time.

Responding to Anxiety with Courage and a Glimmer of Hope


As the number one mental health issue in North America, anxiety is often a debilitating problem for both teens and adults. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that up to 25 percent of teenagers suffer from anxiety disorders. While most forms are highly treatable, the majority of sufferers do not seek professional treatment.

The relentless nature of anxiety can provide a rigorous test of character. Many sources of anxiety, such as toxic family relationships and economic hardship, give rise to a sense of hopelessness. But compassionate friends and loved ones can help those who suffer to discover the courage, wisdom, and inner strength to move forward.

Social scientific research suggests that people with anxiety often underestimate their capacity for courage. In a 2007 study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, Clemson psychologist Cynthia Pury and her colleagues make the distinction between general and personal courage. They report that when most people think about courage, they see it as a fearless and confident attribute possessed only by others. This is the definition of general courage—the type of heroic effort we recognize and praise in other people. Personal courage, on the other hand, is the type we might ascribe to ourselves. People with the self-awareness to see their personal actions as courageous tend to define courage as a response to vulnerability, anxiety, and fear. In fact, this is the type we see most often in real life. Ordinary people become heroes when they rise up to do what needs to be done — in spite of weakness.

Aristotle would likely agree with modern social science that anxiety, fear, and self-doubt are built into courage. He suggests that courage is not founded on personal strength or a feeling of invincibility. Instead, it’s built on the conviction that we’re acting in the service of a noble cause, regardless of how prepared we are for battle. According to Aristotle, knowing that we’re doing the right thing empowers us to manage the pain that frequently accompanies self-sacrifice.

Without a doubt, moving forward in the face of chronic anxiety takes courage. But taking courage is not easy when an intensely negative and overpowering emotion is flowing through our minds. Telling someone to “stop worrying” or to “have courage” is almost always misguided advice. To cultivate courage, we need at least a slight glimmer of hope. This hope can come from a trusted friend who convinces us that relationships can improve and that our personal goals are worth fighting for — even against all odds.

Many therapists recommend a simple activity to help anxiety sufferers step away from their emotions and allow the more rational part of the brain to reclaim executive control. The first step is to articulate and then write down a concrete list of things we’re worried about. Sometimes the very act of identifying what lies behind an oppressive emotion can offer immediate relief.

The second step is to separate the items in our list into two categories: things we can control and things we can’t. Most of the things we worry about include both aspects, one that’s well within our power to influence and another that’s almost entirely beyond our control. For example, if I’m worried about an upcoming test at school, I should realize that I can control how much time I study for the test. But I can’t guarantee a passing score and I can’t control what my peers or my instructor might think of me if I do poorly. If I’m worried about attending a social gathering, I can control whether I approach people with a smile and a friendly greeting. But I can’t control whether or not a stranger likes me based on her first impression.

The worries we can’t do much about are frequently the most paralyzing because they’re accompanied by a sense of powerlessness. If spelling them out on paper doesn’t help us let them go, we can try other techniques like mindfulness breathing exercises or taking a walk in nature. Whatever relaxation method we choose, at some point we need to embrace the fact that some worries impose an unreasonable burden that we can’t afford to carry.

So what about the things we can control? Recent studies on test anxiety have found that at least some stress can be a good thing. Students who tend to do well on exams learn to embrace their anxiety and channel it toward greater focus and positive mental energy. Rather than trying to stop worrying about an exam, they transform their anxiety into excitement. They commit themselves to a plan of study and then anxiously immerse themselves in what they can control. In the language of character development, they create the conditions for courage by resolving on a plan of action.

Anxiety is an urgent public health challenge with no easy solutions. But gentle encouragement and honest self-appraisal can often provide the hope we need to face our fears with courage and grace.

Practicing Hope in the Presence of Suffering

For too many of us, hope is in short supply these days. Americans have lost trust in the large institutions that have sustained their hope in previous generations: church, government, business, and civic organizations. In communities all over the country, rates of drug addiction, depression, and suicide are increasing.

But rich sources of hope are always available. For example, the birth of a child inspires a pristine hope, transforming the way we think about the future. For at least a few glorious moments, a mother’s agony gives way to a joyous sense of optimism. Her future is no longer a rigid extension of past and present troubles. History has been interrupted by a gift of boundless potential.

Not long after childbirth, the realities of parenthood quickly set in. But when we become discouraged, the indelible memory of holding a newborn baby for the first time can serve as a touchstone in time to restore our hope.

Where does hope come from? How can it impact our present difficulties? And how can we share hope with others?

The writings of medieval philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas claim that hope, as a theological virtue, cannot be developed naturally. He observes that the moral virtues such as wisdom, courage, and justice can be cultivated through self-discipline and good habits. But faith, hope, and the highest form of love must be infused into our souls as divine gifts. In other words, Thomas infers that hope is not an innate part of human nature.

But Thomas’s theological insight seems a bit extreme. My personal experience with hope tells me that it can be cultivated and refined. With greater effort, hope can become more of a default mindset in our lives.

For Christians, hope centers on the life and mission of Jesus Christ. In his Theology of Hope, contemporary German theologian Jürgen Moltmann explains how Christ’s resurrection proved that history is not a closed system of occurrences, with each event constrained by what came before. The resurrection brings “to light the incomparable hitherto non-existent and new.” As such, it reveals new possibilities for the future as well. For Christian believers, knowledge of the resurrection has a creative, transforming effect on the present even as it redirects our gaze to the future. This ultimate hope provides “the glow that suffuses everything here in the dawn of an expected new day.”

Moltmann’s main argument is that hope is much more than a belief in the afterlife or a concern with the end of times, when all suffering will cease and peace will reign on the earth. On the contrary, hope transforms our lives here and now. Moltmann is concerned that too many Christian believers overlook the possibilities of happiness and change in the present. Their otherworldly gaze can rob the present of its meaning and significance.

According to Moltmann, hope is not found in the stoic acceptance of present suffering that waits patiently for the end of times. Instead, the wholeness and inclusiveness of hope “draws the future into the sufferings of the present.” Just as the hope of a glorious resurrection must confront the tragic brutality of the cross, we cannot ignore the reality of violence, suffering, and death on our own path to hope.

So what if the new life and healing we hope for never comes? If Moltmann is right, the power of hope can illuminate our path to creative new possibilities even when our most fervent desires remain unfulfilled. Paradoxically, hope can liberate us from clinging to rigid expectations and outcomes.

What we hope for is often inconsistent with our present experience of pain. Consequently, Moltmann affirms that hope contradicts experience. Because hope stands in stark conflict with our experience of suffering in the world, it inspires us to make meaningful changes in the present. According to Moltmann, “That is why faith, whenever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience, but impatience.” Hope gives us the courage to act.

This brings us to our final question: How can we inspire hope in ourselves and in others, despite our circumstances? Here are a few practical suggestions. First, we can sit down and list three things we’re grateful for in the present moment. Social scientific studies have proven that consistent gratitude improves mental health and builds reservoirs of hope.

Second, when we catch ourselves in the midst of a negative thought, we can mentally rewrite that same thought from a more optimistic perspective.

Third, we can practice and promote hope while at the same time acknowledging the reality of anguish and adversity. Our own hope lifts others when we empathize, console, and minister to their needs.

Finally, we must never stop looking for new sources of hope. We find it in an earnest prayer, in the unlimited potential of a newborn baby, in the fresh possibilities of a new friendship, and in the creative power of a new day that makes a break from the past.