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Impatience vs Patience

A Coach’s Self Reflection

“The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it open.” Arnold Glasow

“Patience is a virtue.” So it is stated. The assumption is that if you are a good person, you must work hard to exercise patience.

What is patience? Well it is defined as the ability to accept or tolerate delay, difficulty or annoyance without getting angry or upset.

Today’s climate offers more freedoms, more choices, higher economic prosperity, globalization, exposure and ever-changing technology that supports instant gratification amid many unknown variables. The expectation of doing more with less while maintaining high performance and delivering results has led to growing impatience. Whether we are dealing with an executive leader trying to maintain sustainable results in an environment fraught with uncertainty or a working mother trying to “do it all” and a bag of chips; the flaring tempers and growing dissatisfaction are clear evidence of impatience rearing its head in our daily lives.

Impatience – Its Role and Its Cost

Impatience has its role to play; it helps a person recognize the pain points in his/ her life and hopefully as a result helps them find solutions to alleviate them.

Generally, impatience raises one or more of the following feelings in us:

  • Shallow breathing (short breaths)
  • Body and muscle tension – including hand or teeth clenching/ tightening; jiggling/ restless feet
  • Irritability/ anger
  • Rushing – including snap/ quick decisions

For some these uncomfortable feelings makes them yell at the person for being slow and putting them behind schedule as a way to relieve the internal tension.

Impatience and losing control of our patience hurts us and those around us. It raises our stress levels and can even cause physical harm to our bodies, even affecting our relationships.  Leaders and individuals with the inability to practice patience have found their careers short lived and/or curtailed. People and the marketplace demand patience and see patience as a sign of compassion, open-mindedness, willingness and ability to manage circumstances.

So although impatience may have some positive aspects, the harm it can cause when left unchecked outweighs the benefits. In general, impatience makes an already stressful and unpleasant situation worse.

Patience leads to freedom

As the definition mentioned at the beginning of this article states, patience is a tolerance and acceptance of the facts as they are. Acceptance being defined as the process or fact of being received as adequate, valid, or suitable and/or the willingness to tolerate a difficult situation. Patience does not determine our choices to change or not change the situation that we are in; it just means that we choose not to react to the situation with anger or irritation. This choice is what leads to freedom.

Patience = Freedom = Open to Choices + Empowerment

Impatience = Loss of Freedom = Loss of Choices + Disempowerment

The Path to Patience and Freedom

The first thing to do is to recognize that there is an area of concern brought up by impatience and make a conscious decision to respond to “delay, difficulty or annoyance” differently. Once the decision is made an individual can start tolerating and then accepting them when impatience arises. Secondly, recognize the feelings of equanimity that patience brings in; the calmness of mind and thoughts that comes with patience helps in dealing with life’s ups and downs. This recognition helps in maintaining the habit.


  1. Recognize impatience when it rears its head

Set the intention to recognize when you are impatient in your own mind; what has triggered it? What feelings are you having? What thoughts? How do these affect your behavior?

Have compassion for yourself; what made this situation more “intolerable” than other times? Is it because you are more Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired (HALT) than usual? Work on that.

  • Manage your symptoms

When impatience starts setting in, manage your symptoms by first recognizing how it feels in your body and the thoughts that arise from it; the countering them with the relevant tool such as:

  • Take deep, slow breaths and count to 10
  • Relax your muscles from your toes up
  • Slow down
  • Talk yourself out of getting angry – sometimes it can be a simple mantra like the one I like to use: “look for the funny” helps me manage the anger or frustrated feeling.

These are temporary fixes to help ride the wave of impatience at the time. A more permanent solution is to recognize the real reasons that impatience set in.

  • Transform impatience into patience

Once the symptoms are managed, it may be useful to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is there anything I can do to change the situation without making matters worse for myself or others? – If the answer is “No” then find the “good” in the situation. Redirect the focus on something pleasant or interesting in the situation. For me I “find the funny”.

Working on the main triggers or causes of impatience is a more permanent way of transforming impatience into patience. Below are sample questions and possible answers – derived from the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Tools.

  • What are the main causes or triggers for impatience?
    • E.g. Getting interrupted as I work
  • How does this make you feel?
    • Irritated and frustrated
  • What thoughts led to this feeling?
    • Can’t you see I am busy
    • Feeling dismissed, unimportant
  • What evidence supports the thoughts?
    • They dismissed the evidence of me being busy and interrupted me…
  • What evidence do you have that oppose these thoughts?
    • The fact that they contacted me for help shows that they are not dismissive of me
  • How do you feel about them now?
    • Less annoyed
  • How will you deal with the triggers when they arise in the future?
    • I will remind myself that their relationship is as important as the work I am doing and if it is an interruption for a chat, I will ask to reschedule the chat.
  • Practice Self- Compassion

Self-compassion is key, recognize the times when you are patient and celebrate them. This is a journey of love. Do not judge yourself in the process, remind yourself that this is your way of recognizing your pain points and grow from them rather than allowing yourself to slow down in self-recrimination and self-judgement.

Coaching Application

Often clients have trouble maintaining their patience with themselves and their progress in the process. Our role as coaches is to acknowledge the progress they have made so far on their journey. If a client is consistently impatient about a situation it would be useful to explore the real reasons for his/her impatience. By asking the client to consider his/her role in building the impatience within themselves, you are supporting them to recognize the choice they have to become more tolerant.

Circle of Concern Versus Circle of Influence – Stephen Covey’s Tool

Stephen Covey, in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, introduces the concept of Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence.

The Circle of Concern is the area that we have no control over.

The Circle of Influence is the area that we have control over.

Covey states that in life our Circle of Influence is most often smaller than the Circle of Concern.  We can’t control the economy, the traffic jam or a company merger. Focus on and impatience at the Circle of Concern only serves to deplete energy and raise stress levels because we have no control over it. The energy focused on the Circle of Concern is negative according to Stephen Covey. Focusing on the Circle of Influence, what the client can actually change and work on, helps maintain patience and manage stress levels, eventually helping them grow their circle of influence. This shift in focus helps clients reduce stress levels and increase happiness; because it helps them realize that they initiate and influence change.


  • As a coach, how patient are you in the coaching relationship?
  • How do you model patience as a coach to your client?
  • What are some of the behaviors that would reinforce patience and acceptance?
  • What are some questions you could ask your client to shift their perspective from impatience to patience?
  • What are some powerful questions you could ask your client to move them towards acceptance, tolerance and patience?


  • ICA Power Tools Programs
  • Glenn Llops – 5 Powerful Ways Leader Practice Patience (2013)
  • Anger Management (Williams and Williams’ 12 Strategies for Controlling Anger)– Mind Tools
  • How to be Patient (Staying Calm Under Pressure) – Mind Tools
  • Toni Benhard J.D. – Impatient? Why and How to Practice Patience (2013)
  • Steven Covey – 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
  • Marshall Goldsmith – Triggers – Creating Behavior That Lasts

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