Time & Productivity

The Power of Patience

Attention deficit and impatience go hand in hand. Keep your cool — and reduce regrets — with these tips for becoming more patient.

Woman with ADHD with her hand on her chest, taking time to breathe and harnessing the power of patience.

Patience is a virtue, right? For someone with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), it can be more than that. For me, stepping back, calming down, and being patient makes me more tolerant, composed, even-tempered, and accepting of circumstances that are out of my control. They call it serenity, and it’s something I want more of. I know I sleep better at night when I haven’t made impulsive choices that I can’t change.

On the other hand, impatience can be Miracle-Gro for impulsive behavior — rude comments that can’t be taken back or embarrassing conduct that we regret for months. For many of us with ADHD, having patience seems elusive.

It doesn’t have to be. We can do exercises that build our “patience muscles.” Being patient is uncomfortable for many people with ADHD, since we don’t know how to do it or don’t do it often enough for it to be a habit. Slowing down, taking deep breaths, and allowing time to pass is not easy and will feel awkward at first, but the discomfort of doing something different goes away the more we do it. Many times we don’t behave in a relaxed manner because we don’t feel very relaxed. We have to fake it to make it.

The first step is to identify the situations, activities, or individuals that challenge our patience. A few of mine are:

  • Standing in line at the post office
  • Driving in rush-hour traffic
  • Sitting in boring meetings at work
  • Waiting for the microwave to pop popcorn
  • Reading overly critical e-mails
  • Checking out at the grocery store, and/or
  • Being involved in long-winded conversations.

The second step is to work out and develop “patience muscles” with exercises.

Here are some stay-calm strategies that have worked for my clients:

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Slow Down When Behind the Wheel

Thomas had a history of fender-benders, and his insurance premiums reflect it. We started building his patience muscles by having him drive more slowly. He committed to driving to the office in non-rush hour traffic, staying in the right lane (it’s the slowest), driving within the speed limit, and not speeding up to beat a red light. It was frustrating for him to do, but he got through it by doing deep breathing exercises when he got tense. He said that when he finally arrived at work, finding a spot in the crowded parking garage seemed less annoying than usual because he had adopted a mind set of “time takes time.” He arrives at the office in better spirits. Having more composure enables Thomas to think more clearly about planning his day, and he is less likely to snap at the first person who makes an unexpected demand.

Resist the Little Red Dress

Diane walks by one of her favorite clothing stores on the way home from work and frequently goes in to browse, with no intention of buying anything. Impulsivity often wins out when something catches her eye. We decided that she would go into the store and list what it would cost if she bought everything she wanted to. Our plan included calling me before entering the store, texting me while in the store, and calling me after leaving.

I got a text following the first call, saying there was a red dress she couldn’t live without. I suggested that she leave the store, knowing that the dress would be there the next day, and probably the day after. If not, the clerk could get the dress from another store or have one shipped. Two days passed and Diane texted me, saying the urge for the dress was gone and that slowing down saved her money.

Lose Weight a Forkful at a Time

One of Jerry’s goals is to lose weight, and although he eats a healthy diet, he eats too fast and overdoes the calories. We did a patience exercise to help Jerry slow down his eating. After each forkful of food, I suggested that he set the fork down, cross his hands in his lap, and wait a few seconds after swallowing before he picked it up again.

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Jerry admitted that it was difficult and strange, since he is accustomed to “shoveling food in,” but he did report that it was working, except when he was starved and couldn’t force himself to eat slower. For that scenario, I suggested he use chopsticks. Both methods helped Jerry to enjoy his food while eating less.

Practice Patience

In today’s fast-paced world, people with ADHD have lots of opportunities to beef up our patience muscles. Say you call tech support for your sick computer and are put on hold. Don’t place the call on speakerphone and continue doing other work. Just wait, focusing on your breath and allowing your tense muscles to relax.

Most of the time we are impatient because our ADHD has us running late, and we become more impatient when we find ourselves stuck in traffic or waiting for a bus that is late. Accept the fact that there is nothing that can be done to make us get there faster, and take advantage of the pressure of being late to practice being calm. You will arrive calm and late rather than stressed out, grumpy, and late.

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