Patience is a most useful and important mental skill, and an area of deficiency for me in the past.
Some background: I got through school with good grades because I had a naturally good memory and didn’t have to study much. Unfortunately, it means that I didn’t develop patience as a habit and a way of life like some of my friends did. That worked well for me in the younger school years. As the high school years went by I was put in more and more difficult classes as a result of my previous good grades. I didn’t do as well in some of those classes, because I had almost no experience or patience with studying. Still, I did well enough that nobody had any worries about my study skills. I absorbed and remembered things quickly enough in general that I didn’t raise any red flags. All through school, I tested well, but sometimes would lapse on keeping up with homework, especially if it was particularly tedious or repetitive.
I was not naturally talented at sports, and you know how mean kids can be about that…. so I didn’t join any sports teams or cultivate patience that way. I did play musical instruments, but I was naturally talented and so I enjoyed practicing, for a while. I actually was interested in possibly joining the swim team, but I wasn’t the fastest swimmer, and I got discouraged rather than asking a coach how I could improve my speed. As most people do, I gravitated towards areas where I had natural talent. Hence not too much opportunity for cultivating patience.
Fast forward to my kid’s first and second year.
Now, as a parent, I realize that patience is a skill I would do well to develop. Not just in a “don’t yell at your kid too much” sort of way….but in a “respecting that everything will come in it’s own time” sort of way. In a “I don’t control the world and I harbor no illusions that I do” sort of way. In a “sometimes you don’t get it on the first try, and it’s still worth doing” sort of way. That last one is the one that comes least naturally to me, but I very much want to cultivate that mindset in my son.
I have made some progress in developing patience. For example, taking up a habit based approach to health is an exercise in patience in and of itself. Every habit I am working on is over the course of the year, not the week or the month. I specifically chose that time frame in part to teach myself patience.
The fact that I stuck with my own personal habit approach for the last 7 months is proof that my ability to exercise patience is improving. That my “patience muscle is growing stronger,” if you will.
At the same time I was starting some of these new habits, some friends were attempting drastic lifestyle changes (it was the new year!). I knew in my heart that those approaches were not for me. I knew that my approach could be slower and less dramatic….but I also knew that it was likely that their drastic lifestyle changes would be abandoned in a matter of days or weeks, and I was almost certain I could stick to the habits I set. I told myself “who cares if it takes a year to make all the changes I want to make? Or longer? I’ve got nothing but time. What I DON’T have time for is more cycles of extreme ‘healthy living’ followed by ‘f*ck it all, it’s too overwhelming and it sucks anyway.'” That approach hadn’t served me well and I knew that whatever the outcome, if I had the time to spend 30 plus years getting it wrong, eating green vegetables and committing to weight training for a year couldn’t possibly do any harm.
That is also proof that my patience muscle is growing stronger.
When I decided to start learning Olympic weightlifting this spring, I thought I would be good at it, because I was pretty strong. Once I learned more and realized that speed was also a huge part of it, I questioned whether it was worth doing, because I “wasn’t any good at speed or power.” I caught myself thinking that maybe I should just abandon the idea. And I responded to myself that even though my previous way of living was to only try things I was instantly good at, it was okay to try something that I would have to work at. It was a good idea, in fact. The very best athletes in the world did it. I told myself that this was an opportunity to, for the first time in my life, consciously choose to work at something because I enjoy it and find it satisfying, not because I am “the best” at it. I thought of my son watching me do this. And I stuck with it.
This is also proof that my patience muscle is growing stronger.
And I think the way I have approached my training has shown patience, too. I had no sense of embarrassment starting at the bottom, with the training bar. I know some people with previous strength experience get impatient about that. I am taking care to focus on my form now at the lighter weights, so I don’t develop bad habits to unlearn at the heavier weights.
This is also proof that my patience muscle is growing stronger.
Know what I’m really struggling with in terms of patience, though? My body image. Yup! It’s like I have two separate minds on this issue. One mind is all in on body positivity and Health at Every Size. Indeed, my health has improved greatly. The other mind is struggling with Fat Acceptance….not of other people (at least not consciously), but of myself. I love the strong feeling I am developing in my legs, arms, and back. And I am feeling very frustrated lately with size of my belly. It is more difficult to find pants that fit well on a body that is proportioned like mine, and that feels frustrating. I know that where a person stores fat is largely genetic, and that is the case here. Both my mother and father have lean, muscular legs at whatever size they are at the moment. If they gain weight, it goes right to their bellies and backs. Me too. Even at over 100 pounds lighter than I currently am, my body held fat in my belly and back. So this is something I will need to change my mindset on, not my body. And yet, my patience muscle is apparently not yet strong enough for this one.
So, here is another opportunity to work at something that I am not instantly good at. Body acceptance. Positive body image. Sometimes I get it. Sometimes I don’t. That’s okay. And it’s also okay, and encouraged, to keep working at it, instead of abandoning ship because it didn’t come instantly.
I know I can do this. My patience muscle has come so far already.