Usually when we think of patience, we think of a person waiting quietly in a long line, or being very tolerant around a rambunctious child or puppy.

And it’s true those are examples of patience. It suggests that the person has a level of inner calm. But that’s an outward appearance, and doesn’t reveal how widely that person applies patience in other areas in their life. Further, it doesn’t tell you whether someone is actually upset at a deeper level, and is just good at burying it publicly – only to have to deal with it later in private. Many people practice patience in public only to have to ‘unwind’ later in private. Learning to get good at being frustrated is not patience.

What is patience?

Here’s the definition of patience: the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.

So, patience is not about learning how to hold our temper when we’re upset. It’s about actually gaining the ability accept things – say, life – without getting upset. Patience is a learnable skill, and it’s the foundation of most of the key elements in living life better.

Of course, outward patience is important. We’re human beings and it’s important to master an outward patience socially and with relationships. That’s a skill that’s primarily a product of negative feedback – we do it because we learn that losing our cool makes us look foolish, and can have a range of undesired consequences.

But really where patience has the biggest impact is not outward, but internally in our everyday lives. The capacity to accept discomfort in a variety of seemingly small ways – internally – is where patience makes the biggest difference.

10 key areas where patience makes a big difference

The patience of priority
The ability to do what’s most important first, versus just ‘getting stuff done’. Learning to endure the discomfort of not feeling productive, not getting small wins or immediate gratification.

The patience of resilience
Sticking to it, with faith in a long-term outcome, versus giving up when you don’t see quick results. Learning to endure the discomfort of continuing to move forward with slow progress or setbacks.

The patience of focus
Giving one thing at a time your full attention, versus being pulled in all directions. Learning to endure the discomfort of feeling you’re not doing enough, not getting everything done that you need to get done.

The patience of detail
Doing high quality work, versus taking shortcuts just to get it done. Learning to endure the discomfort of doing seemingly tedious or unnecessary work.

The patience of planning
Thinking things through, versus ignoring the future. Learning to endure the discomfort of having to think and forecast, instead of acting now and getting an immediate reward.

The patience of proof
Seeking out and sorting through information, versus making assumptions. Learning to endure the discomfort of allowing things to be unknown and unresolved until you have all the facts.

The patience of solutions
Pursuing strong, creative solutions to problems, versus plugging in simple fixes. Learning to endure the discomfort of thinking differently, delaying a solution, and even failures before long-term success.

The patience of commitments
Sticking to a promise to yourself or others, versus allowing yourself excuses. Learning to endure the discomfort of staying on course regardless of changes in situation or new obstacles.

The patience of learning
Continually improving, versus assuming you know enough. Learning to endure the discomfort of admitting you are ignorant, and spending time learning to be better.

The patience of openness
Changing, versus being fixed. Learning to endure the discomfort of abandoning some beliefs, and creating new habits and behaviors.

Isn’t it the same as willpower?

No, but it’s in the same family. Willpower is the ability to power through and achieve a desired result. With willpower, you push on even though you might be upset. In fact, those emotions often drive the outcome. Patience is softer. Patience exhibits the same control and strength as willpower, but without the furrowed brow. That is what makes it much more sustainable, and a positive force that builds on itself. Willpower pushes, patience pulls.

Patience is ‘willpower with a smile’, and developing it as core inner skill is critical to living a better life.