“Reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it.” – Jane Wagner and Lily Tomlin

When it comes to stress, it’s not the external factors that seem to be the culprits — the deadlines and traffic jams and pain-in-the-ass people who have cents-off coupons on every damn thing they buy — it’s how you react to those things.

Two things cause stress: unrealistic expectations and impatience. Setting unattainable goals — advocated by some of the self-help gurus I read — is not a good idea. The ETR program on goal setting can show you how to achieve great things in life — even more than your friends and colleagues would ever believe you capable of — but without making yourself crazy.

Impatience is another matter. Successful people — and would-be successful people — are often impatient. I am. JSN is. PR, PN, AS, and PS are. Just to name a few of my closest millionaire friends. BB is not. The exception proves the rule.

A certain amount of impatience is good, because it creates the tension you need to keep everything going. But too much impatience is often counterproductive. The work is sloppy and has to be redone. Good people decide they don’t want to work for you anymore. And so on.

If you consider yourself a very patient person, you don’t need to read any further. (You probably need to be more demanding, but that will be the subject of a future message.) A new book about this subject by M. J. Ryan, appropriately titled “The Power of Patience”, has some good stuff to say.

“Patience,” the author explains, “is a lot about what you don’t do.

“It’s about holding back when you want to let loose, putting up with something you’d rather not, and waiting for something to happen rather than forcing it along. Not everything can be accomplished through willpower. Sometimes, what is needed is a bit of wait power.”

Patience not only makes you healthier and happier but also increases the chance that you’ll get what you want.

It allows you to deal effectively with people who would normally disturb you. A fellow worker’s office habits don’t have to grate on you if you can remember that no one sees things exactly as you do and that no one has exactly the same values you have.

This is also true on a personal level. Patience allows us to be more effective with our family — with our in-laws and cousins and parents and children. Patience makes it easier to love your spouse and stay in love. In a review of Ryan’s book, syndicated columnist Jane E. Brody says, “I used to say of a dear friend that his compulsions would have driven me crazy had I married him. But the wonderful, patient woman he married is not at all disturbed by them; she sees them as part of his charming uniqueness.” As Ryan put it, “The secret to happiness in love may be to appreciate as delightful those little foibles that otherwise can be so annoying.”

“In cultivating patience,” Brody advises, “it helps to understand why some things push your buttons. Ask yourself when this happens why you find the situation so upsetting, and then try to separate what is truly important to you from the things that make little or no difference. What will really happen if you miss a deadline or if that traffic jam makes you an hour late?”

Remember this: When it comes to health and happiness, attitude is everything. Here are a few of the tricks I use to keep my patience in check:

  • I bring along crossword puzzles and reading material to fill the time when I am waiting for appointments or for KF to finish dressing.
  • I keep good, soothing music in my car.
  • I remind myself that I am not the center of the universe. One thing I don’t do (but am considering) is meditation. Although it always seemed to me a very flaky way to waste perfectly good time, there is significant scientific evidence that it can calm you down. Something physical happens when you meditate. That’s a fact. And since there is so much anecdotal evidence that the  outcome is more patience and less stress, it’s worth giving it a try. (I’ll give you a quick lesson in meditation tomorrow.)