Paul from Australia wrote in and asked how he could cultivate his patience. Paul is visually impaired and often gets questions or offers of help from strangers. At first, the questions were welcome conversation starters and the offers of help were charming. But after years and years, as you might imagine, it’s all started to get annoying. Oblivious questions, miss-the-mark offers of help, and awkwardly alarmist people create interpersonal tension that Paul is left to deal with. So he asks, how can I be more patient? How can I be less annoyed when these people are just curious or trying to help?

Now, Paul’s question applies to all of us. We all have that thing that annoys us. We all have the pet peeve to which we’re super-sensitive. And when it happens, we overreact—we might yell, get sarcastic, roll our eyes, or use a contemptuous tone of voice, none of which are helpful and all of which make things worse.

For me, it’s my kids yelling, “Mommy, come here quick!” I think I’m responding to crisis, only to have them ask for more peanut butter pretzels. Which, I might add, they could have easily gotten for themselves.

For you, it might be your partner leaving hair in the drain, your kids nightly bedtime delay tactics, that spinning beach ball on your computer, your co-worker’s donkey-meets-a-car-horn laugh, or pretty much any aspect of your commute. (Some days on my train, I suspect it would be faster to drag myself home with my lips).

So why do we get so annoyed at such objectively little things? The answer is called sensitization. You heard of tolerance—gradually getting used to higher and higher levels of alcohol, drugs, kid messes, what have you. Sensitization is the opposite of tolerance.

 

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