For most people waiting feels like a waste of time and we’re often inclined to want to fill that time with something… anything. Whether we’re in line at the grocery story, waiting at a doctor’s office, or sitting at a stoplight, the brain seems to be cued to fill that space. Nowadays, many of us pull out our phones and begin sifting through messages, reading documents, or surfing the web.
However, the belief that waiting has no value is mistaken. In fact, one secret to a sense of personal control, general satisfaction with life, and even success, lies in learning how to find peace with waiting.
We’ve all heard the famous adages, “Patience is a virtue.” or “Good things come to those who wait.”
However, that’s easier said than done. Why?
Our brain’s natural response takes over.
Underneath the subtle (yet for many of us, intolerable) experience of waiting is an anxious little gremlin that fears being alone. This gremlin is operating on ancient programming that says if you’re alone you’re not being protected by your clan which is perceived a threat to your safety. In those small moments of waiting, the gremlin takes the controls of your brain and reaches for something to “be with” so you’re not alone anymore. In other words, the anxious gremlin is in control and you’re not.
Studies are clear that lacking a sense of control is associated with negative stress, anxiety, and depression. Also, the more we let the gremlin run our brain, the stronger it gets – or as the Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb says, “neurons that fire together, wire together.”
Using Waiting for Good
What if you were to practice being on the lookout for moments of waiting in the day? What if, in those moments, instead of grabbing something to fill the space, you recognized it as an opportunity to be okay with just waiting? Part of the practice would involve softening the muscles in your body that have tensed due to a mini fight/flight/freeze response, allowing yourself to simply recognize you’re safe.
What we practice and repeat in life becomes more automatic. If you practice and repeat this, you’ll start taking back control of your mind and you’ll feel more at ease as a result.
There are so many opportunities to practice. You can do this while waiting for the bread to toast, waiting for someone to get out of the shower, waiting for a report at work, waiting for the screen to load, waiting on hold on the phone, and even waiting for your newborn to settle down when you’re doing your best as a parent to soothe your baby.
In these small moments of patience, you strengthen self-control, trust in yourself, and with less tension in needing to fill the spaces, you feel more relaxed in life.
You’ve freed yourself from this delusion of immediacy, grasping, and need, and opened up to a sense of ease, contentment, and confidence.
Try this very simple exercise today and in the days ahead. Consider where you might be waiting. As you notice the waiting, relax your body, recognize you’re safe, and just be curious about the experience of waiting.
In my experience, this is where the gold is.
Adapted from Mindfulness and Psychotherapy