On pointless waiting

I’ve of­ten no­ticed in my­self a ten­dency, if I am not do­ing some­thing im­me­di­ately en­gross­ing, to find my­self wait­ing.

Wait­ing, wait­ing, wait­ing, not re­ally be­ing pre­sent, just will­ing time to pass.

But the weird thing is, fre­quently there isn’t any­thing in par­tic­u­lar that I’m wait­ing for. Get­ting out of that situ­a­tion, yes, but I don’t have any­thing in par­tic­u­lar that I’d want to do when I do get out.

I have a sus­pi­cion that this might have to do with men­tal habits in­grained in school.

In el­e­men­tary school, there’s no real goal for your stud­ies. Mostly it’s just com­ing there, do­ing the things that teach­ers want you to do, un­til the day is over and you get to go.

In that en­vi­ron­ment, ev­ery minute that passes means win­ning. Every minute takes you a bit closer to be­ing out of there. That’s the real goal: get­ting out so you can fi­nally do some­thing fun.

Dur­ing a les­son you are wait­ing for re­cess, dur­ing re­cess you are wait­ing for the end of the day. Out­side school you are wait­ing for the week­end, on the week­end you are wait­ing for the bliss of the long sum­mer leave.

Wait­ing, wait­ing, wait­ing.

So you learn to pay at­ten­tion to the time. Hu­man minds are tuned to feed­back, things that let them know how well they are do­ing. And since each pass­ing minute takes you closer to the goal, the pass­ing of time be­comes its own re­ward.

Time hav­ing passed means that you have achieved some­thing. Time hav­ing passed means that you can feel a tiny bit of satis­fac­tion.

And then that habit, dili­gently trained for a decade, can carry over to the rest of your life. Even as an adult, you find your­self wait­ing, wait­ing, wait­ing.

You don’t know what it is that you are wait­ing for, be­cause you are not re­ally wait­ing for any­thing in par­tic­u­lar. Even if it would ac­tu­ally be more pleas­ant to stay en­gaged with the pre­sent mo­ment, you keep track­ing the time. Be­cause wait­ing feels like win­ning, and ev­ery pass­ing minute feels like it takes you closer to your goal.

Even if you don’t ac­tu­ally know what your goal is. Even if reach­ing your goal will only give you a new situ­a­tion where you can again wait, so that you are never ac­tu­ally pre­sent.

Still, you keep wait­ing, wait­ing, wait­ing.

(typ­i­cal mind fal­lacy em­ployed for the sake of artis­tic li­cense; I am de­scribing my own ex­pe­rience, with­out claiming this to be a uni­ver­sal one)