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)


  1. I’m reminded of the movie “Click”: The protagonist gets the ability to “fast forward” through the dull or uninteresting parts of his life, but the more he uses it, the more he skips over because he’s not really waiting for anything in particular – and by fast forwarding, he’s chosen not to find the day to day life interesting.

    • Kaj Sotala

      Interesting, I didn’t realize there was a movie of it. I heard that story told as a fable by, I think a priest as a part of their sermon.

      But yeah, in any case that sounds like me. :D

      (or maybe I should say that it sounds like I’ve been, since I’ve been gradually fixing the issue)

      • How have you been gradually fixing it?

      • Kaj Sotala

        When I notice myself doing this, I look for something in the moment that I could be enjoying. For instance, this post was prompted by me doing this in a particular social situation, where I could have been enjoying the presence of other people instead.

        Now there are (at least) two separate thought processes going on in my mind: one which is waiting and feeling a little uncomfortable, and another which is enjoying the presence of other people. Then I try to maintain a state of mindful awareness: without forcing it, just letting my mind naturally notice that one of the processes feels much more pleasant than the other. Eventually, it will let go of the process that keeps waiting, in favor of the one which is enjoying the moment.

        I talked a bit about this kind of a thing here.

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