Dec 9

Rev Gav

Why do we have a problem with waiting?

Rev Gav explores why waiting, for many of us, seems to cause so many negative emotions and what we can do about it

Waiting is a part of life isn’t it? The New York Times dubbed waiting in line a “timeless form of torture,” and according to a 2017 report, us Westerners typically spend approximately 6 months of our lives waiting in line for things, equating to 3 days per year! According to a 2022 survey, for three quarters of us, waiting in line causes negative emotions such as apathy, boredom, annoyance, frustration, and/or impatience, however, according to sociologists, this has not always been the case and there was a time when the majority of people did not experience such waiting emotion. So, why has such a change taken place?

In 2015, a Microsoft study into the impact of technology on our attention spans found that the average human attention span had reduced, clocking in at eight seconds — a full second shorter than that of a goldfish! Because we are able to literally get results at the click of a button, modern technology is teaching us — and literally training us — to expect instant gratification.

Our brains can be trained, and instant gratification releases endorphins that make us feel positive and good, therefore, it is no wonder that when we are unable to receive this endorphin shot, we feel negative. Because younger people are typically less able to control their emotions and because they are likely to be more engaged with such technology — i.e. they are becoming more accustomed to instant gratification — it follows that younger people (but not only younger people) are more susceptible to the negative emotions associated with waiting.

As any good psychotherapist will tell you, our emotions, thoughts, moods, and behaviours are all connected, and negative emotions have an impact on both our mood and behaviours, affecting not only ourselves and our own wellbeing but also the wellbeing of others, and even society at large. Let us look at a real-world example of waiting that affects all of us here in Bermuda.

At the time of writing I am living in Bermuda, and as a relative newcomer to the island (despite having generations of relatives here), it certainly struck me that there is a strange paradox of behaviour exhibited by drivers on our roads. On the one hand, I have never encountered so many people wonderfully, generously, and patiently willing to let other drivers out of junctions and entrance-ways with a friendly wave and toot of the horn, yet at the same time, I have never witnessed so much speeding and dangerous driving. I know I am not alone in having held my breath on numerous occasions when observing a motorcyclist having a near-fatal miss.

According to those with which I have spoken, the state of driving on Bermuda’s roads has rapidly worsened and the quality of driving seems to have deteriorated dramatically — particularly amongst young people. There are plenty of places in the world with many vehicles and small roads where people do not drive in this way, therefore, we can surmise that it is a cultural problem and a very serious societal issue.

Now, I realise I am in danger of oversimplifying things, but what if one of the contributing factors to the behaviour exhibited by the speeding and dangerous drivers are the negative emotions elicited by waiting — feelings of apathy, boredom, annoyance, frustration, and/or impatience?

Or think about this another way — and if the statistics are correct this will apply to three out of four of us — how often do you drive to a destination, for example to or home from work, and upon arrival feel edgy, anxious, or simply in a bad mood? Perhaps it is these negative emotions, felt by the majority of us when waiting, that have affected our mood?

Does this mean that 75% of us are doomed to feel negative when waiting and that we have little or no control over our emotions? We may have little or no control over how someone else behaves, however, if we wish to change our emotions, and the resulting moods and behaviour — according to Cognitive Behaviourists — we need to change our thought processes. We can re-train our brains by changing the way we think.

Such is the importance of waiting that Christians have purposefully built a time of waiting into the church calendar, and it is the season we are now in. Advent is the season when we remember those that waited for the Messiah’s birth, and when we also reflect on the summation of all things in and through Him. In first Century Palestine, there were those that gave up and stopped caring, those that decided to cave in and compromise, and those that got frustrated and impatient. Yet, there were those that waited humbly and patiently, and these included the characters such as Mary that we read about at the beginning of the gospels. They held onto the promises of God, trusted in God’s timing, and did not expect instant gratification.

Waiting is an inevitability of life. We cannot avoid it and if we try to avoid it, then the consequences in our lives will be emotional negativity resulting in negative moods and adverse behaviour. Therefore, the next time you find yourself queuing or waiting, use the time. Consciously make the decision to enjoy the moment. Take a deep breath and take a look around you. If you are near someone, engage with them. Smile and say, “Good day” or tell them how lovely they look. If you are on a bike or car, notice how tightly you are gripping the steering. Choose to relax, slow down, and hold back. You will arrive at your destination, appointment, or engagement feeling more refreshed and positive. Cherish these delicious moments — often happening in busy, hectic lives — where you have an opportunity to be inactive and experience the journey. Time is a gift and you have been given it — and, according to the experts, a whole six months of it!

Have a blesséd Advent.

Rev Gav

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