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Whatever you do, don’t wait

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

Waiting sucks. That’s why today, tonight, and maybe tomorrow and days after will be torture for so many of us. But why? Why is waiting so excruciating?

Let me lay out for you the strange psychology of waiting, and then I’ll tell you what to do about it.

Psychologically, waiting is enforced helplessness. We want something, but some force—a person, a bureaucracy, the laws of physics—prevents us from getting it when we want it.

It helps a lot when we understand why we’re waiting and how long we’ll have to wait, even when we’re helpless to hurry things along. If you put a cake in the oven, it’s hard to wait for that hour, but you know why you’re waiting and when it’ll be over. Speaking of a cake in the oven, it’s the same thing with pregnancy. But even with things like that, waiting can get on our nerves. This is why we have the feeling that a watched pot never boils.

But when the hold-ups seem unreasonable, when you don’t know how long the waiting will go on for, and when you feel there’s nothing you can do about it...well, it more than sucks. It is an actual recipe for anxiety and depression. Whether it’s waiting for a promotion at work that never seems to come or an answer to an all-important text you sent six hours ago, it can feel as though it’s literally driving you crazy, because it is!

So now let’s focus in this election night coming up. We will be waiting, and we don’t know how long we’ll be waiting. Much of the waiting won’t make sense to us. And as if we were strapped to a chair, there’s nothing we can do. Why can’t it be like, people vote, they count the ballots, they announce the results? Fast, simple, easy. Most of us remember times when it seemed that way. Now it can seem as though there are forces of darkness keeping us in the dark.

But there’s a lot you can do to drive yourself UNcrazy.

One. Take a breath and tell yourself that in fact you are not going to be waiting forever. It only feels like forever. It will be over. And if you can just distract yourself, get busy with other stuff, then before you know it, you will know what you were waiting to know: the election results. If it’s the watched pot that never boils, then first of all, “never” is just plain old not true, and second don’t sit there watching it!

Two. Let it go. Remind yourself that waiting isn’t doing anything, and so waiting—no matter how impatiently!—won’t speed up the results coming in. So if the results aren’t in by, say, midnight, go to bed! Which is better? Exhausting yourself waiting for the results at, say, 5 am, or getting a good night’s sleep and getting those same results at 7 am? Waiting is not a solution to this problem. It is the problem. So don’t wait.

Three. Move on. Instead of watching the pot boil, find other things to do. I mean, like, anything. Arrange your spices in alphabetic order. Go through all your clothes to select all the items you’re finally going to give to Goodwill. Bake, like, 1,000 cookies and hand them out to homeless people. Look up all your old teachers from high school and write to thank them for their work, or to tell them how crappy they really were. Write your own autobiography, three sentences per year. Search YouTube for videos that’ll teach you how to do something.

Hey, I don’t know what you can do instead of waiting. I just know there are a zillion things and they’re all hugely therapeutic because they all take you right out of depression-making and anxiety-making dynamic of just waiting, damnit!

You’re better than a lot of things, and one thing you’re surely better than is self-torment. And now you’ve found a way out of that.


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