The NY Times has an writeup today on the psychology of waiting – mostly, waiting in line.
Here’s the wrap-up at the end:
The dominant cost of waiting is an emotional one: stress, boredom, that nagging sensation that one’s life is slipping away. The last thing we want to do with our dwindling leisure time is squander it in stasis. We’ll never eliminate lines altogether, but a better understanding of the psychology of waiting can help make those inevitable delays that inject themselves into our daily lives a touch more bearable. And when all else fails, bring a book.
Understand why it’s unpleasant? Bring a book? Meh.
Here’s my counter-offer: waiting is optional; don’t do it.
I’m not talking about finding clever ways to jump the queue or get VIP treatment. This is simpler (and more practicable).
You can do whatever you like in a waiting room, in a supermarket queue, in your car while stuck behind a truck on a winding back road, etc. etc. — anything, as long as you can do it in your head.
If this sounds like a joke, or that it wraps a cruel assumption that you’re some kind of mental Olympian, bear with me for just a moment while I connect some dots.
Yes, you can check your email (or facebook, or…) every 2 minutes if you like, or check the time yet again, or pass the time with fluff news, videos, games…. Generally these won’t help much with the feeling that your life is slipping away, though I suppose they might postpone feeling it!
The worst waits are when you know if it takes too long, something bad happens.
Worrying doesn’t do anything to help, though — it’ll just give you a stomachache and cloud your thinking. It certainly won’t speed things up.
So let it go; yes, you might miss the plane. For your honeymoon. Drive safely, anyway, and clear your head enough to make the decisions you can, and also share your calm with others involved, like your new spouse who’s currently swearing like a sailor. Decide what you’ll do next (“let’s call the airline to ask how to change the ticket, if we’re still stuck here at 9”; “we can save 10 minutes by parking in short-term parking and asking your sister to come move the car”; “I’ll bring the bags if you go ahead and join the check-in line”…)
It’s often a huge release to say “yup, X might happen; we can’t go back in time, so the best we can do this time is help each other stay in a good mood, and think ahead.” You should do the five whys before the next time, but there’s time for that after the crisis has passed.
You may be obliged to spend an afternoon in the DMV with a small child or two; you may be obliged to sit at a fundraiser dinner next to a bore who finds you incredibly interesting; you may be obliged to do some painfully tedious but very fiddly activity for mind-numbing stretches of time.
The constraints are harsher, and your options may be cut sharply, but if you bring your full attention to bear on the problem (rather than spinning your mental wheels with endless internal complaining), you’ll likely find you have far more traction than you had realized.