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Stop whining about waiting, it’s actually good for you

“After 40 days, people complained – not because they had to wait a long time, but because they had to wait longer than they expected.

“It’s not lack of patience that makes waiting hard now. It’s hard because we don’t know how long we’ll be waiting. We have no feedback about when the pandemic will end, or when life will return to normal. This makes us feel powerless. In turn, this makes us feel anxious and frustrated.”

There’s a reason you come up with great ideas while you’re waiting in traffic or in the shower.

Our need for feedback about waiting time is so important to emotion that website designers build progress indicators into apps and websites – spinning wheels or bars that show how long it’ll take for a webpage to load.

“They move slowly for the first 2 or 3 per cent, and get faster towards the end,” explains Reg Wintle, a business consultant with App Boxer, a mobile app developer in Sydney. “There’s no technical reason – it’s just to satisfy your emotions and make you feel rewarded for waiting.”

Waiting has such a powerful effect on shaping emotions that luxury fashion brands build their business around wait lists. You can’t just walk into a Hermès store and buy a Kelly bag. You must order one from a catalogue and wait months for it to be made. You wait, and dream about your bag – and you also value it more because you had to wait.

Maybe waiting is not just a frustrating holding pattern, but a chance to re-evaluate our life. Should we move to the country? Retrain for a new job? Waiting gives us a space to think about options we’ve never considered before.

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“There’s a reason you come up with great ideas while you’re waiting in traffic or in the shower,” says Farman. “When you’re waiting, your brain does work it can’t do otherwise. Psychologists call this the ‘imagination network of the brain’. You can only access this network when you’re daydreaming or waiting or bored.

“When you need to creatively solve a problem, time spent waiting is really important – yet we usually don’t build it into our lives.”

So perhaps it’s worth re-evaluating waiting, as it’s not time we’re wasting. It’s our time to understand ourselves better. It’s our time to work out what we really value. Pressing pause may not bring us much pleasure right now – but at least it can bring us purpose.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale December 6. To read more from Sunday Life, visit The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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