Quick Takes:

  • Waiting is almost always a detriment
  • When we wait, we devalue the present moment
  • What’s more, when we wait, we actively put off our higher goals
  • Rather than waiting, take action, both in the moment and when looking at the long-game

We’re all waiting for something: the bus, in line, that promotion, to travel, to start our lives. Waiting is a common theme, but what are we waiting for? Permission? A feeling? A sign?

Because when we wait, we waste time. It doesn’t matter if you’re waiting at the DMV or waiting to quit your job, if you’re in the waiting mentality, you’re mentally leaving the present moment in search of a future that doesn’t, or may never, exist. Yes, it sounds “woo-woo,” but it’s true.

The waiting mentality is a mental frame that pulls us out of the present moment. We have thoughts and dreams of an ideal future, and since now isn’t as ideal as the future in our head, we feel like we’re waiting for time to pass. Waiting, until our ideal future manifests itself before our eyes. But can it? Seems a lot like a contradiction: we wait for things to change, yet the waiting actually prolongs the change itself.

In fact, the waiting mentality encompasses two types of waiting, both of which stop us from achieving our ideal future:

1. Waiting as a Function of Time

We’re all familiar with this type of waiting; it’s the act of passing time. When you think about it though, why would you want to pass time? Why is it ok to let time slip between our fingers?

Take the DMV, for example. Horrendous, I know, but everyone has to brave a DMV-like line every now and again. Imagine you’re there now, waiting. In fact, you have to be there, for whatever reason it is that you’re there in the first place. Now, this is a perfect moment to pass time. We all do it: lament our current situation and watch the paint dry on the wall as we wait our turn.

But why? Isn’t time itself equal? In fact, time itself really is a “non-thing.” The only value time has is the value we give to the moment. So why not give value to this moment?

With the waiting mentality, any long and tedious process is something to get through, and not to enjoy. But passing through a situation like that devalues time in the present moment, causing that time to be wasted. So, rather than devaluing time, why don’t we take advantage of the free time we have?

Eckhart Tolle reminds us, “if you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally.” And in minute situations like these, it’s always best to accept it totally.

Podcasts, audiobooks, physical books, Kindles, meditative practices or even your imagination are great ways to maximize the value of otherwise pointless moments in time. Because in reality, time is only pointless if you decide to make it so.

Have you ever heard the idea of entropy? I love this concept. Basically, entropy is a fancy way to say disorder, and is a term used to explain the order of our Universe.

When the Universe was young, there was very low entropy, meaning that there was a lot of order. Dust particles were spaced evenly apart, and nothing crazy was happening (well, other than the creation of the Universe as we know it). Then, slowly but surely, gravity began pulling these dust particles together, one by one. Particles collided with each other, causing them to collide with more and more particles, until, low and behold, larger pieces of matter formed, which then collided with each other, and so on and so forth (I know I know, abridged version, but bear with me).

As the Universe expanded, it became more entropic, meaning that it became more disorderly. In fact, it became increasingly more entropic, because disorder causes more disorder. The Universe of today is considered to be one of high entropy.

Ok, that’s super cool, but what does that have to do with time? Well, according to modern physics, time, just like space, has no direction. To the physics of our Universe, it doesn’t matter whether time goes backward or forward. Like space, time just is.

What gives time the human perception of direction is entropy. Entropy, or disorder, or causality, has direction. If A happens, then B will eventually happen, which will cause C, etc etc. So rather than time itself moving, it’s in fact entropy moving through time, in the form of cause and effect.

So, if you think about time that way, how cool is it that you get to wait in line for things you don’t care about? You’re literally in a directionless bubble, and it’s up to you as to how you’re going to move through that bubble. You have the ultimate power to give your time a direction. And, if you use that time wisely, it will cause an chain of entropic reactions that moves you in the exact direction of your ideal life. 

Therefore, spending that extra 30 minutes at the DMV to read a book or talk to the person next to you can have ramifications much deeper than people realize. Which brings us to…

2. Waiting as a Function of Rationalization

While waiting as a function of time is a time waster, waiting as a function of rationalization is a life waster. The waiting mentality not only causes people to let the moment pass by, but is used as an excuse to let life pass by.

How many times have you heard people start a sentence by saying, “someday I’ll…” or “once this happens…” ?

Fairly often, I’d guess. Hell, I say it all the time. Though, when people say these types of things, they’re physically embodying the waiting mentality as a function of rationalization. They’re rationalizing their need for comfortability and fear of failure by waiting; they’re avoiding potential pain by pushing off their desires into the future.

Sure, everyone has an ideal life they want to live. In fact, many of us think about it incessantly. But, almost none of us actually take action and make movements toward our goals. We wait, staying in the safe harbor of our job or in the comfortable “known” of our life situation. However, often times that job or that life situation is anything but ideal. Yet we wait and rationalize, feeding our desire for something greater with promises of “eventually.”

But remember, if waiting comes about out of fear, that “whenever anything negative happens to you, there is a deep lesson concealed in it,” says Tolle. In fact, negative things, if embraced fully, can actually work to harness the positivity of entropy.

With this idea of entropy in mind, waiting is one of the worst things someone can do to their life. The longer we wait to pursue our higher goals and desires, the longer it takes for positive entropy to take effect. In fact, the longer we wait, the quicker that negative entropy is able to take hold.

Entropy is entropy, it isn’t inherently good or bad. Disorder and causality are also neither good nor bad. However, our actions themselves cause entropy to move in a positive or negative direction. So, when we choose to wait and take no action, we’re allowing entropy to move in a negative or opposite direction, pulling us further from the ideal life we want.

Therefore, we need to give our lives space for positive entropy to take effect. The longer we work that job we don’t like or stay in that toxic relationship, the less room there is for positive changes to begin.  We need to stop rationalizing our current situation and give ourselves a chance to live something great. As Marcus Aurelius himself says, “accept whatever comes to you woven in the pattern of your destiny, for what could more aptly fit your needs?”

We need to stop waiting and accept our desire for something more, because at the end of the day, it’s not going to be that bad. Let me explain:

Before I took the leap into full-time entrepreneurship, I kept looking at all the scenarios analytically. If I’m currently spending and saving a total of $5,000 a month, and I think that my income will drop to zero for 6 months as we get our business off the ground, I’m losing $30,000. Thirty thousand! How can I leave my job right now? Better to stay for another 6 months and save more money; that was my rationalization: stay for just a little bit longer.

Then, once I stopped rationalizing and took the plunge, I realized it wasn’t that bad. Sure, my income was reduced, but that didn’t mean I was making the zero dollars I thought I would; I had been over-rationalizing the worst case scenario.

Which brings up a good point. Waiting through rationalization is a short-term view. Sure, $30,000 sounds like a lot, but 30 years from now are you going to look back on 2015 and say to yourself, “goals be damned! I wish I had an extra $30k in my bank account.” No, I doubt any of us will even remember. But, what we will remember is the aliveness we felt when we bit the bullet, took the leap, and pursued our goals.

The worst thing we can do to ourselves is wait. When we take the long-view, the scariest action we can take is to not take one at all.