The Waiting Game: How To Play It Well

Waiting isn’t fun. Longing for an opportunity to arise or a difficult season to pass can be excruciating. With quick fixes, fast response times, and efficiency so highly prized in our society, little room is left to develop the skills to patiently endure. Waiting is a part of life – a given.  Yet, hitting an unexpected roadblock in our plan for life, or even our plan for the day, seems to catch us off guard and cause us to revert to our two-year-old selves demanding, “I want what I want and I want it NOW!”

What is it about waiting that feels so agonizing? Dr. Kate Sweeny, psychology professor and researcher at University of California Riverside, suggests that the most painful part of waiting is learning how to hold uncertainty. We’d much rather hear, “Sorry, but we’ve selected another candidate” from a potential employer or receive a clear diagnosis from a medical test than to hang in the balance. In fact, Sweeny’s research has shown that while anxiety and rumination are high during waiting periods, levels of anxiety surprisingly decrease even after being hit with bad news.

So, now that we know that waiting is both hard and a part of life, how do we survive it without pulling out all our hair, turning into a two-year-old child or giving up?

Here are four tips on how to wait well…

1. Give meaning to the wait

People are “meaning makers.” We, consciously or not, tend to try to make sense of our environments, events, and lives. How do you make sense of your waiting? You might say to yourself, “I’m holding on now because I believe something positive can come out of any result.” Or, “This wait is producing in me the good qualities of strength, patience, compassion for others.”  Cultivating a long-term or overarching vision for your life can help you put this season into perspective

2. Try new things or revisit old ones

Have you ever wanted to start get into a new exercise routine, learn to bake bread, become a better writer? Well, now’s your chance! Setting micro-goals can bring creativity and fresh energy into a season that may otherwise seem very dry.

3. Brace for the worst

Now, we’ve all heard about the benefits to having a positive outlook on life and no one wants to be a Debbie Downer, but Sweeny reports that being overly optimistic during a waiting season could be risky. Considering the worst-case scenario can help to manage your expectations, prepare you for potential disappointment and even increase elation if the best possible outcome occurs. If you prepare for the worst, at least you won’t be blindsided. In fact, you may even be pleasantly surprised!

4. Let it out

While waiting, it is easy to feel alone, as if everyone else has everything going well for them and you are the only one trapped in limbo. This assumption of aloneness can keep us from reaching out to others or even acknowledging our pain to ourselves. Still, Sweeny’s research is clear that emotional suppression is not helpful. So, being honest and open with your frustrations, fears and hopes with friends, in your journal, or with a counselor can be another way ride the waves of uncertainty.

At Fuller Life, we are here to walk with you as you wade through the muddy waters of life’s ambiguity.

For more information about Dr. Kate Sweeny’s research, visit


Sweeny, K., Reynolds, C., Falkenstein, A., Andrews, S. E., & Dooley, M. (2016). Two definitions of waiting well. Emotion, 16, 129-143.

Sweeny, K. (2012). Waiting well: Tips for navigating painful uncertainty. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 6, 258-269.

Contributed by

Tamara Tatum , M.A, LMFTA

Supervised under Dr. Amy Fuller, PhD, LMFT, LPC

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