How to Stop Waiting For a Text Message

One of the worst feelings anyone can harbor comes from waiting for a text message.
The depressing, silent, desperate, empty, anxiety-induced spaces that linger in the air before receiving the expected text message can be torturous. Even being aware that we shouldn’t wait isn’t enough because more often than not, the desire for someone’s communication is always greater than our motivation to stop waiting, which can be toxic and hinder us from being productive.
The TED talk called "A Simple Way to Break a Bad Habit" by Judson Brewer gives great advice about quitting bad habits. It doesn’t only apply to awaiting responses, though. Brewer also discusses various types of bad habits such as smoking, over-eating, and drinking. However, waiting for a text message doesn’t feel any less frustrating— and let’s admit it, waiting can feel just as awful as wanting to quit other habits.

What’s really happening here is a reward-based learning process called positive and negative reinforcement, as stated by Judson. We see a text message pop up on our phone from someone we like, and our brain tells us, “Affection! An object of desire! Survival!”. We read the message, see what the message says— we feel good. A signal is sent to our brain, telling us that we should remember what made us feel so good and where we found the object of pleasure.
Unfortunately, this same process can be a paradox. What we first do to survive then becomes something that destroys us. The brain eventually learns to depend on the thing that made us feel so good whenever we feel the need to, which can be dangerous since it can lead to a new bad habit.

The talk doesn’t purposely advise you to go against yourself. An effective way of breaking a bad habit such as waiting for a text message is to become disinterested. There’s one thing you must do to achieve it: be curious.
Once you feel the overwhelming desire to look at your phone, stop for a second and observe every sensation and emotion you are feeling at the moment. Be curious. You will notice the urge, how desperate these feelings are.
There’s a part of our brain that is activated when we become caught up such a specific situation. By being curious about what really is happening while you’re getting sucked in, this same part of the brain will then get shushed down.

What I find to be most effective is looking back at that mediocre feeling after the high of getting the message. Thinking about the comedown feeling can make the idea of waiting disinteresting because it brings a realization that the emotion we chase for isn’t really that spectacular when it’s actually happening. An example of this incident is waiting for minutes or even hours just to receive a message only containing two words.
“And this is what mindfulness is all about: Seeing really clearly what we get when we get caught up in our behaviors, becoming disenchanted on a visceral level and from this disenchanted stance, naturally letting go.” – Judson Brewer

It can be hard, yes— but we have to push ourselves to commit to it if we really want to help ourselves. Remind yourself that by just being curious, you’re killing the cat before it digs up more soil in your own garden.

Text by Samantha Fabian
Visual by Julia Tabor


  1. The format of this article is crystal clear, not beating around the bush. I love it. So helpful!

    1. Wow, thank you so much, Danielle!! I appreciate this a lot! <3

  2. i love all the little details in the visual

    1. yeah, i love them so much too! julia is incredible she even explained to me what they mean. here, read her amazing thoughts: Since your piece talks about how to stop or break the habit of being expectant of the messages we receive, I thought of illustrating a girl looking at a phone with flowers emerging from it. The flowers symbolize the sweet messages or words we receive. But, sometimes, there are flowers that have thorns in them which can hurt us in the end. This can be the words or messages that we want to see but their beauty can hurt us in the future because it makes us too expectant and develops a bad habit.In the visual, you can see that the girl is cutting these flowers to show how she already decided to see beyond the surface and look at the aftermath of that bad habit.

  3. i love this so much and i love when you guys team up. really simple but satisfying piece

    1. wow, thank you so much, angelica! always appreciate your words!! <3