Waiting mode: What is waiting mode and what causes it?

Picture of a clock

Recently, I came across the concept of “waiting mode” being discussed among people with autism and/or ADHD.* In this post, I’ll describe the waiting mode phenomenon along with my thoughts on what I think causes it.

What is waiting mode?

Waiting mode is when you feel unable to do anything but wait when you expect an event or appointment in the near future.

Examples: If I have to leave for an appointment at 1:30pm and it’s 1pm, my waiting mode may activate. I’ll feel unable to focus on anything except for the fact I’ll have to leave for the appointment soon.

If my partner is cooking dinner and I know dinner will be ready within an hour, I’ll often enter waiting mode and feel unable to work on anything until after dinner.

Sometimes, my waiting mode will activate even if the upcoming event is more than an hour away.

What causes waiting mode?

Based on my own experiences, I think my waiting mode is caused by my tendency to hyperfocus and lose track of time. Waiting mode compensates for the tendency to hyperfocus and the associated time blindness. Considering that people with autism and/or ADHD have the tendency to hyperfocus, it makes sense that they are also more likely to experience waiting mode.

When I engage in a task, I tend to hyperfocus and lose track of time. Being aware of this tendency and having previously been late to appointments due to becoming hyperfocused, I go into waiting mode to prevent becoming hyperfocused on anything while I wait for the upcoming event. On some level, I am aware that if I let myself focus on anything but waiting, I risk becoming hyperfocused and forgetting about the appointment.

In addition, being interrupted while hyperfocused is extremely irritating. To avoid being disrupted by the upcoming event, I prevent myself from becoming hyperfocused and enter waiting mode instead.

Thoughts on waiting mode?

Do you experience waiting mode? Why do you think you experience waiting mode? Share your thoughts about waiting mode in the comments below!

*It appears that the term “waiting mode” was first coined by Cole, an autistic person, on a Twitter post from October 16, 2020.

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