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A Watched Pot Never Boils

Waiting can feel like an eternity. The saying “a watched pot never boils” is attributed to Benjamin Franklin (author of Poor Richard’s Almanac) in the early 18th century. It’s a quip that considers the stress that compounds with waiting. When it comes to the kettle, I can get so impatient waiting for the water to boil that I opt to walk away and find something else to do. Ironically, only moments after I walk away, or just when I’m about to start a task, the kettle rings loud and clear that it’s ready to be used for tea. 

What can I take away from this experience, then? I realize that one way I exercise patience is the use of radical acceptance. A concept from dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), radical acceptance “is about saying yes to life, just as it is.” Rather than holding my breath and waiting for the kettle to sound, I simply say to myself, “The kettle is heating up and I have to wait. Rather than stand here, I’ll go do something else.” 

I don’t literally say this to myself every time. Instead, I recognize that waiting is a part of life, and that gives me a sense of relief. Thus, I can walk away (but not too far if you’re using a burner), exercise the idea that it will work out, and return to a pot of hot water ready to fulfill its purpose once the kettle rings.


Lou Lim is a licensed mental health counselor and registered expressive arts therapist (REAT) with a master's degree in Expressive Therapy and Mental Health Counseling from Lesley University. He is a member of the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association and on the committee for REAT credentialing. He has 13 years of experience in counseling and expressive therapy working with children, adolescents, teenagers, adults, and retirees.

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