What does “A watched pot never boils” mean?
This proverb from the Mid-1800s, reflects the experience of anyone who has ever been in a hurry or anyone who has ever been waiting for something to arrive or for something to happen.
The phrase, in itself contains a warning against giving in to impatience (don’t be impatient). The suggestion is that if you’re anxiously waiting for something, it will seem to take forever to happen.
It expresses that we have a selective perception of time, meaning that a process appears to go more slowly or time seems to drag and is perceived to pass more slowly when we are waiting impatiently and/or constantly checking on something.
We all know that a pot of water is going to boil in exactly the same length of time whether or not we watch it, but if we are so impatient that we need to keep watching in the hope it will boil more quickly, then it won’t. And of course, if we occupy ourselves with something else while waiting for the pot to boil, it will be boiling away like mad before we know it.
… and all has to do with our imperfect perception of duration and how certain situations of anticipation distort our perception of time.