Getting Prolific, Day 15: Time Abundance

How could you give yourself the gift of emotional clarity?

Einstein’s theory of relativity states that time expands or contracts according to our perception of it.

Our sense of time is governed by the actions we perform and the emotions we experience about them.

Take a person who has nothing to look forward to and nothing in the future to be hopeful about. Of course their days will seem to crawl by tortuously slowly. Dragging on like barefoot marathons.

Interestingly, this is how the vast majority of people felt during the pandemic. Researchers from one study showed than eighty per cent of citizens surveyed reported feeling time was distorted during lockdown. Having to stay inside as days dripped by with a helpless malaise, people’s days couldn’t have moved slower.

The scientists called this phenomenon temporal disintegration. An endless today, never tomorrow.

Sounds like one of those science fiction movies where the characters experience the same period of time which is repeatedly resetting.

Thankfully, not everyone experienced quarantine in that way. One of my observations was that the people who already had a rich, diverse lives full of work tasks, hobbies, relationships, extracurricular purists and private interests, their existence had structure and a pace.

They knew the day of the week without giving it a second thought. Their positive psychological states and environmental cues literally changed how they perceive the passage of time.

How do you experience it? Crawling past or flying by?

If you’re not pleased with your answer, here is a series of insights, ideas and practices that have been helpful for me.

First, awareness.

By recognizing what influences your perception of time, you start to see things differently. Acknowledging that time is highly malleable and contextualized is a game changer. Once you’re aware that psychological experiences like stress and meaning play a key role in whether you feel your days are crawling past or flying by, you never go back.

Second, mindset.

Despite the fact that time an arbitrary human construction, the forward momentum of living never changes. Life goes on whether we like it or not. The good news is, how we experience does change. If we learn to have a mindset of temporal abundance, we can actually take ourselves out of the victim position in regards to time.

Think of it this way. When was the last time you complained about not having enough time? Did that help you find any more of it? Of course not. Because it was a relationship based on scarcity.

Whereas temporally abundant people trust that they are the source of time, can make as much of it as they want to, and they have exactly the right amount of time to accomplish everything they want. Einstein would have been proud.

Third, documentation.

If your sense of time needs reorienting, start writing. On paper, on a keyboard, whatever. Writing down the difficult moments of your history lets you own them. The events then belong to you rather than you belonging to them.

Doing so helps you regain control over how you experience this particular period of your life. By keeping a written record of what you’re going through right now, you keep your feelings safe, make them easy to remember in the future, and give yourself the gift of emotional clarity.

Fourth, let’s talk about the relationship between experiencing time and setting limits.

If your sense of time remains shaken, it might mean you haven’t established healthy boundaries in your life. One of the ways we reorient our chaotic world is by creating temporal landmarks.

Remember, time transitions in step with routine. When millions of people were forced inside for quarantine, the scaffolding that contained their lives crumbled to the ground. Once their primary needs were fulfilled, the very next thing they should have done was recreate physical markers to unwarp their perception.

Routines, rituals, habits and disciplines to help recover small parcels of normalcy. This practice preserved my sanity more than anything during that time.

Next, presence.

The pandemic was a reminder that people lose track of time when the future is in question. It forced us all to be hyper present. And that was actually a good thing. Our lives existed an infinite present. There were no more future plans, no anticipation of upcoming events. All we could do was judged the duration of events at the present moment, rather than looking forward or backwards. Quite a refreshing change, wasn’t it?

My final thought about time relates to action.

As our mustachioed physicist friend taught us, the more attention we devote to thinking about the passage of time, the longer it will seem to us.

This is exactly why we should focus less on monitoring our mood about the world, and more on making meaning in the world. It’s a bias for action. Because the perception of time is really just the perception of change. And the fewer changes in our life that we have, the more distorted time will become.

And so, if the sameness of our life feels numbing, we simply try something different. If all of our former plans and obligations are shattered into a kaleidoscopic jumble, then we make new ones.

Even if we feel like we’re clinging to a facsimile of real life, it still counts. Whatever it takes to get out of the numbness.

In summary, time is the thing that expands or contracts according to our perception of it.

We’re less powerless than we think.

What kind of relationship do you have with time?

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