Stepping Out of the Time Famine
“Many of life’s puzzles can be resolved by simply understanding our own time perspectives and those of others.”
As another year ends and we watch the clock countdown to a new year, we have another opportunity to think about the role of time in our lives.
But this isn’t a post about time management or adding to your list of ways to “maximize” your time. Time scarcity isn’t the issue – after all what did you do with the 8,424 hours you had last year? Ultimately, how we use time has everything to do with how we think about time. Understanding more about how you perceive time is the starting point to changing the way you experience it.
Yes, we know you are a very busy person – join the club. Tracking trends back to 1987, USA Today conducted a poll in 2008 to determine how people perceive time and their own “busyness.” The ’08 poll found that in every consecutive year since ’87, people report that they are busier than the year before. 69% responded that they were either “busy” or “very busy,” with only 8% surveyed identifying themselves as being “not very busy.” Women reported being busier than men, and those between 30 and 60 were most busy. While 49% stated that they would like to be “less busy,” you may be surprised to hear that 37% said they would not.
When the respondents in the poll were asked what they were sacrificing to their busyness, 56% cited sleep, 52% recreation, 51% hobbies, 44% friends and 30% family. One interesting statistic in the tracking of the time spent on family showed that in 1987, 59% of those polled said they had at least one family meal everyday – by ’08 that figure was down to 20%.
True, most people are working longer hours. The statistics bear that out. But something more is gripping our psyches and reshaping our perception of time.
“We are the architects of our memories.” Stefan Klein
Each of us has a particular “time focus” that shapes our experience. Those of us with what’s called a “past positive” orientation to time tend to fill our present time with memories of past times and planning for future times. Those with “past negative” orientations are often comparing what didn’t work out in the past to what won’t work out in the future. In each orientation, present time, is often overlooked.
Our past, present and future tense orientations play a large role in how we structure and use our time. These orientations are not set in stone (though we reinforce the hard-wiring of our brains when we act habitually in any tense). All of us are born with a present – tense orientation, which becomes molded and reshaped over time through our experiences.
Our concepts about time are often captured in cultural aphorisms like “time flies when you are having fun” and this is so boring it’s like “watching water boil.” The reality is that the real time you spend – whether you are enjoying something or disliking it – is exactly the same. What changes is your perception of the experience fueled by the accompanying feeling.
Recent studies suggest that it is your emotional experience that most influences your perception of time. If you feel passion, excitement, joy or curiosity, your experience of time seems to flow. The flow state is that experience of immersion you feel when you join an activity with engaged positive feelings.
On the other hand, the boredom of watching “water boil” implies an absence of emotional engagement or investment. When we are not interested in an activity, thing or person, time seems to stand still.
Technology Time Warp
There’s no question that technological changes in the past 20 years have radically altered perceptions of time. In fact, we are in the early stages of understanding just how signficant those changes are in brain structure and the perception of time.
While the transformation of our time consciousness is valuable to understand, it’s the realization that only we can control our own thinking about time that is truly important.
Too many of us believe there is a time famine, “there aren’t enough hours in the day,” is a cultural meme that drives our every activity. Too many of us are living life as if it was an emergency. We race from one action to the other, whether we are talking, walking, paying partial attention to what others are saying, driving or shopping, there is a frantic urgency to get things done as quickly and “productively” as possible.
We seem to forget, as author Joe Wilson points out, “Every minute of the day is not an emergency, but when you’re in time urgent mode all day, your lizard brain thinks it is. This makes time urgency, as the researchers call this little-noticed affliction, a hidden driver of stress — and a huge factor in everything from heart attacks, to dodgy attention and decisions, to conflicts in your work and personal life, to no personal life at all.”
Taking back your perception of time – and living it differently is within your power to change. Regardless of the external demands on your time and attentions, you have the power to make real changes that will affect every part of your life.
In the story line of your life, why not change the narrative from that of living in a Time Famine to living in Time Affluence.
Savoring a moment, re-energizing the power of an hour and allowing time for nothing will be among the many gifts of making the shift.
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Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants