THE ILLUSION OF TIME
Like many constructs, time is a complex concept to wrap one’s head around. Time is relative across many planes, including the population and within each of us. If we consider the pandemic, we see this. For some, the time during the pandemic passed painstakingly slow. For others, it passed as any other year might. And yet still, for others, it seemed to pass in the blink of an eye.
I remember when I first began expanding my perceptions of time. I was on a crowded subway in New York. For the few stops I had to ride, I was focused and in a zone. I didn’t notice the typical things like the annoyed and frustrated reactions of my fellow riders and the need to keep my precious spot near the door while still allowing others ‘easy’ passage. This zone wasn’t a daydream either, which has happened many times on the train. This was different. I was deep in concentration, and my thoughts were clear and fluid. The other passengers seemed muted and fuzzy without definition or detail. That zone instantly created an inner world where I felt endless space and time. As my stop approached, slowly, I began allowing more of my surroundings into my awareness. I was aware of being aware and how my train ride had passed so effortlessly. It was as if the minutes on the train expanded without lengthening. This awareness was an experience that I had felt on numerous occasions and was comfortable shifting in and out of. (Being aware of being aware is one concept of many covered in Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation by Dr. Daniel Siegel.) That train ride is a part of a collection of moments that started my journey of adjusting my relationship with time, finding pleasure and value in being in the zone, and continually practicing entering that flow state when needed.
A few years later, I had the opportunity to actively practice going into a state of flow at a writing workshop with Veronica Chambers. In one activity, we wrote for fifteen minutes. She set us up and started the timer. When it sounded, letting us know to stop writing, I was amazed at how long the minute strokes felt and couldn’t guess how much of it had passed. That was irrelevant. What was relevant was that I felt like I was in a protected, endless container of time that allowed me to handwrite many pages. Something about blocking off the time for a singular and specific task allowed me to obscure every other thing that was happening or that I could think about and just focus. That moment provided a cloak of freedom to indulge and concentrate on one thing. That moment relieved me of the burden of being on top of everything. Since then, I’ve given myself permission to be present to focus on one thing so that I can achieve whatever it is I set out to achieve. It is empowering and energizing, and the timer has been my friend ever since.
So what? Why is this important? Why should you care? Adjusting your perspective on time allows you to slow it down and drop into a flow state where you can create space for choice, reflection, and meaningful moments. In this state, you can accomplish much, like:
- Gain clarity and make critical decisions such as a change in your career or business path, which relationships to build or nurture, who to collaborate with, or which projects to work on.
- Develop your point of view and externally-facing messages on key issues in your personal life, area of expertise and interest, or topics affecting society.
- Carve out moments for creativity and play.
Upon reflection, I concluded that I had been experiencing these flow states, these pockets of expanded time since I was a child. I just wasn’t aware of it, nor did I have the language to articulate it. Adjusting my mindset felt like a whole secret world opened up. The gift of these focused moments has been a game-changer for me. I go deeper into my work much faster and am more thorough over a shorter period.
Warning: white space on your calendar is essential. At one point, having this space became a slippery slope toward exhaustion. I began packing on more projects and meetings onto my calendar, which ironically decreased my time, productivity, and sense of fulfillment. Being flexible and curious, I experimented and found what worked for me most of the time. Now, I plan my calendar to include focused periods of work, creativity, play, and white space. I honor the days and moments I am off, practicing self-care or having “me time,” and sharing time with my family and friends. Time is a part of my vision in that I aim for it to feel like it is constantly flowing.