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How to Feel Okay about Time

We are living under time pressure. Many of us are chronically late. We hurry from task to deadline to appointment to date. Where’s the joy, the contentment, the romance?

The concept of being on time assumes we are able to agree on what we should be doing at a particular time. I’m all for integrity, but I see many of us struggle with our agreements about time.

Some people have different ways of looking at time. This can be cultural. In the 1970’s German engineers were sent to Saudi Arabia to help with building oil refineries. They were warned that Arab workers tend to be very lax about time, at least by German standards. The Arabs were also cautioned that the Germans would be very strict. What happened?

The Arab workers would show up at about 8:30. They normally considered anything before 9 to be “8 o’clock”, so they thought they were doing great! From that perspective, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect the Germans to be delighted by their punctuality.

The Germans could not imagine someone actually being 30 minutes late for a work day. They got to work by 7:50, and had 40 minutes to build frustration and resentments. Everybody was frustrated, and everyone felt disrespected.

Mostly, our feelings and attitudes about time lurk quietly in the background of our lives. Fortunately, Philip Zimbardo, the brilliant psychologist famed for the Stanford Prison Project, noticed this. He says that how you look at time is as important a component of your personality as whether you are an introvert or extrovert. He co-authored a book, The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life, and put a cool free survey on-line so you can check out your time profile.

What happens when we criticize ourselves or others for time challenges? First, it takes us out of the present moment. We shift to focusing on our plans and how they are not working, and from there we go to our fears about the consequential effects.

Next we lose esteem- either self esteem, and/or esteem for whoever made us angry over the time issue. Rapport is replaced by resentment. The relationship becomes associated in our minds with discontent. The trust and safety that allow collaborative creativity are diminished.

This process can become habitual. It’s hard for two people locked in this struggle to escape. Neither one can do it for the other. Each has a responsibility, and that is first to oneself, to get ok with what is, and let go of plans and frustrations.

What can you do?

Step 1: Stop the self criticism. Charity begins at home. Anger toward oneself corrodes the insides, and splashes out on others. If self criticism worked, I’d be an Awesome Enlightened Being and Master of the Universe, and so would you and all your friends.

Step 2: Recognize that you make choices, even if they are subconscious.

Step 3: Validate your choices and actions. Yep, you are still alive, so it worked.

Step 4: Go Deeper. Repeat this affirmation- “I am always on time for my life”. It’s true. Think about it. It’s always now, and you are always in the center of your life and universe.

Of course I know affirmations are a silly New Age thing… especially if you use them that way. One repetition is not going to do a whole lot. One trip to the gym won’t do a whole lot either- unless you go ape and tear yourself up.

Fortunately, affirmations will not injure your mental muscles if you do a whole lot the first day. But like weightlifting, it’s the repetitions that make it happen. So don’t say it once, build up to saying it for an hour or two. Make it a work out!

What will that do? Just like weights, small efforts accumulate. It can be a challenge, and you will find you have to concentrate to keep going. Your mind will trot out the old voices of powerlessness. The sub-conscious beliefs that hamper all our function will become exposed. And you will directly contradict them with each repetition.

Can you go from “I’m always late. I suck. I hate my life.” to a whole new mind set? Yes. Science says so. The big word is neuroplasticity. It means we rewire our brains throughout our whole lives.

Don’t believe that? Try imagining falling in love. Something makes you undo the caution that you last break-up created. Without neuroplasticity there’d be no romance.

Hate romance? Ok. Without neuroplasticity, no one could have switched from land lines to cell to smart phone to whatever is coming next. We are awesomely plastic (able to change). Don’t believe me? Read The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge MD.

Insistent repetition of an affirmation will rewire your brain. The connections that favor the affirmation will build and be reinforced, and the ones that the affirmation contradicts are sidelined and weakened.

Got new wiring, now what?

First, the self criticism diminishes. That’s good for your mind, making room for useful thinking. And it’s good for your body, as research clearly shows that self critical thinking depresses our immune system.

Second, a new attitude toward time agreements happens. It’s easier to be on time if you plan realistically. And it’s easier to be realistic if you think you are actually an ok person and the world doesn’t actively hate you.

Third, you notice the benefits of apparent problems. You may be late for work in a traffic jam, but you let yourself enjoy the unexpected time to yourself. You may be late for a date, but as you run down the sidewalk, you are still present enough not to step in front of that maniac coming around the corner. Stress stops turning a tough moment into a brutal day. Life gets better.

Fourth, it gets easier to make amends. A little slack goes a long way. It’s hard to be compassionate or even notice someone else, when you’re bitterly ragging on yourself. Being less consumed by your own deficiencies means you will have more resources to offer in a relationship. A more pleasant perspective allows you to actually hear someone else’s needs, and to respond fairly.

How do you start? Say the affirmation. Say it out loud in your car, or any time you are alone. Feel like you want more progress?

Make a bunch of written reminders. Use sticky notes, or whatever you can think of, to make it so you see the magic words as often as possible.

Next, consider that all our issues are really about what others will think of us. So- say it aloud to someone else. Get a partner, and have them sit silently while you and say it repeatedly for 5 minutes. If they are up for it, give them a turn. Listening can be a great way to find out how you feel about time, and to see what it means to suspend judgment, even for 5 minutes.

“I am always on time for my life.”

Say this to yourself any time you feel stressed or anxious. Then say it any other time you can. Say it repeatedly in sets of a hundred. Reinforce that this is your life happening, right now, just the way it is, and that plans and life are always different. You are always on time for your life. Knowing it makes it all feel some better. You will be kinder to yourself, and thus to others. We could all use a bit of that 😉

Imagine a life where you do not feel stressed about time! Now go make it happen.

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April 2, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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