If time were an animal, it would be on the endangered species list. At least, that’s how it seems: Too much to do, too many places to be, too little time to do it all.
On the job, in school, at home, we are increasingly imprisoned by the perception that time is a scarce and limited resource. We rush from one commitment or activity to another and believe that we haven’t a minute to spare. We yearn for more time, yet we often feel anxious and guilty when idle.
Is this how life is supposed to be? No! Nor does it have to be.
But until we change our relationship to time, our lives will continue to speed away from us — at enormous cost to our health and to the way we experience the world around us.
“There is no issue, no aspect of human life, that exceeds this in importance,” says Jacob Needleman, author of Time and the Soul. “The destruction of time is literally the destruction of life.”
When we learn to shift time, our relationships become more rewarding, our time spent alone is richer, our aging is more satisfying, our work is more fruitful and our stress and anxiety are less paralyzing, or even nonexistent. To allow time to “breathe” more in your life and refill your time reservoir, try the following suggestions from Stephan Rechtschaffen, author of Timeshifting, and others:
Pause. Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Han suggests taking a deep breath before answering the phone. Other conscious pauses throughout the day — a moment of silence before each meal, sitting in the car a few minutes before entering the house after work — help us to “come home” to ourselves.
Carve out idle time alone. Greek philosopher Aristotle noted that “nature requires us not only to be able to work well but also to idle well.” Just because you’re not doing anything doesn’t mean that nothing’s getting done!
Live as fully as possible in the present moment. When we leave behind thoughts of the past or future, we can experience time more peacefully, says Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now.
Toss your schedule whenever you can. Even better, schedule spontaneous time and then surprise yourself.
Examine underlying reasons for your busyness. What emotions would you experience if you weren’t so busy? What would you wish for? Emotional work is challenging but essential if we are to stop running from our hearts.
Play. Whether you sing, write, paint, dance or travel, “play” helps us to step outside of ordinary time. The National Institute for Play believes that play can dramatically transform our personal health, our relationships, the education we provide our children and the capacity of our corporations to innovate.
Create time retreats. Once a year or so, choose to do something for a week or more that allows you to shift into a different rhythm — something where you can just “be” without the need for doing anything.
Give time away. Spending as little as 10 minutes helping others can make you feel less time-constrained. According to a 2012 Wharton study authored by Cassie Mogilner, giving your time to others can make you feel more “time affluent” and less time-constrained than wasting your time, spending it on yourself or even getting a windfall of free time.
Spend time in nature. We can’t help but slow down in nature’s unhurried pace. Watching a soaring bird or examining a flower can seem to stretch a minute into an hour. A series of studies published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that being outside in nature makes people feel more alive.
We can learn to experience time more purposefully and meaningfully, so that it’s not an enemy robbing us of the joy of life. We needn’t be at time’s mercy. When we change our awareness, we can actually experience the gifts of time.
Now it’s your turn.