A Pending Response to Time

Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time.” – Jim Rohn

As one stage in life ends and another begins, it is difficult to avoid thinking about time and what it means. Many people seem to be fascinated with the idea that time is relative, some are fascinated with how the concept of time developed, and who invented it, others want to know more about how we can manipulate time itself. While these are all topics worth going into at length, my personal fascination has always been the subjective experience of time.

Time does indeed seem to slow down when you want it to pass and speeds up when you need it to slow down. It’s a reality vs expectation predicament. When you expect the clock to wind down quickly so you can finally open your microwave door, or when you are waiting for a traffic light to turn green, or when you stare intently at the status of your flight, or when you impatiently wait for a boring lecture to end or a boring conversation to halt.

We see the world not as it is, but as we are” Stephen Covey

When we are frustrated, and our state of mind is out of flow, things seem to move slower, less naturally. It’s as if your state of mind has a quirky relationship with time. When things are going well, and you’re engaged and immersed in an activity, thoughts about time remain dormant. When things go badly, and you feel disengaged, time is all you can think about. The reason why I find this relationship so interesting is that it serves a peculiarly useful function.

It ensures that any experience of boredom or anxiety is coupled with a seemingly spontaneous awareness of time. There are two ways of dealing with this truth if it is indeed a truth. Either we embrace boredom as a state of mind and learn to be okay with being bored, or we use our feelings of boredom to spur us on to do something worthwhile.

Option 1: Embracing Boredom

Embracing boredom, and learning how to be disengaged yet satisfied would be a powerful way to protect yourself from the inevitable bouts of boredom you are likely to experience. Having control over boredom would mean having control over your impulses. Thrilling but harmful activities that would all but eliminate boredom would no longer take precedence over what’s important for you to do.

Favorite weapons to combat boredom include but are not limited to gaming, drinking, reading the news, or using social media. The ‘escape’ for me represents the desire to remove oneself from an environment where self-consciousness takes center stage. Self-consciousness is the voice in your head that echoes the feelings, characterizations, and insecurities that you try restlessly to avoid. To embrace boredom, it is imperative then to be at peace with oneself. This surely is a worthwhile and important undertaking, especially in the long run, but it runs counter to how we function. We are more prone to find the short solution and stick to it for as long as possible. Option 2 is a more likely alternative.

Option 2: Boredom as a Cue

If you use boredom as a cue to recognize that what you are doing is unengaging, and to then make an effort to make sure that you fill your time with activities that better engage you, it is likely that no matter what you are doing, you will see better results and feel better about how you’re spending your time. In other words, if instead of treating boredom as an inescapable psychological reality that one should learn to control, you treat boredom the same way you would treat pain, by finding remedies, then you are giving precedence to the external rather than the internal. In option 1, you are favoring the internal battle, and trusting yourself to be able to overcome any form of internal anxiety, time awareness, disengagement by learning to better manage your subjective experience either by adjusting your expectations or being more comfortable with the spontaneity of anxiety-inducing thoughts you regularly encounter when in a state of boredom.

Imagine living somewhere very close to an airport, where an airplane flies over your house at seemingly random times during the way. Every time the airplane flies over, your anxiety levels automatically go up, and you become agitated. Similar to dealing with boredom, and the anxiety or guilt induces, there are two ways of dealing with this situation. The first option would be to get used to it or train yourself to tolerate it better. After say, 100 times, maybe you don’t notice it anymore. The other solution, obviously, is to move. Which one is better?

 

 

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There’s Time for Experience

morning train

If there was only one feature that could describe modern technology, it would be in its masterful feat in effectively saving time. It’s amazing to think that there was a day, just over a couple of decades ago, where emails didn’t exist, where you needed to remember to get a camera whenever you wanted to take a picture, when you needed to locate a payphone to make a phone call, when you needed to carry pens and paper with you if you needed to make notes, an actual alarm clock, an actual phone book, and a countless number of other things.

The amount of convenience technology has brought to our lives is incredible. And yet, we are still looking for ways to save time, to save energy, and to find more convenience. We can now shop online for just about anything, and we can watch anything anytime we want without commercials, we can get a glimpse into other people’s lives who are thousands of miles away from us, and we can do all of that without moving an inch, without wasting a single extra second.

And yet, despite the truly amazing progress we have made in terms of efficiency, it seems that we might be missing the bigger picture. Rory Sutherland in an insightful Ted Talk discussed the importance of perspective in our lives. He was discussing how the stress of waiting for a train was solved by not making the train faster, but by putting a countdown clock.

 Waiting seven minutes for a train with a countdown clock is less frustrating and irritating than waiting four minutes, knuckle-biting, going ‘When’s this train going to arrive?Rory Sutherland

His idea was that what irritated people wasn’t the fact that the transportation system needed improving, that trains needed to be faster, or that we can’t wait anymore for the new groundbreaking lightning fast transportation system, it was that we just needed to tweak little things to greatly enhance our everyday experiences.

I think that’s quite an significant point. Many of us are fixated on reducing the time it takes to get to our destination, often spending a considerable amount of time and effort into finding the least time consuming route possible, and to a large extent, we’re not really making ourselves any happier. If anything, we might just be making ourselves more miserable.

I was discussing with a friend of mine a few ideas of how the future might look like, how future inventions may very well make the time we spend waiting to get somewhere, waiting to buy something completely negligible. I expressed how  I was annoyed at the task of grocery shopping as it took an exceptional amount of time, and effort that could be used for something more meaningful. I started to enthusiastically discuss all the innovations that are making live grocery shopping a thing of the past. I imagined it would be truly incredible if we had so much more time to spend on things we loved doing, instead of just waiting for our stop, or walking around aimlessly in a supermarket buying things.

I was, however, promptly interrupted from my enthusiastic musings when he said, “Yeah, but what about the experience? You keep talking about how we’ll have so much more time to spend, but what are we going to spend it doing? Don’t you have moments throughout the day where you don’t really want to work or anything, or that you’re just too exhausted to really think? And wouldn’t it be refreshing to go out to supermarket and just walk around?”

He explained his point further by explaining how much of an experience mundane things can be if we look at them differently. We tend to take them for granted as time-wasting activities but there’s a kind of unique experience that they offer where we couldn’t really get elsewhere. Even travelling in a bus, or train, or waiting for them to come doesn’t have to be seen as a time wasting activity.

When I thought about it and how it applies to me, I realized a couple of things. I didn’t take too much pleasure into picking out items, that to me was still boring and time-consuming, but the second thing I realized was a little less obvious to me.

I realized that almost all of the time I spend alone with my thoughts, without interruption, happen in those mundane, time-consuming, pointless moments. When I’m doing something so boring, and requires minimum mental effort, I start to have thoughts. I think about many different things, and have the rare opportunity to do so peacefully. It’s difficult to sit in front of a laptop, and decide to put it aside and think, to be using your phone and think, to be working on something, socializing, or studying and think. Those rare moments of thought only have any room to happen when I’m just about to sleep, taking a shower, or when I’m commuting by foot, or by car, bus, train, or plane.

This is all really interesting to me because I’m often frustrated by the task of waiting. A long queue in front of me can often put me in a horrible mood for the rest of the day, and what this made me realize is that it would be great if instead of focusing my attention on counting the number of people ahead of me, and trying to figure out how much time each individual takes, and then trying to figure out how much time it would take in total before it’s my turn, it would be a far more rewarding and useful experience if I used that time to just entertain myself with my own thoughts.

Other than trying to change your perspective on the mundane experiences that you need to deal with on a daily basis. Trying to appreciate them as activities that can be enjoyable and interesting, you can purposefully use that time for thinking about absolutely anything, and it seems that such an opportunity will happen even less in the future, so it might be a good idea to try to make the most of it when you can.

The Lonely Race to Nowhere

race

One of the most alarming and unsettling trademarks of today’s society seems to be the universal urge to be involved in some kind of race. People race to get an education, to make money, to get into relationships, to get a job, and to find happiness. Oftentimes, they end up with an education they never even wanted, money that made them more miserable, relationships that they never really wanted to get into, and jobs they hate doing. Most tragically of all, they almost never achieve happiness.

I think the main problem with this ‘racing’ approach, is how easily it tends to get mischaracterized with efficiency. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with efficiency as long as it is geared towards the right objectives and goals, but when it isn’t, there’s nothing more dangerous and damaging. Efficiency, like many other things in life, can effectively blind us. It can make us believe that our purpose is to get to a location, a vision, and downplays the importance of reflecting on why we should want to go to this location in the first place.

In general, the main culprits seem to stem from social pressures including family and friends, as well as media based ideals that advertise quick success, and immediate happiness. Many of the most popular shows on TV idealize those who achieved their dreams when they were young, and try to encourage you to do the same. I can’t think of any that promote introspection and careful thought. But regardless of what these external factors may be, the fact that we can choose to ignore them means that we ought to.

This cultural promotion, I think, gives birth to insecurity, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy and failure. For every success story, of course, there are a countless number of failures, and what happens when we only see success stories being advertised to us on a regular basis is the illusion that most people succeed.

Of course, this isn’t to say that one shouldn’t strive for success, that is the opposite of what I’m saying. I’m making the point, that to be successful, it’s essential to understand the reasons for why you are doing what you’re doing before you design the most efficient ways of doing them.

I think people can only be more successful if they truly believe in what they’re trying to accomplish. A lot of us seem to be driven to go somewhere, trying to get there as fast as we can, and what I find bizarre in these cases is that, oftentimes, the destination has nothing to do with what we really want. Many have gambled away their finances and health, their psychological well being, happiness, and compromised their relationships with family and friends to try to get to where they want to be, which paradoxically, are all of the things that they have gambled away.

Many people look for shortcuts because they believe that if they can do it faster than everyone else, then they’ll be the last ones laughing, that the joke will be on everyone else. The reality is quite different.  Trying to find such shortcuts ends up consuming most of your life.

Asking ‘why’ instead of ‘how’, being unrealistically optimistic about the things we really love instead of the things we think we should love, prioritizing the things that matter to us now instead of the things that we think will matter to us in the future, doubting everything instead of believing everything, listening to ourselves more than listening to others, are some of paradigm shift that I think need to happen.

Another problem is society’s condemnation of indecisiveness. I find that to be one of the most puzzling features of our time. Indecisiveness, of course, can be harmful if it was about things that don’t really matter. What to pick on a menu, what to get from the supermarket, which movie to watch, and what color socks to wear. These things are harmful because they take up too much time, and they won’t yield an amount of value that would make the time you spent deciding on them worthwhile.

But when it comes to deciding what you want to be in life, what you want to get out of it, and who you want to be with, and why, then surely, if there was ever a good reason to waste time, it’s to reflect on and ponder these questions as much as we feel is appropriate.

Battling Distractions and Creating Time

distraction

I feel that one of the biggest challenges that we’re facing today is dealing with distractions. Every day, we are exposed to a plethora of information, most of which about things we don’t care about, some of which we do care about, but are not interested in learning about for the time being. Productivity and ability to focus are the victims of this recent phenomenon.

I say recent, because only a couple of decades ago, people weren’t exposed to a fraction of the amount of information we are. We almost create distractions every minute by opening new tabs, accessing several pages at once, until suddenly, we let ourselves become overwhelmed. Work becomes increasingly more challenging because you’ve created an entirely new world of tasks every time you click on a link, run a program, or open a new tab.

I find that this has been very difficult for me, personally, to overcome. There are several thoughts going on in my head simultaneously and my thoughts become blurred, I become less effective, and eventually fail at sticking to the script. Of course, the barrage of information and options are not the only things that distract you. It’s often that people you know may do that too. And the worst thing about being distracted by people is that you never expect it.

When you create several pages of information and tasks, the process is gradual, and while you do slowly start to realize that you’re being distracted from your main objective, the realization comes more pleasantly. It’s synonymous to ripping off a bandage slowly. When people distract you on the other hand, you’re caught off guard. You were doing something and suddenly you’re denied from proceeding with it.

Interestingly, it almost never matters if you’re being effective or ineffective, these distractions tend to bother you just the same. There are, of course, other things that can distract you from the task at hand. Appointments, running toilets, thunder, sickness, foul odors, animals, construction work, honking, games and many more. But I think most centrally, people you know and the internet make up the bulk of that distraction time, at least for me.

If you aren’t one of the many gifted people of the world who are able to supernaturally multitask 24 things at once, then perhaps reading my suggestions could help.

I’ve identified a couple of simple ways of dealing with them that have helped me tremendously.

Dealing with people:

I’ve always found it interesting how if you tell someone that you have a meeting, or class, or event, they’ll understand that they shouldn’t contact you because perhaps interrupting you in these cases would render them no benefit since you are unlikely to be able to respond.

I figured, that if that can be true of those particular situations, then why can’t it be true for a part of your leisure time that you’re spending on working, studying, or reading? I can recall several instances where doing something in my leisure time is profoundly more important to me than a lecture, meeting, or event. The idea that I should restrict distractions to things I care less about because they’re more formal in a social context never made too much sense to me.

My solution then is that I would schedule a particular time of day, every day, where I’m automatically unavailable, as if I have a meeting. Say, 1 hour. And I let people who contact me the most to know about it. For one hour a day, your phone goes on airplane mode, and the added benefit is that you know you need to make this hour count. Otherwise, the entire exercise is futile.

I like this idea because the restricted time frame, and the fact that you’re actively deterring interruption creates, in a sense – a motivating factor that forces you to focus more, and at the same time getting rid of those irritating distractions.

Dealing with information:

As for information, my solution was also simple. I used to be in the habit of opening several tabs at once, like the friend I mentioned earlier on, not to that extent of course, otherwise, I wouldn’t have felt surprised. What I do find to be extremely helpful is to structure my internet surfing time with a somewhat of a loose schedule. I say loose, because some element of randomness is necessary. Things will occur to me in the next ten minutes that haven’t yet, and creating a schedule too precise could be redundant. But a loose schedule would enable you to divide your time into different categories, tackling one or two at a time instead of 10 or 15. Thus allowing you to tackle each task effectively within the limits of your brain’s working memory.

I personally hate distractions as you might have already figured out by now, and if someone has some useful or interesting suggestions on how to get rid of them, I’d love to hear them.

Curiosity

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“The first and simplest emotion which we discover in the human mind, is curiosity.” Edmund Burke

Curiosity for me is an overwhelming sensation. It’s a sudden burst of energy, an old acquaintance, a dear friend. If it leaves me, so will my purpose in life.

When people describe their attitudes towards learning with adjectives such as “insatiable” and “voracious”, it’s hard for me not grin in agreement. It’s a universal feeling, and I think that’s what makes it so powerful. My concern is how sometimes we let more unimportant matters in life get in the way of it. There are so many distractions, so much mindless, addictive, superficial entertainment that numbs our minds and silences our curiosity.

To read about a subject you’re passionate about not only takes passion and curiosity, it takes patience and time. Some have taken advantage of our natural tendency to be attracted to images and highly engaging quick entertainment that substitutes for introspection and learning. I don’t say this as a criticism of culture, or the times, but as a criticism of myself and those like me. I used to be more curious when I was younger, but let my curiosity become subdued by immediate entertainment, choosing to boost my endorphin levels instead of searching for insight.

Thankfully, I have taken steps to eliminate this kind of cheap, unrewarding entertainment out of my life. I have seen people take drastic steps such as going without internet for a prolonged period of time, or putting their phone away. This, to me, is no solution at all. It only makes the problem even worse. Imagine an alcoholic trying to kick the habit by promising himself to stop drinking for a week, then going back to it. I think the better way is to eliminate dependency, not to take a vacation from it.

In other words, I believe taking permanent steps are the things that stick in the long run, because well, they’re permanent. I used to spend a lot of time playing games on my smartphone so I decided to remove all games off of my phone. In my previous post, I talked about decision points. This is one in particular that has had a dramatic affect on me. If I wanted to play a game, it would require me to search for one, and then download it. The fact that I need to take steps to play the game makes it easier for me to not want to.

The other reason I don’t believe in putting your smartphone away or going offline is because I think we’re truly lucky to be living in this era of information. It isn’t stressed enough how much access to knowledge we have. It’s unprecedented, amazingly easy and really quite remarkable. We have the ability to find information on absolutely anything in seconds. Not long ago, this was considered science fiction. To turn away from this technology is ludicrous, especially when we are more than capable of benefiting immensely from it.

The problem with distractions isn’t only that they waste time, but they kill curiosity. The amount of energy we have to learn and think is finite, and distractions are effective at draining out that energy. They are effectively wasting your time and energy. Certainly, some games have been shown to improve mental sharpness as well as shows and movies, I am not referring to those games that require you to actively use your mind. I’m specifically referring to games and shows, and game shows that don’t.

The beauty of curiosity for me, is that it exists in everyone and yet is the same in no one. a part of being human is to  have many inherent flaws that do well to hurt our growth and potential. Even some of the traits that we consider in high esteem can be damaging to our well-being. If you love too much, you can be blinded. If you trust too much, you can be misled. If you are too kind, you might be taken advantage of, if you are too brave, you may hurt yourself. Curiosity is one of the rare things that cannot be harmful when used in excess.

If you’re anything like me, and the infamous phrase, “Curiosity killed the cat” was wandering through your mind, it would interest you to read this interesting post that attempts to track down the origin of the phrase. Apparently, It was originally “Care killed the cat”, a line in a Shakespearean comedy before it was recently  changed. http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/curiosity-killed-the-cat.html

    “Curiosity is the lust of the mind.” Thomas Hobbes