An Essay Concerning Time Perspectives
“You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire”
The problem arises in almost every Western society and it is one that will hinder many people’s abilities in life; that is how we are foolish with our time. In this essay concerning the perspective of time, I hope to explore and shed a light on how we, as humans behave and act in accordance to our beliefs about time. For instance, most men believe that they can get much more done in a week than they possibly can and much less done in a year. As we explore the idea of time perspectives, I hope to make it clear how we, as humans waste so much time on this planet, not only on trying to acquire certain superfluous belongings, but also on activities that do nothing but ruin our wellbeing.
It is true, as Seneca points out, that man acts in the opposite way to perhaps the way he should as regards to time. We as humans tends to think of a year as a period of time so distant that we might never reach it, and truthfully we might not, but to act in accordance to this belief will do us no good, unless we can use it in the correct manner. In the grand scheme of this world, a year is to time what a grain of sand is to the beach. We must realize that our time on this planet is short and thus we must act and act fast. Act foolishly? No. But act fast, of course. I say this because we are in the process of killing our planet and it looks likely that we might wipe ourselves out before the planet. As we look forward, into the future, we see a year as a long time, but when we look back, we see a year as a tiny part of what has been. This may be because of the way we are wired, or it may be because of a lack of presence in our everyday activities. I would go so far to say that most humans, myself included are disconnected from our every moment and thus, we look back and think “whoa, that went fast.”
Before, Now, Then
As many of us who are ambitious, trying to make a change in the world, look at our to-do list, we think of ourselves as superheroes. It is silly to think that you can get 50 things done this week, when 10 things done well would suffice. As we build our to-do lists, schedules or even plan for the coming weeks, we seem to think of ourselves as the Incredible Hulk of tasks, unknowingly that we are paralyzing ourselves before we even begin. As we look at the week ahead, many of us believe that we can do so many things, change so many habits and work very hard. We believe that life happens in a cocoon and the only world that exists is the one between you and your to-do list. We begin the week with high hopes, only to be discourages by a string of missed deadlines, goals and to-do’s. Where does the problem lie? The problem may lie in our ability to get things done. Or it may lie in us being plain lazy. If you are a driven individual, trying to achieve something, it probably lies in the mental paralysis caused by what seems to be a never-ending list of to-dos. Consider trying to get one thing done tomorrow, to the best of your ability and write a list of maximum, three things.
As we plan for the future, ponder over the past and become anxious about the future, we are losing the connection over the only thing we have a connection with; NOW. As we set ourselves a goal or ambition, for the not so distant future, the thing that we desire can overwhelm us. Take for example, the idea that people tell you. Dream big. Think big. Everything must be big. But, the truth is, this only hinders our ability to get things done and it also affects our present state awareness. If you become overwhelmed by a future goal, you’re no longer present with this moment and thus, disconnected from yourself. When you become disconnected, you’re no longer able to access your full potential. Perhaps when we plan for the future, we should set a distant goal, that is big enough to scare us, but once that is done, your focus must switch to being extremely small. Let me explain. Take a goal of an Olympic athlete, training to become the master of their craft. That athlete, must do the same simple things day in and day out to reach their final goal of becoming an Olympic gold medalist. This is what I mean by being hour wise and year foolish. That particular athlete may become paralyzed if they think of the next 365 days as one mammoth task ahead of them. They may consider the task as a tidal wave, where the successful athlete will consider it, 365 ripples in a calm pool of water.
One of my favorite stories and a great metaphorical principle is that story of Will Smith and his Father. At aged 10, Will’s Father tore down the wall in front of his office building. The wall stood 16 feet high, including the 6 foot foundation. Once the wall was taken down, Will’s Father told him and his brother to rebuild it, a task that they said was “impossible”. Every day after school, Will and his brother came to the office, where they began laying bricks. One year later, they had a wall. Their Father said to them, “now don’t tell me you can’t do something”. The principle Will talks about in his interview (Will Smith’s Words of Wisdom – You Can Do Anything) is simple, yet it isn’t easy to grasp. Will says, “We did not set out to build a big, giant wall. We set out each and every day to lay a brick/s as perfectly as a brick could be laid”; therefore, they didn’t look at this as one big task, but rather 365 little tasks, and instead of trying to reach their destination, they focused on making each process as perfect as that process could be. The lesson here is simple; you need not look so far into the future that you become paralyzed in this moment, but rather, focus on the here and now, and do what you can do, the rest will look after itself.
As man progresses through life, I see more people being concerned with superfluous things that not only make them unhappier, but never add the value to their lives which they think it will. Many people consider ‘successful’ people as superheroes; people that are merely perfect in every way and the media does a good job or portraying this image to the public. Therefore, we compare the worst in ourselves to the best that we see in others and build fake and unrealistic expectations of how the world should look and feel. We have evolved over time, but I believe all this ‘evolving’ will soon overtake us and we will be less powerful than the things which we have created. This will leave us victims of our own creations, although we are nearly there already.
We, as curious beings, are becoming victims of ourselves. We spend more time in the future and the past than we do in the present and we become so engrossed in achievement and appearing ‘successful’ that we forget the things that really matter. A study from Harvard recently came out and it was concerned with ‘The Wandering Mind’. The study showed us how often the mind was present with the current activity the person was doing, how happy they were at the time and how often the things they were doing had a direct impact on their happiness. This study showed us some surprising facts. They concluded that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind and that the activity the person was doing didn’t impact how happy they were at that given time as often as they might have predicted. What this shows us is that many of the things which we perceive as bad, boring or monotonous are anything but and it is our perception of them which is bad. Happiness and presence are in correlation with one another and they feed off each other. The article on news.harvard.edu states that “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost”. This emotional cost is, unhappiness.
Some philosophical traditions such as Buddhism teach us that happiness is to be found in this present moment and by reminiscing in the past or fretting about the future is a recipe for unhappiness. In order to become happier, more productive or simply better human beings, it is clear that deep presence is a great foundation. Presence allows us to be aware of not only ourselves, but our surroundings and through presence we can become utterly clear about goals, morals etc. I encourage you, the reader to spend less time using ‘items’ and more time in the present, being with yourself or your fellow human beings. Spend more time being still and less time in a frenzy. Take time to go on walks and be at one with nature, and less time sitting at your desk or on your cell phone. Lets get back to where we once were, beings of this planet. I encourage you to take the time out of your day today to be still, write three things you want to get done tomorrow, and do a 5 minute journal. By simply emptying your mind, you will free up space which will help you become deeply present with this moment. We tend to become less and less present because yesterday’s to-do list has rolled over into today and the important things that were supposed to be done a week ago are well overdue. We then fall into the trap of overwhelm and self destruction and our minds work at a frantic pace, one that we cant keep up with. Plan ahead but live in the present, your life will change.
- Live in the present by planning for the future and learning from the past.
- Take time to pause and reflect.
- One habit at a time, one task at a time.
- Slow down… you’re going too fast.
- How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time…..