Cats Eyes, Incense, and Hustle Porn - What is Time, Really?
You are afraid of it slipping by. The more it elapses, the closer you are to death, deadline, judgment, completion, and meeting the expectations of others.
It is your friend. It deepens flavors, develops character, illuminate insight, allows for evolution, and ages wine just right.
How ominous. How exquisite.
Your relationship with time creates different realities and experiences in your life. At both extremes, your relationship with time can cause breakdowns or breakthroughs for different reasons.
What is your relationship with time?
There are at least two ways to look at time.
We can see it tick by in uniformity in clock time. A minute always equals a minute.
We can feel it slowly. In felt time, time can feel like it stops, drags, slows down, or speeds up.
If you can identify and differentiate both experiences of time, this will empower you to consciously choose how to use both constructs for good, and avoid breakdown in favor of breakthrough.
Clock time can motivate you, push you to master your craft, and provide boundaries for achieving your goals. It is certainly important to work well in the time you have, honor your time, and know that your efforts lead to outcomes.
I love the thrill of working hard and reaching a goal. It builds my confidence. When Britney Spears’ Work B***h starts playing on my Spotify playlist when I’m on a 6 mile run, I pick up the pace.
But taken to the extreme, pushing yourself to achieve all the time means making choices that can neglect your relationships, health, and connection to yourself. Speed can take you out of conscious and strategic choice and into reactivity. High achieving business leaders and entrepreneurs who have big goals can easily fall into this pattern.
Have you heard of Hustle Porn? It’s a raunchy term that Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian coined last fall to describe the drive to grind, hustle, and work endless hours in order to get ahead. Hustle porn celebrates the martyrs who suffer to create something astonishing in business.
But overwork and self-neglect is not actually that astonishing (or sustainable) for you or for business. It can lead to health breakdowns, heart problems, memory loss, dropped IQ, loss in focus, loneliness, and performance decline. Overwork and self-neglect can also lead to lapses in judgment (think Elon Musk smoking pot on air and Tesla shares plummeting). Overwork and self-neglect can actually make you lose your edge.
Feeling Time Slowly
Can you imagine measuring time by looking into your cat’s eyes?
In Eastern cultures of the past, people told time by looking at the shape of their cat’s pupil. Time was also marked by the burn time of incense crafted to have a uniform burn rate.
Imagine the shifts in our culture if we all marked time by breathing in fragrant woods and flowers. Beautiful breath and inspirational markers of time would move us through connecting with others and creating our work. Consider that the Latin root of inspire is spirare, which means to breath.
Being in the material world is not just about linear clock time, being industrious, thinking rationally, being productive, and having a focus. Life and work is also about elevation of the spirit, presence, energy, purpose, and conscious connection.
Your time can be a conduit of beauty, inner peace, and connection to awe. You can move through time while breathing deeply and making eye contact - while you work and while you step away from work.
In felt time, you think by feeling, as Theodore Roethke writes in one of my favorite poems, The Waking. Time slows, and you are absorbed and open to what is.
In felt time, you can move into what positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as flow. Flow gives you a natural high and a feeling of oneness.
In the space between boredom and high stress, there is flow. If you have so much mastery over your work that it’s not challenging, then you’ll get bored. If you’re not great at something, then you’ll feel stressed out. Finding flow slows your inner experience of time.
Slow time is a host for creative and strategic thinking.
A broad sense of time creates an internal environment where you are more capable of creative thinking, according to positive psychologist Barbara Fredrickson. Positive feelings (and not being in a heightened stress response) broaden your perspective and builds your social, physical, and mental skills. In contrast, speeding through work can trigger the stress response. In stress, you go into fight, flight, or freeze mode, and that narrows your thinking. In tunnel vision you have focus, but you can’t see the bigger picture.
Slowing time also helps you to get things right.
Slowness allows you to move down a path with wise action, and doing things right so you minimize gargantuan course corrections.
Consider a research study from the University of Texas at Austin in which classical piano majors from Julliard learned three measures of Shoshtakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1. The researchers found that the most successful pianists slowed down during practice at the right points. They intentionally paused to get the piece right, and they avoided learning the wrong notes.
This is known as strategically slowing down. You can’t always learn by speeding up and getting things done fast. That method reinforces the wrong notes. If you put all of your resources and time in to the wrong notes (your decisions, relationships, products, and services) that’s a big opportunity cost.
You have a choice in how you relate to time.
Knowing that clock time can motivate you to stretch your capabilities and achieve big results will help you to choose the clock time strategies that work for your goals, while also avoiding potential pitfalls.
Knowing that slow time is great for creativity, flow, strategic thinking, intimacy with your work, and learning will help you slow your experience and allow yourself slow time when your goal calls for it, and speed up when slow time isn’t a match for your goal.
The writer Annie Dillard says that how we spend our days is how we spend our lives.
Spend a day noticing when you’re in clock time and when you’re in slow time.
Are you making the right choices for your relationship with time given your goals?
Consider the experiences, feelings, and support that help you move you through clock time in an energizing and inspiring way. Write a list or draw a picture (or sing a song or make a sculpture). Consider the experiences, feelings, and support that help you slow down and be present in slow time. Make another sculpture (you get the point).
Choosing how you relate with time, and being able to toggle in and out of different rhythms, will help you be fully present no matter what rhythm you’re in.