Time- or perhaps more specifically, the feeling that I don’t have enough of it- is something that I have wrestled with my whole life. In the day to day, it manifests as not being able to do All The Things, when All The Things is, indeed, what I want to do.
From this mundane musing on daily activities, my conversation with time has, in certain moments, morphed itself into a somewhat of an existential crisis. It was my birthday last week, my son’s birthday next week, and I find myself doing sums in my head of days, weeks, years, decades and how it is I would like to fill them.
Beyond that though, the most brutal aspect of my time conundrum is the fact that I often allow myself to feel endlessly busy. The feeling of busy-ness, can if we allow it to, shapeshift to a feeling of burden, and from that place it’s easy to martyr ourselves to the system and convince ourselves that we no longer have choice.
And so, it’s based on all of this that I have grabbed myself by the shoulders, pushed myself back and taken myself on a magical mystery tour of what it means to be human. I thought I would share it with you here given there is a most excellent chance that you are human also.
Because I can’t have a conversation of any sort without weaving in the nervous system in some way, let’s start there. From a nervous system perspective, if your nervous system is adaptable and responsive, it means that you are meeting the reality of the moment and responding appropriately.
What does it mean to respond appropriately? It means that if you aren’t under physical threat, your brain makes an entirely new response to meet the moment. One that you haven’t experienced before.
This is different to how we respond with our sympathetic brain. From that place, we are reflexive, meaning that how we are responding to the situation now is through a pre-programmed response. This is where so many of us get in a twist; a sympathetic response is not necessary but because our nervous system has got to a place where it lacks adaptability, we are stuck on the same channel, regardless of what presents.
How does this relate to time? It relates directly. An adaptable nervous system recognizes the inherent nature of change. It recognizes that the moment I am in now will be different from the moment I am in in five minutes, two hours, three days, and it seeks to make choices for action in this moment.
The sympathetic mindset**, however, is the one we are stuck in when we feel busy, overwhelmed, martyred, or running on the hamster wheel. And this feeds back to two main principles that occur from this place:
- We aren’t responding to reality
- We are being indecisive (the enemy of all learning processes).
Let’s look at those two things separately.
When it comes to time, responding to the reality of time is important. And the reality is, there is a limited amount of it and that YOU are also limited in what you can do. Shocking right?!
We are fed the idea that you can do it all- that you SHOULD- do it all, and if only you were more organized, efficient, etc etc, you would manage to Do All The Things.
But this is a truckload of BS. You CAN’T do all the things. And accepting that is not depressing. Quite the opposite actually. It’s a liberation.
Instead of lamenting your to do list, the things that you meant to do but didn’t get around to, you can realise that this is NOT a personal failing. This is just the reality. And instead of feeling guilty, you should have that cup of tea or read that book, or rest or whatever you want. Because you can’t do it all. End of.
Which leads us to the second point. Indecisiveness. Meeting the reality of your day- the reality of the fact that you actually can’t do it all- means now you have to be decisive about what it is that you DO do.
This is challenging for us on a couple of levels:
- Our brains are subject to something called loss aversion. It means we don’t like to let go of things or experiencing the pain of losing things- even if we don’t have those things in the first place. If I make a decision, then, I am “losing” the thing that I don’t choose, and this can freeze frame into the place where we never actually make a decision.
- Many of us have trained ourselves out of taking action, or even recognizing that we have the choice to act in some way. And if we don’t feel like we have choice, we certainly aren’t going to be decisive.
For me, renegotiating my relationship with time involves:
- Facing reality. It IS limited, and so am I. What a relief
- Being decisive in what I do with my day- and letting the rest go. This means I might disappoint someone, “miss out” on something, so on and so forth, but it also means I’m not deluding myself with the idea that I could have done it all in the first place
- Finding liberation in limitations. Whoever convinced us we could do it all was not doing us any favours
Attempting to do everything is evading responsibility to do the things we actually can do.
** When our nervous system is functioning in the way it is designed, a sympathetic response is as healthy and valid as a parasympathetic response. What we are discussing here is the mindset that arises when we are stuck in a mode of sympathetic functioning when it is not appropriate for the situation we find ourselves in; when we are out of sync with reality.