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  • AutorenbildFriedhelm Boschert

"Haste is a waste of time"

Aktualisiert: 5. Feb. 2019

With #neuroscience and #mindfulness in 5 steps to a better #use of time

Three seconds! The present moment takes a whole three seconds! For our brain. Not much, is it? But long enough to make a lot of mistakes.

"The past is over, the future not yet here. The only time we live in is NOW, the present," said Jon Kabat Zinn, Professor Emeritus of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and founder of the Center for Mindfulness. That's right! But when we don't have time and rush, this present seems so short, so fast, so furious. And sometimes we feel the opposite. This is what makes our so-called time management so difficult, often even impossible. So let's start with ourselves, our brains, and look for an answer for our way of dealing with time.

The subjective experience of time is decisive

What do we, or rather our brain, feel as „the present“? Studies show a time window of about 2.5 to 3 seconds as the duration of the subjective present. After this time, the neuronal trace left by the stimulus in the brain "fades". And we do not only perceive these 3 seconds as "present", we also find these 3-second segments in many of our social behaviours, such as shaking hands and waving, rhythm of speech and the rhythm of poems.

Most neuro-psychological studies show that our subjective experience of time usually does not coincide with the "objective" course of time. We do not have an "objective" clock in our brain. The sense of time in humans is created by the course of an activity and is closely related to the associated thought and emotional processes. And so our experienced time ultimately also depends on the amount and quality of information we absorb.

Our internal clock ticks differently than we think ...

Well, obviously we do not have an "objective" clock in the brain. But we have an internal clock that sits in the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus and controls our sleep and wake cycles. We don't yet know exactly how it does this. But we already know something very important - especially with regard to our problem with the shortage of time: This inner clock does not run evenly, but reflects the environment, i.e. it is influenced by thoughts and emotions. “The brain has the ability to adjust temporal perception - and nothing warps time better than emotion" (Dr. Claudia Aguirre, "The Neuroscience of Time").

This inner clock goes faster with anxiety and stress, so that we perceive a period as longer than it actually is. It turned out very well in an experiment in which participants were asked to observe their wristwatch during a 30 meter free fall. What they - no wonder - couldn't do. Their time estimate afterwards was a third higher than the actual time course. That's how we feel in stress. The speed of the internal clock and its time units are variable. If high emotional arousal in states of danger calls up many time units in an interval, i.e. "the inner clock ticks faster", a time interval appears to us to be long because many time units "have passed". So our brain "stretches" time.

"Fear distorted time, the stimulus being perceived as longer than it really was," says Prof Sylvie Droit-Volet of Poitiers University in France after a large-scale study. And: "Our perception of time is very revealing of our emotional state." So our perceived time reflects our thoughts and emotions. A realization that has essential consequences for our "time management", as we will see below.

Haste and stress reduce performance

But it is not only the time distortion that causes our time budget to suffer from stress and emotions. In a representative experiment, US neurologists asked the participants to play a decision game with a chance of winning certain amount of money. All had the same time available, some of the participants were told that they would have enough time, the other part were told that time would probably be short. And it was this group that ultimately had the worse results. "The mere awareness of their limited time triggered anxious emotions that got in the way of performance," writes Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian about the experiment.

So if we think all the time that we don't have time after all and keep looking at the (apparently) faster and faster moving clock, then we don't have to wonder about a self-reinforcing stress. Because the fear and the stress of not being able to finish does not only make the perceived time run faster. It also causes a decrease in our ability to prioritize and a much poorer control of our emotional powers. And both are definitely not performance-enhancing! So haste is a waste of time.

“Manage your attention, not your time”

Do what, then? "The better you get at managing time the less of it you feel that you have" (Oliver Burkeman). So let's stop trying to manage time! Which is impossible anyway: can you let the future come to you faster or rush back to the past? No! So, let's start where we have influence, namely at our ability to steer our thinking, our feelings, but above all our attention. "Manage your attention, not your time" is how Jeremy Hunter, associate professor at the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management, sums it up.

Well, and that brings us back to the Mindful Solution. Mindfulness understood as managing your attention, as being present in the present. We will now apply mindfulness to our handling of time. As you can see, I am no longer talking about "time management".

5 Rules for a better use of time

1. Keep an eye on your attention

You can only do that by "pausing," again and again. Exiting the autopilot by a self-check-in: How am I doing right now - mentally, emotionally, physically? Listening deeply to yourself. How do I feel about time NOW? The "attention audit" is also very important: scanning the environment, what is preventing me from focusing, what promotes my attention? And always remember: "Energy follows attention!” - where you direct your attention, your energy flows there.

2. Clarify your intentions

This will direct your energy in the desired direction. Be aware already in the morning when getting up: "What do I want from the day? From life? For what do I invest my energy?” You also need pausing and silence for this. Not just in the morning. Only in silence our mind sorts itself and one can hear intuition. And again and again during the day: Pause, look at the way, perceive barriers and resistances. And very important: do nourish joy when you’re on your path!

3. Follow your inner rhythm

Or to put it another way: find your “personal time”. Acknowledging that you are a morning or an evening person. And thus have your very own rhythm of life. Be aware of your bio rhythm all day long. And derive from both, when for you the right time is for which task. There are times for making decisions, talking, sorting and tidying up, reflecting and much more. There are times of slowness and speed. Life is rhythm and a rich life needs rhythm.

4. Create spaces and celebrate transitions

"It is the space in between that constitutes the whole" and "The free space is the space that connects us with our deepest sources, with our potential", writes Fleur Wöss, my Zen teacher, in her so wise book "Innehalten". In order to be able to integrate spaces into our everyday lives, the workload should first be realistically limited to what is feasible. Recognize when "the end of work" is. Mark and celebrate the beginning and end of work, and all of your activities. Scheduling and taking breaks. This also includes completing one task after another. Not simultaneously, not mixed up. But one after the other! Leave room for thinking, reflecting and improvisation. So that you also have buffers for the unforeseen.

5. Understandingly learn to say “No”

With loving understanding learn to say "No": to yourself, e.g. "I don't check the mails anymore at 8pm". To others, like "I need the time for me". To perfection, like "leaving things undone", "dare to have a gap". And “No” to the own beliefs, for example "only when having stress I am a good manager", "I can't be relaxed in my work", "with multitasking I save time". In no case however: Never say “No” in anger! Neither you nor time is your enemy. So be careful and compassionate with both.

If you are interested in a seminar on this subject, then simply take a look here. I wish you a good time, a mindful contact with yourself and time and a joyfull and productive life in the NOW.

With mindful greetings


Friedhelm Boschert

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