A Few Words About Time, Your Slipperiest Yet Most Valuable Asset (Part 1)

Time is a tricky bugger, isn’t it?

In my ongoing pursuit to reach through your screen and grab you (lovingly) by the throat and (tenderly) throttle you, in a clumsy but well-intended attempt to remind you that time — your most valuable asset (other than maybe your vintage Pez collection) — IS RUNNING OUT SO MAKE THE MOST OF IT! (and then here is where I let go of you and we both catch our breath for a sec), I thought it might be timely at the start of this new year of your life to talk about time.

The awareness that our lives have ticking countdown timers is a basic human characteristic, and it’s a fact that drives us to drink (among other initially enjoyable and eventually problematic coping mechanisms). How can we encourage a more profitable appraisal of the time we have to spend as mere mortals?

Check out my nerdy but insightful research snippets about time; they just might help you to understand and master the most elusive thing in your life (unless you have cats &/or testy teenagers — neither of which will ever be understood or mastered).

#1: Use the Fresh Start Effect to your advantage.

Salient temporal landmarks provide the motivation for aspirational behavior. Translation: fresh starts motivate us to get our shit together. New Year’s resolutions can be explained by science! There’s a reason we’re inspired to pursue goals at the onset of key landmarks in time — like committing to become A Way Better Person on January 1st (fresh start for the year), going back to the gym on a Monday (fresh start for the week), quitting smoking in September (fresh start for a fall semester), looking for a new job on the first day back from a holiday (fresh start from the land of piña coladas) or at our yearly job anniversary mark (when we’re reminded that we really do need a fresh start because we just might perish if we’re at a soul-stabbing gig for another year of life) — you get the idea. Our lives are defined by events that one psychologist noted, “stand in marked contrast to the seemingly unending stream of trivial and ordinary occurrences that happen to us every day.” Boundaries between the same-old, same-old, ordinary past and the promise of a new and improved clean slate future ignites the confidence we need to pursue and stick with our goals.
So what do we do with this? When the fresh start of January wears off by February 17th and you find yourself snorting Lik M Aid Fun Dip for a cheap sugar high, on the verge of cancelling your Orange Theory membership… wait. Find another fresh start and ride that wave. Get back on the horse the very next Monday. Find whatever it takes to clean the slate: a full moon, a half moon, Tortilla Chip Day (on February 24th: get your salsa ready, Señorita), whatever’s in the Farmer’s Almanac. What fresh starts can you build into your year, to make sure you remain motivated and committed to reaching the dreams you’ve imagined for yourself? Identify your temporal landmarks now and have them at the ready for when you need a motivational boost.

#2: Focus on scarcity (instead of abundance) for once.

As a resource becomes scarce it increases in its perceived value — a concept known as temporal scarcity. Framing an event, such as 2022 (or the entirety of our lives) with a proverbial expiry date has been shown to make it feel that much more valuable and precious. Researchers cleverly weave in what we know to be true about the scarcity heuristic — that rare or temporary things are believed to possess greater value — in their take on what death means to us. Said simply, “life becomes valued to the extent we recognize its potential unavailability.” Have you done the Monday Morning Calculator yet? Does the idea that you only have 52 Mondays to make this year “definitely not an unmitigated disaster” motivate you to infuse each week with a little more vitality and meaning? How much vacation time do you have this year? Can you use that as a temporal-scarcity-kick-in-the-pants to make the most of your discretionary time in 2022?

#3: Balance the mindsets of Chronos and Kairos.

The ancient Greeks offered this world so much more than pistachio baklava. Chronos is how many of us understand the notion of time — the qualitative measure of seconds, hours, days, weeks, and so on. Chronos’s ominously ticking grandfather clocks and cute bubble calendars keep us on time for flights and conveniently calculate our remaining Mondays. Kairos, more poetically, refers to the qualitative measurement of the opportune moments in our lives. Fuzzy, right? “Right moments” might be knowing when to have that first kiss, knowing when to say “sayonara” to an unfulfilling job, knowing when to prune the plants in the garden, knowing when to embark on an adventure, etc. I spend most of my hyper-organized time in the realm of Chronos (punctuality is a signature strength) but miss some of the signals and senses about Kairos. Are you also swept up in managing your life by the hour, so much so that you miss the call of Kairos’s opportune moments in life? How can you slow down and tune into those right moments that just might be right in front of you now?

I’ll see you next week in Part 2 for four more points about time… including why the pandemic has distorted your ability to comprehend it. In the meantime, off you go with a fresh start to live like you mean it. Time. It’s ticking. On with the living!

Jodi Wellman

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