The Illusion of TimeHalf our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save. ~Will Rogers
Last Saturday morning, as I sat at the corner coffee shop with my mom cradling my daily caffeine fix, I found myself going into a long rant on all the things that were currently irking me in my life. The list was a long one, and I was convinced that each problem was valid.
But as my mom steered me in the direction of brainstorming solutions for these problems, I quickly and easily came up with reasons why they wouldn’t work.
“Maybe you should try exercising. Being active really helps to improve your mood,” she said.
I was quick on the rebuttal.
“But I just don’t have the time.”
I knew it was a lie before I even said it. I had spent the previous night watching a ridiculous amount of reality TV and organizing a stack of papers that probably should have just gone to the trash.
Time was just the easiest, most guilt-free excuse I could think of. And, if we’re being honest here, it’s the easiest most guilt-free excuse most of us can think of when we go to explain why we don’t call family members we haven’t spoken to in months, or why we don’t tackle the new hobby we’ve been thinking about trying.
It takes all the responsibility from ourselves and puts it on something that we believe we have no control over.
For me, it’s always been exercise. I’ll begin a routine, start to feel a difference in my body and mind, and then decide one day that something else is more important, that my schedule is just too full to continue with such a commitment.
Yet even as I consciously decide to release myself from any pressure I feel to get moving, I know I’m not doing myself any sort of service. I know that sitting in front of a computer screen for eight hours followed by another two in front of the TV is detrimental to my body.
I feel bad. But to me, lack of time is always an understandable excuse.
Ironically, a few days after the conversation I had with my mom, I ran across an article in the Wall Street Journal — “Are You As Busy As You Think?”
After explaining in some detail studies that were conducted to show that Americans grossly underestimate the amount of free time they have, the author made a suggestion that immediately flipped a switch for me.
“Instead of saying ‘I don’t have time’ try saying ‘it’s not a priority,’ and see how that feels. Try it: ‘I’m not going to edit your résumé, sweetie, because it’s not a priority.’ ‘I don’t go to the doctor because my health is not a priority.’ If these phrases don’t sit well, that’s the point. Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don’t like how we’re spending an hour, we can choose differently.”
Stating that I didn’t exercise because I didn’t have time sounded entirely reasonable to me. But when I changed it to say, “I don’t exercise because taking care of my body is not a priority,” I suddenly felt completely out of alignment with that excuse. I knew that it didn’t sit well with me because it’s not who I am or who I want to be.
So I went for a walk, taking slow deliberate steps, acknowledging the fact that my body was responding positively to being outside and the movement was helping to clear my mind.
The next day I did a yoga video in my living room, using my TV to help me–instead of hinder me–in my attempt to be kind to my body.
That weekend I committed to twice weekly work out sessions with three of my girlfriends, knowing that giving my word to others would help me stay accountable to myself.
When I decided to take the excuse of time off the table, I began to take notice of the underlying reasons — the real reasons — why I did or didn’t do certain things in my life:
- I avoided calling my ailing grandma because I didn’t want to be witness to her deterioration, I’d rather remember her as she was when I was young.
- I gave up drawing because it brought to the surface feelings of inadequacy I struggled with when I attended art school.
- I abandoned the idea of taking photography classes because I didn’t feel like I would ever have the eye for it.
- I ate processed foods and take-out because I didn’t trust that I could ever really learn how to cook and I was embarrassed at any attempts I made to try.
Each of these things had been grouped in the same category — “the things I should do but simply don’t have time for.” Creating this broad umbrella in which to place them under was the easiest way to curtail the real issues, the real insecurities, the real hurts I was consciously or unconsciously trying to cover.
While I’m more aware of the things I’ve worked to avoid now than I’ve been in the past, I haven’t corrected every single one of them just yet. However I do notice that taking the comfortable, fall-back excuse of “time” out of the equation makes keeping certain things the same seem counter-intuitive.
When you expose the truth of why you do things, it prompts you to make decisions that fall more into alignment with who you are and the direction you wish to move in. To me, this seems incredibly empowering.
Is time an excuse you’ve used in the past to get out of doing something that’s in your best interest or in the best interest of those around you?
Here are a few questions I asked myself when I started exploring this in my own life:
1. What are all of the things I haven’t done because I “didn’t have the time?
Not everything you put on the back burner is something you should pursue, but making a list of everything you’ve avoided with this excuse can be incredibly eye opening.
How do you feel when you pair each of the things on your list with the statement, “It is not a priority?” If it doesn’t feel like something you’d want to repeat out loud, then it’s likely something you should look into further.
2. What is it that I’m really trying to avoid?
Sometimes we are trying to avoid failure, other times we’re trying to avoid hurt — either way we are simply hindering our growth by avoiding tasks or situations that could get us out of our routine and teach us something great.
3. Where is my time going?
Do a time audit. If you spend ten minutes a day checking Facebook, that is over an hour a week that could go towards taking a class or catching up with a friend.
The time is there, it’s simply a matter of spending it more deliberately.
Each day I now set my intention to give my physical body the same amount of attention I give my mind. I know that it’s possible and time is no longer an obstacle I can fall back on.
What will you pursue now that you have the time?