• Louise Carnachan

Your Own Time


At the beginning of sheltering in place, I found it difficult to track time. Didn’t I go to the store two weeks ago? It turns out it’d only been a week. It’s Friday again? How’d that happen? Now into week eight at home, time is whipping by.

The fluid sensation of time is called mental time in contrast to chronological time. I’ve wondered about the perception of differing paces. Is it because the “new normal” has gone beyond the number of days it takes to form a new habit (somewhere between three to six weeks)? There’s the theory that when we’re building new memories time feels slower. This explains why kids’ awareness of an hour gone by is so vastly different from their parents’. At the beginning of the pandemic, it felt like time had slowed down because everything was different. We don’t run on autopilot when we’re learning.

The adage “time flies when you’re having fun” isn’t necessarily true if you’re stuck at home. You’ve probably had long days, yet seen weeks fly by. A vacation to a new place (the “having fun” category) provides novel experiences that expand time. The same number of days on “staycation” can rocket by. “A watched pot doesn’t boil” is certainly true, yet time crawls for reasons other than anticipation. Boring or contentious one-hour meetings feel infinitely longer. Anyone who’s been in the workforce knows a day can drag on interminably, but the year can race to conclusion.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience, talks about how immersion in an engrossing (typically creative) activity leads to a deeply enjoyable state of consciousness, or flow. It’s a restorative disconnect from the sense of time altogether, a losing of oneself. I would experience flow in an improv theater scene when I was completely in the moment. I had no sense of time or cognizance of the details when it was over. On the other hand, if I was on stage and things were sliding off the rails, time really did come to a standstill.

Our brains like routine because we can be lazy and rely on habit. (How irritating would it be if you had to reason through every step to bathe and dress?). Now that we’re well into this phase of COVID-19 era habits, your mental bandwidth may be freeing up to enjoy “flow” activities. You may already know what those are, but if there’s something you always thought you’d like to try, maybe you should get on it. There’s no time like the present.

What brings you a sense of flow? Or what is it you’ve wanted to try out? Please comment in the box below.

Sending you appropriately physically distanced encouragement—and a reminder to get outside more.

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