Image: Dali’s Persistence of Memory
Stefan Klein’s book The Secret Pulse of Time is a fascinating, scientific explanation of how we ‘make sense’ of life’s scarcest commodity. Alas, while it is long on exposition, it is short on resolution. Readers hoping for the ‘how tos’ promised on the book jacket will likely be disappointed. But it may start a conversation that other writers can build on that could actually help us learn to live in Now Time, like most of the other creatures on our planet that are not confounded by large brains.
The first part of the book explains our biological clock, which actually runs on a ‘day’ that varies from 24 hours and 5 minutes (for ‘morning people’) to 24 hours and 30 minutes (for ‘night owls’), and which is ‘reset’ by the first bright sunlight of each day and again at the last sunlight at night. Our indoor lives, and window coverings, can deprive us of these ‘resets’, so night owls (and those prone to depression) are advised to expose themselves early and often to direct, bright sunlight.
Klein then goes on to explain that our sense of never having enough time stems from three factors that originate in our own minds (and they are especially prominent in those with ADD/ADHD, he asserts):
The inability to concentrate, he says, is exacerbated in modern humans by the number of distractions we face. When our attention is caught, three things happen:
This 3-part instinctive reaction to stimulus is addictive; we like the feeling. The more stimuli that are available, the more we end up distracted from giving sufficient attention on anything to be productive. The process of learning to concentrate therefore requires us to practice giving our attention to one thing, and avoiding distraction. Klein suggests (as I did in this article) breaking large tasks into pieces that can be done in one sitting. He suggests exercises that strengthen memory and focus (crosswords, meditation). And, interestingly, he suggests a simple technique for restless minds: When an idea occurs to you that is off-topic of what you are concentrating on, write it down, quickly, set it aside, and focus back on the matter at hand.
The overwhelming feeling of stress, he says, is often viewed as the result of a perceived ‘shortage of time’, when it is actually the other way around. This stress-caused time ‘shortage’ is often a function of one or more of three things:
But what can we do to change that lack of control, sense of responsibility or perspective of tedium? Not much, Klein admits. At least we can be aware of it.
The lack of motivation, Klein says, is what can make a simple task take longer (due to procrastination) or seem to take longer (the ‘watched kettle never boils’ perception) than they actual should or do. If we have problems or chores at home, we may spend longer time at work doing what could be done more quickly, to put off the ‘home work’. Modern life, by presenting us with a smorgasbord of things to do, can reduce our motivation to do any one of them.
A consequence of this is what I have called Pollard’s Law: We do what we must (what we’re absolutely motivated to do), then we do what’s easy and/or fun. We feel guilty for not getting to what is ‘merely important’ but that guilt isn’t enough motivation to overcome the propensity to proscrastinate. Result: We ‘never have time’ to do it. One useful suggestion for increasing self-motivation: Visualize the positive consequences of doing, or having done, the unmotivating task.
My favourite quite from the book (as someone who loathes ‘self-help’ books):
Organizational psychologists who have studied so-called time management have established that it is useless, or at least not useful in saving time (three studies are cited).
The final chapter of the book prescribes six steps for improving our ‘sense’ of time, but I found these mostly unhelpful: they are pretty obvious, and easier said than done:
Worthy objectives. Now we need a lot more exercises and practices (that have been shown to work) to actually accomplish them. And some first-person stories of how people who never used to have enough time for anything, now have all the time they need.
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Dougald & Paul (UK)*
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Generation Alpha (AU)
Guy McPherson (US)
Ilargi & Nicole (CA)*
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Jim Kunstler (US)
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If I Only Had 37 Days
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