Redefining Time: Transforming Moments into Meaningful Experiences

29 April 2024
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I blink, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. The train’s rhythm changes, a familiar jolt. I glance out the window and my heart drops. I am in Copenhagen, heading to work, not home like I thought.

For over a decade, I commuted the distance between the south of Sweden to Copenhagen. As the days unfolded, it felt as if my daily commute had swallowed my existence whole.

My life consisted of dark mornings, bus seats, train tracks, and cold arrival halls, a monotonous cycle that repeated every day.

The passage of time was relentless, as days seamlessly transformed into weeks, and weeks seamlessly transformed into years. Five years later, I realized that I had wasted over 2500 hours on my daily commute, with nothing to show for it.

In this article, I challenge the destructive relationship we have with time and explore how every second contributes to the richness of our life’s narrative.

As you read this article, don’t just skim the text. Immerse yourself in the emotions that resonate with you.

The Illusion of Human-Made Time

In the western world, most of us perceive time as a linear, unchanging entity.

Our urban lives disconnect us from the rhythms of nature. In a world filled with artificial lighting, constant noise, and a focus on productivity, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the natural world has its own set of rules.

We get caught up in the urgency of minutes and hours, neglecting the natural cycles that unfold around us. We rush through tasks, missing the subtle changes in light, temperature, or the seasonal shifts.

Time is money, we say, and then we squander it.

We hurry so we have more time later and when later comes; we fill that time with even more things.

Always one step behind, “time changes everything,” we say, but forget that time itself doesn’t actively change things. It’s the interactions and responses to stimuli that create change and experiences.

Time is a framework within which change occurs. It provides a sequence and a sense of duration between stimuli and responses.

External stimuli (events, interactions, information) trigger responses (thoughts, emotions, actions). These responses cause things to change in the world and within ourselves, not time.

When I see a delicious cake or my favorite food (stimulus) and decide to eat it (response), I alter my physical state.

When I hear a sad or inspiring story (stimulus), it makes me feel something (response), and this changes my emotional state.

My perception of stimuli significantly influences my response. The same event trigger a different response in me than it does in you, based on our individual interpretations, and vice versa.

Time itself doesn’t cause change it act as a catalyst. Repeated stimuli or sustained responses lead to behavioral changes.

We see the 60 or 30 day diet, and neglect to focus on the repeated stimuli or sustained responses that lead to behavioral changes.

We use the same scale to measure habits as we do for time, and this often leads to us failing to achieve our goals.

Habits are more than automatic and unconscious behaviors. They are part of our identity, reflecting the person we become when we engage in them.

Learning a new skill, or stimulus, requires repeated practice, or response, to improve. The amount of practice needed varies – some need a few hours, while others need hundreds.

Having the same time to do something, or deliberately practicing it, are two different approaches that yield different outcomes within the same timeframe.

When we say that life is about the journey, not the destination, we mean that it’s the moments we experience, the stories we weave, and the relationships we cultivate that truly define our existence, rather than the mere passing of time.

Time as a River

During my forest walks, I often trail beside a captivating, slender river. This river serves as a powerful reminder of time.

While I can’t control time itself, I can still mold my interactions with it, guiding my journey along the river of time in a manner that resonates deeply within me.

Time is not linear, nor is it made up of timestamps like a YouTube video.

Time is an open canvas. Experiences, memories, and new perspectives being the only thing that bring it to life.

I build my perception of what I call “time” upon a collection of moments and experiences that I create within time.

How I experience myself, love, pain, work, pleasure, joy, sorrow, success, failure, friendship, loneliness, fear, courage, growth, stagnation, learning, ignorance, adventure, wonder, apathy, and all of life’s mysteries have nothing to do with time.

I construct my sense of self through many layer of stories based on experiences, perspectives, and memories. Some more accurate than others.

My perception of time influences how I remember these experiences and how I integrate them into my self-narrative.

I am the byproduct of what the investments I make in time.

Over the course of my nursing career, I’ve come across countless pensioners from various walks of life. It’s astonishing to see how differently each person has spent their time on this planet.

Some have spent their entire lives in one place, working the same job and interacting with the same people day in and day out. Others have created the experiences of four or five lifetimes in the years they’ve been given.

Studies suggest psychological factors like stress, boredom, and attention distort our perception of time. This reinforces the notion that perception shapes our experiences.

Everything we experience starts with perception and perspective before shifting into a more solid belief. It’s a transformation that happens in time, but not with time.

What a Passive Approach to Time Looks like

Tired of my unfulfilling commute, it was time to adopt an alternative approach to my time.

To do that, I had to make a time audit first.

I carefully tracked and analyzed how I spend my time to identify patterns, inefficiencies, and opportunities for improved time management.

The goal of a time audit was to understand where my time was going, and whether it aligned with my values, priorities, and goals.

Where is time slipping through the cracks?

What I discovered filled me with horror, embarrassment, guilt, and shame.

Ignorance and passivity characterized my approach to time. With no filter, most days I would react to external demands like a flurry of emails, incessant social media notifications, or the relentless agendas of others.

It was self-destructive.

I not only lacked a clear sense of my priorities and goals. I felt immense pressure to take part in everything. In my attempt to keep up with others, I slowly lost sight of myself.

My passive approach transformed time into a constraint, resulting in stress and a sense of never having enough time for the things that mattered.

When I finally woke up from living life on autopilot, I realized my days were filled with monotony and lacked any sense of joy or fulfillment.

The relentless flood of meaningless events left me feeling stressed and powerless.

Living passively, I let time control me, creating a gap between my day-to-day life and the life I longed for.

Time as an Investment

Seven years back, I traded city lights for a quiet cabin nestled in the forest.

Faced with winters with temperature dropping below 70 °F, I could no longer squander my time.

I had no choice but to chop down trees for firewood, preparing for the biting winter cold.

Having no prior knowledge or skills, I had to invest in learning the right technique to avoid injury and maximize efficiency.

Looking back on the past seven years, I now appreciate the satisfaction that comes from my mastery. Now, getting and preparing wood is easier and even enjoyable.

Chopping wood is physically demanding. Every time I start chopping wood for the winter, every muscle in my body is in pain.

With each swing of the axe, my muscles ache and I’m out of breath. But as I keep going, each swing gets a little easier. Over time, my perseverance pays off and the labor of chopping wood becomes less challenging.

Investing effort in sharpening an axe or chainsaw reduces friction during chopping. This makes the process quicker and easier in the long run, translating to less future friction and more efficient use of time.

The more hours I spent honing a new skill, the more I realized the true value of time as a valuable arena for personal investment.

Experiences over Minutes

Embracing time as a precious opportunity, rather than a ticking clock, has brought about a fundamental shift in my perspective. It has opened many doors to a world full of enriching experiences and personal growth.

If I feel bored, anxious, and unhappy, it’s not because time is against me. It’s because I’m not investing in filling it with meaningful experiences.

Looking back on my childhood, I remember how each night’s sleep felt like a mere pause in between days of endless exploration and exciting new experiences.

Restless with excitement, I impatiently counted down the minutes until the first light of day, eager to immerse myself in new experiences and knowledge.

Two decades later, I was spending 5-8 hours a day glued to my screens, either watching the news or TV shows.

My life was slipping away, with each passing moment fading into forgettable experiences.

To defend the time I have here on earth, I forced myself to shift focus from quantity to quality.

Instead of counting the minutes or hours, I focused on the quality of each moment I lived.

Reading a captivating book transported me to another world, writing expanded my consciousness more than minutes and hours ever did.

Working with my hands in nature, I’ve created moments that have been life-changing.

I am aging, still, time has slowed down.

Flow has replaced the constant self-awareness that once hindered my performance and enjoyment. I now become so absorbed in a few activities that I lose awareness of myself and my surroundings.

Doing the dishes becomes meditation, standing in line, or walking.

Instead of feeling limited by the clock, I track my time based on the activities I accomplished.

Did I write a half a chapter today?

Did I dive headfirst into a captivating thought or concept, losing track of time?

Did I practice a skill that not only benefits me but also brings value to others?

Did I brighten up the room when I stepped in? Or I left a warm, lingering presence when I exited?

Focusing on personal, lasting change is more motivating than simply counting minutes. It’s about cutting out the unnecessary stuff and changing the way I think about time and use time.

It’s not that I have a problem with time itself. It’s more about whether I allow my attention to be scattered; if so, time will evoke negative emotions in me.

When I rush things, it leads to regrets. When I fully immerse myself in the moment, I never regret it.

Final Thoughts

While I don’t get to choose whether I experience anxiety, I have the power to make conscious choices about what I surround myself with.

The activities I choose to engage in have a crucial impact on shaping my narratives and guiding the course of my life.

Contrary to popular belief, rationality, consciousness, or the unconscious does not govern our life. The narratives we hold on to do.

Life doesn’t inherently hold meaning; I have to create my essence through choices and actions in the present moment.

Freedom is both liberating and daunting, highlighting the importance of mastering the moments, instead of doing what is normal or socially accepted.

I don’t fear death; I fear wasting my life. I don’t fear failure. I fear a life filled with regrets and unfulfilled dreams.

I don’t fear being alone; I fear being in a destructive relationship.

These are the anxieties I’ve chosen to hold close. They’re not shackles, but catalysts to seize each moment, to live fully, and to make sure every second counts.

Knowing my strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes helps me make sense of my limits and biases. This knowledge helps me use time in a more thoughtful way, making the most out of every moment.

Take a moment to reflect on your relationship with time.

Begin your journey towards living intentionally and investing your time in worthwhile experiences.

Start by analyzing your daily activities and identifying areas where you can create more meaningful moments.

Remember, time is not a finite resource – your experiences and memories are.

Make each moment count.

The quality of my life directly results from my ability to make wise investments in time, no matter what life throws at me.

Thank you for reading this far. You are among the 1% who finish what they started.

If my approach to self-improvement and personal growth resonates with you, I appreciate you sharing my work with others.

Recommended books

WHEN: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing | Daniel H. Pink
Daniel H. Pink, the #1 bestselling author of Drive and To Sell Is Human, unlocks the scientific secrets to good timing to help you flourish at work, at school, and at home.
168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think — by Laura Vanderkam
“168 Hours” — a book by acclaimed author Laura Vanderkam — is a fun, inspiring, and practical guide that will help men and women of any age, lifestyle, or career get the most out of the time and their lives.
The Do Nothing Revolution – Celeste Headlee
Do Nothing, How To Break Away From Overworking, Overdoing & Underliving by Celeste Headlee, presents a path to prioritize well-being & start living instead of doing.

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