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Time from the inside out

Our perception of time causes us stress. Why do some projects feel easy to complete and others get pushed off and off? There are many strategies and books to help ourselves and trick our minds into approaching a job with ease and less stress.

A recent study conducted at the University of Chicago Business School found that better productivity comes from relating to the goals in the present. Participants were given a deadline to complete a 4 hour project in 5 days. The group that was told on April 25th that they had until April 30th to complete the task started the task sooner than a second group told on April 29th that they must complete the task by May 5th. Researchers believe that the change in month for the due date created a barrier in the participant’s mind that allowed them to delay starting the task.

Another view is that relating to a task in the present changes the perception of time. We know about the stress in the moment –in the present experience. If we perceive time as inside our experience then it’s not something we have to escape from and we may be able to adjust our behavior to the pressure of a time constraint. It’s the attitude toward that present moment that can be known with mindfulness practices. Mindful attention is paying attention to the mind’s habitual tendency to get lost. Without some self-awareness and effort, the mind will often automatically jump to the past and the future to avoid confronting difficult experience and re—live or anticipate pleasurable ones. This can create the stress and anxiety in the present moment that cripples effectiveness.

I work with many clients complaining of an acute fear of not being able to start an assignment. In their fear, they push initiating their task into an ideal future where everything is in place and the work unfolds without obstacle: “I can do better at setting up my workspace like a picture from a catalogue, then I will be more effective”; or they tell me, “I do start but then get anxious about failing.” Who doesn’t do this? It’s our nature to want things to go smoothly and to experience pleasure in all assignments.

From an insight meditation perspective, this is the manifestation of stress or avoidance of unpleasant experiences. This stress not only affects the young in their first career, but also people mid-career, who may be tired of striving and over-extending themselves for many years and feeling more disconnected from their creative process. The good thing is that when we tap into our experience and build confidence that our fear will pass, we can also learn that escape is no longer the right exit. Through direct experience, we know that ignoring the problem ultimately brings more pain.

Tuning into the mind in the body and paying attention to the body and the impact of experiences of stress pays greater dividends in the long run.   Starting with the unpleasant experience, we turn our minds toward the feeling of stress in the moment. That can be done just by tuning into where that tension may be in the body and breathing into that place, letting go into a less judgmental and anxious mind state. From there we can choose wise ways of meeting our resistance to getting started.