There’s a narrative that constantly runs through my mind. Wherever I am and whatever I do, it has a way of creeping in and reminding me that I don’t have much time. And it shifts me toward a heightened sense of stress from which I live my life.
I’ve tried to change this narrative. But it’s an upward battle in a world where the incessant onslaught of information leaves us little time to step back and watch the unfolding of life. Moments shift, seasons end, and years slip by, almost as if we never lived them. And it’s affecting us in profound ways. We don’t have the time to reset our internal state as we rush from one activity to another.
We don’t have the time to connect deeply with others in a way that calms and heals both them and us. We don’t have the time to watch the sun set in all its glorious splendor and make us one with the larger flow of life. We don’t have the time to read the books that inspire us and pursue the passions that once made us feel alive. And we don’t have the time to engage in the causes that take us out of our little bubbles and make us part of something much larger than ourselves. At least, we think we don’t. And this relationship of scarcity is not only harming our physical and psychological health, it’s also changing us as human beings. We’re at a moment in our history when compassion is our most urgent need and our greatest savior. And yet, as a famous psychological study showed, most people in a hurry are less likely to help others, even though they believe it’s important. Unless we create the time to nurture the muscle of compassion, we’ll continue on our trajectory of increasingly divided and unequal societies, and plunder through our planet’s resources with little concern for the generations that follow.
Perhaps the best way to create “more” time is to take a page from the lives of some of the people who made the most of it.
Work with Intention The Roman philosopher Seneca wrote that we would have enough time in our lives to accomplish great things if we were to use our lives fully. But we often don’t. We live most of life through habitual patterns of thought and behavior that don’t serve us well. We may waste it in ruminating, or in perfecting a project that is already complete. We may waste it in splintering our attention among a hundred different tasks, or in distracting ourselves with the buzz of our phones and the pings of our emails. “The life we receive is not short,” he said, “but we make it so.”
Think about it: What are you doing to shorten your life? And how can you stop doing so?
Connect with Nature Charles Darwin is known to have said, “A man who dares to waste an hour of time has not discovered the value of his life.” And yet by today’s standards, his working hours were insufficient at best. He would finish work well before his afternoon tea, with a nap in between, and then spend the rest of his day mostly in nature. Sure, he didn’t have children to pick up and drop off, or dirty dishes waiting in the sink. But we can all find ways to disconnect from the sameness of work and bring more awe into our lives. The research on awe shows that it forces us into the present moment, expands our perception of time, and makes us more willing to help others.
Think about it: What are you doing to expand your life? And how can you do more of it?
Restore Yourself Every Day Hermann Hesse, who won the Nobel prize for literature almost a century ago, said, “My advice to the person suffering from lack of time [is]: Seek out each day as many as possible of the small joys.” This is all the more relevant in the 21st century, when we’re terribly overworked and constantly operating in fight-or-flight mode. And the way we’ve gotten used to resetting our internal clock is through biannual trips, solo retreats, and other ways of restoring well-being that are short and intense. Yes, they feel great—but only in the short term. Because as Simon Sinek says in his new book, Together Is Better, it’s the consistency of the small things that matters.
Our relationship with time lies at the core of our lives. As philosopher Henry Thoreau said, “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” Be conscious of the life you exchange, for what you get in return is the legacy you leave behind.