Time, My Ally (stress-free version)

If you’re reading this, it means that the timer on the original post took you here. Don’t worry! This post won’t expire.

I recently finished season one of the series “Strike Back”, a testosterone-filled high-action TV show about a couple of soldiers fighting terrorists. It was interesting to me that out of all the bad guys and bad helicopters and betrayals that happened, the real tension in the show was created by the simple addition of a timer – like the one above.

Of course the timer was connected to a bomb (the one in the show, not the one above, I told you, don’t worry about it). And it wasn’t the timer itself that was the scary enemy. Instead, it was what it represented: the inexorable passage of time building towards what was potentially a horrible event.

And that’s why time is often seen as an enemy. It’s like the Terminator: it never stops, it constantly heads in the same direction (the future) regardless of what we put in its path. The best we can do is change our own perception of time; we can’t seem to actually affect time itself. It’s the ultimate example of fairness: we all are given the same amount, every day. How we choose to use it is ultimately up to us.

The way we percieve time has a lot to do with how we remember things in the past. The amygdala (the start of your fight-or-flight response) words with the hippocampus (which associates emotions with long-term memories) combine to creat anticipation, whether it’s for something good or something bad (though research indicates that we’re predisposed to anticipate something good happening, which is part of why gambling is so addictive). High-pressure sales types love to use this anticipation along with the whole phenomenon of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) to get you to buy things.

So with that timer going, it kind of makes things edgy, doesn’t it? I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to read this whole post before it’s done. But maybe not. Guess I’d better hurry up and get to the point. Except I really can’t hurry up; I’m not actually here, there’s just these words, and they only popped into existence when you clicked on the page. They’ll only be here for five minutes. So I apologize, I can’t really hurry up; really, it’s up to you, and how fast you can read.

Because I’m not a fan of cheap tricks, the timer above isn’t going to take you to my newsletter signup page, nor to my Patreon page, or anywhere else that will pressure you to do something. It’s just up there to let you see it, let you feel time – and the silly ways we humans create stress for ourselves. Not that stress is a bad thing; the pomodoro technique for productivity is a kind of positive stress we put on ourselves – a way that we harness our perception of time to become more productive.

But sometimes we allow our perception of time to create negative stress, elevating our cortisol levels and heart rates and literally killing ourselves faster simply because we feel the pressure of time. Such as that timer at the top of the page; have you scrolled up to check it yet? More than once? Are you hoping that I lied, and something really big will happen when it reaches zero?

Sorry. What’s going to happen is simply this: time will go on, and so will you. But maybe you can choose how you experience it with a bit more awareness. I’m not saying you can make time be on your side – I’m saying there really aren’t sides. And the sooner you realize that, the sooner you can begin to play with your ally.

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