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How to take control of time

The first step is changing the way you perceive time, says Catherine Jones.

by Psychologies

manage time better

A 21st century life has convenience and speed, yet many of us feel our time is stolen by traffic jams, customer service helplines and exhausting work colleagues. As we get older, our sense of time rushing by seems to increase, says Steve Taylor, author of 'Making Time'. ‘Time goes slowly for children because all their experiences are new and because they perceive the world with a heightened intensity. But as we grow older our experience becomes routine, and we scarcely notice time passing.’

Change your percpetion

Time just is. The first step towards feeling in control of time is to accept this fact. Time is not something we can change, or have more of. What we can do is change the way we perceive it. Our culture’s exclusively linear view of time hasn’t helped our relationship with it, says Taylor. ‘We think of time as a river that flows in one direction. We’re aware it’s taking things away from us while we hurtle towards the future, losing good looks and slim waistlines along the way.’

Live in the present

Not every culture has chosen to perceive time this way, he explains. ‘Some indigenous cultures don’t count the years that pass, or their own ages. They are very present-centred and tend to live in the now. For example, some Native American tribes don’t have words for the future or the past, or future or past tenses, and don’t seem to be interested in the future at all.’ Carl Honoré, author of 'In Praise Of Slow', identifies industrialisation and its introduction of mechanised time as the point in history where the West’s relationship with time became dysfunctional.

‘The phrase “time is money” has come to define the modern era. It sounds very Eighties but actually it’s 250 years old – it was Benjamin Franklin who said it at the dawn of the industrial era, where the roots of our accelerated, hyper-busy culture seem to start.’

Time became the prism through which everything was refracted. We no longer controlled time; it controlled us. These days, being busy has become addictive, says Honoré. ‘We’ve got to wean ourselves off this drug slowly. The best way to get value from your time is not to do more and more at light speed but to find the correct tempo, what musicians call the tempo giusto. When you approach every moment at the tempo giusto, your relationship with time is redefined. You become less obsessed with it and more in control of it.’

Take time out for yourself

In all the rush we often neglect ourselves, adds Taylor. ‘We work hard at relationships with other people, but don’t work as hard on our relationship with ourselves.’ It’s hard to feel in control of time while living in a hurry-up culture and we often think that we don’t have a choice, says Honoré. ‘But even in this wired, pushy era we all have the power, and the autonomy, to take control. That is the mark and measure of a life well lived: you’ve lived your life instead of hurrying through it. This is what we do when we take back control of time.’

Step outside time: Meditation

When it feels as though you are being crushed by worries about future events or regrets about the past, meditating can help overcome this stifling sense of time because it calms your mind’s endless chatter and helps you embrace the quiet space that’s left. ‘It can be difficult in the beginning. You need to practise it with discipline but if you can do it every day for a few weeks your mind will start to become quieter,’ says Taylor. ‘Time will become expanded.’

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