It’s new to me, how much politics is influencing my thinking the previous weeks. These Brazilian elections have provoked me to research more than I ever did for Dutch elections. I have been trying to understand on a more fundamental level how, from my perspective, a destructive force is helped into power by the public. In an earlier blog I explored why long term solutions in politics are unattractive, but also how our perceived discomfort in certain situations forces us in the direction of short term solutions. Politicians are well aware of this discomfort and capitalize on this to gain popularity. However, not only in politics, but also in healthcare, business, and our private lives is this a relevant topic. I realized that a common provoker of this discomfort is an inadequate perception of time.
Our perception of time is on the one side bench-marked to the world around us, how is time culturally perceived, what is early, what is late, and where is the future and where is the past (more on that below). Secondly, I personally belief the most relevant aspect of time perception; the speed of our thoughts and emotions and the intensity with which we experience them.
Cultural Perception of Time
The first one, our cultural perception of time, has one common denominator across all cultures. Every culture uses a time-in-space metaphor. this means that all over the world people describe time related to space. However, it depends on where you live, which space-metaphor is used. In western society the future is in front of us and the past behind us. In Ayrana (native people from the Andes), the passed is in front (that what can be seen) and the future behind. The Yupno people from Papua New Guinea and the Tzeltal from Mexico think of the passed as being down hill, and the future uphill.
Culture also largely defines how you behave related to time. Where in Germany and Switzerland on time, means arriving exactly at the agreed time, because they see compartmentalization as the surest route to efficiency. In the Netherlands you can be a couple of minutes later and still be on time, nevertheless the Dutch otherwise relate to time in a similar way as Germans and the Swiss. In Brazil I have come to understand time as it’s 9 o’clock until it’s 10 o’clock. Even more “creative” with the clock they are in Colombia. I was recently told by two Colombians that agreeing to meet at 2 o’clock is okay, showing up at that time is foolish. Don’t come before 4.
Another significant difference, is if time is perceived as linear or cyclical. In my very first post on this blog I proposed a different perspective to time, and I explained my adoption of a more cyclical view. In western society this is novel, because time is generally perceived as progressing linearly. In eastern cultures though, the Japanese and the Chinese have always perceived time as progressing cyclical.
Subjective Perception of Time
Second then, the speed of our thoughts and emotions play a significant role as well. As our perception of time on the one hand is influenced by our external environment (culture, society), it is also subject to our internal environment. Are you feeling good or bad, are you doing something you like, or something you hate. The way you experience time in these cases can be totally different. That boring school assignment seems to take ages, where watching an exciting movie can pass by in seconds. Then again, once we are in severe pain it seems like time lasts forever.
Now that we are familiar with what influences our perception of time, the moment is right to become familiar with how long things objectively take. I believe this to be of essential importance because we usually adhere to our perception of time, forgetting that there is actually a lot known about the objective duration of things.
Underneath is a list of objective times as I have come to understand them from literature on history and medicine plus my own experience:
When you read this list, it is important to consider that thoughts and emotions are the only things on there, that are not in someway or another limited by time and space. At the same time they are the portal through which we experience everything else.
I believe that most discomfort and hardship that we experience comes from two things. First, to be unaware of, or failing to accept how we are objectively progressing in time. This could be failing to comprehend the time that is needed for a political situation to change or a fractured bone to heal.
Cause and Effect Can Be Hard to Connect
Second, very often cause and effect are not closely related in time and space. The burger you started eating weekly at age 25 might be the initiation of the behavior that led to your diabetes at age 45. Similarly when I start eating beans instead of beef I instantly reduce my carbon footprint. This might help turn around climate change in 15 years, saving thousands of lives of people living on islands that would have run under water otherwise. It is hard to see these connections, if not impossible. However, if you accept the possibility, there is a lot in life that you can influence from this moment on.
When you accept the possibility that your actions can have consequences that you have no way to experience or connect with each other – that leaves you with the challenge to accept that as long as you live on earth there are certain time frames you cannot evade. I often try to raise awareness to this fact with my clients. The mind jumps from past to future, and back again within seconds. However, our body acts more like a plant, and adheres to a slower and gradual time frame.
Where the objective time frame of the body, often with the support of a skilled healthcare practitioner, can be understood and experienced first hand, changes in environment, culture and politics are harder to experience objectively. As things go, they do not hurt us directly like a bone fracture does, and there are less people taking the time to explain this phenomena in full. Also because the systems underlying these changes are often very complex and hard to understand.
Nevertheless, in our private lives, in politics, in your business or regarding your personal health, there is a very simple thing you can do to deal with all the discomfort from the tension between how you experience time, and the time it takes for things to happen. Read all about that in the second part of this blog on SMART goals here.