I take a closer look at the systems upon which healthcare and politics function. When taking a more profound look at both them it quickly becomes clear how there is no reason for it’s players to resolve issues right its’ source. From my perspective there is too much to be gained from short term decisions in terms of money and power. However more importantly, it is that we humans are incredibly bad at dealing with pain and discomfort. This inability is being capitalized upon in a variety of ways. Read this extensive blog on the topic to learn more about my view.
In the first part of this blog post about how our perception of time is limiting us, we discovered how there is a difference between how we perceive time and how things actually develop over time. This tension is largely subject to how we experience time, that is, how our thoughts and emotions are influencing our perception of objective time. As things go, thoughts and emotions are the only things in our lives that are not bound to space nor time.
Underneath I will discuss how you can relieve yourself of this tension and make your life a little easier. The tool to this, is nothing less elementary than goal setting.
The Power of Creating Focus
The power of goal setting comes from two things. First, the fact that humans excel in focusing. Not only in a abstract manner but also in a physical manner. Try to look at a point in front of you and see how everything around that sight blurs eventually. Any person playing sports, or having experienced anything of heightened importance will have experienced this ability someway or another. This phenomenon was beautifully shown in an experiment where study subjects were asked to count how many times a group of people threw the ball around in a video. Most of them counted right. Nobody saw the gorilla walking by though. Later they redid the experiment, since everybody was focusing on the gorilla now, little people saw the color changes in the background.
Goals are Context
Second, in an abstract manner, setting goals in the future has been shown to improve performance and the capacity to overcome mental trauma. Also, it supposedly closes the gap between ethnic and minority achievement rate.
The combination of using human excellence and the fact that goals allow us to compare everything we experience in relation to it, makes goal setting remarkably useful. As Dan Ariely mentions in his book Predictably Irrational:
Most people don’t know what they want unless they see it in context.
Thus, goals not only bring our perception of time and objective times closer towards each other, it also creates context. A set goal is is like something slapping you in the face when you start imagining things other than what is actually going on, a written reality check.
For reference, I added the list of objective times again that I used in the first part of this blog post.
SMART Goal Setting
Now to the practical part. A commonly used system for goal setting is the SMART system. They tortured me with this in university time after time. “You need to set SMART goals, otherwise you won’t know if your treatment is having any effect”. And really, it’s true, definitely when working with people, there are so many variables, it’s nice to have something to relate to.
SMART stands for:
Let’s take an example here, you want to improve your fitness. This goal by itself is hard to test but once put into SMART form it will get tangible. First you need to be more specific, you can use the 5 W’s for this. Who, What, When, Why, and Where. In this case this could be you alone (who) goes running (what), after work (when), to improve fitness (why) in the park (where).
To make your fitness increase measurable you decided you want to be able to run 5k, since you can run 2k now this is achievable. It is also realistic depending on your current situation (you run 2k already). This might have been different if you decided to run a marathon. However, this all depends as well on the time you designate to achieve your goal.
The SMART goal would come together like this:
I want to be able to run 5k after work in the park to improve my fitness 8 weeks from now.
This goal is simple to construct because the specific part is easily described. If you take a look at the list of objective times above, there are some things that are inherently harder to describe and to measure. If you want to prevent chronic disease in 20 years, how do you make that goal? Or when you want to change cultural beliefs?
What to Do With Goals that Can’t Be Made Specific or is Difficult to Measure?
The key here is to figure out what the indicators are that lead to these things. In the case of preventing chronic disease these are markers like cholesterol, blood glucose, blood pressure and fat percentage. However, what are the markers for change in cultural beliefs? Or for that sake what are the markers for political change?
In some cases these markers or predictors might be there, but culture and politics are systems that are the result of our collective beliefs. At the same time changes take years. From my perspective the only sensible way to deal with these things is that first, you have to accept that you can influence these things, and second that it starts with you thinking and acting differently. If you want to put this into SMART terms, I leave up to you.
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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.
I come home after 9 months of travelling, experiencing barely what I wanted beforehand, but everything I needed. I changed my perspective on a million of subjects, I learned new languages, I met amazing people, I found a new home, I saw amazing things and I enjoyed every day of it, even when I did not. Now, with all these memories continuously replaying in my head, I try to make sense of them. How can I, without diminishing the value of all that I experienced, incorporate this into a life that satisfies me.
Follow My Own Advice
In a previous blog, I wrote about having the guts to follow heart before brain. At this moment in time, I feel that I am at a point where it is essential that I follow my own advice. I notice that I have a certain vision regarding how I want to live my life and where I want to invest my energy. The thing is, there is a complete lack of structure nor a path to follow. I see no clear trajectory and nobody is telling me where to go. There is just a burning energy in my heart when it comes to the idea and purpose I derive from everything that I experienced.
When I start thinking (with my head brain) however, questions and insecurities instantly arise. What about money and what if I fail? After, I get stuck in these thought patterns that seem to have no way out of them. Once I shift my awareness back down to the heart though, everything seems really clear. I make the conscious decision to engage with, and live this feeling. What follows, is total evaporation of all the worries and doubts that were in my brain before. Instead of all the negative energy blocking my thoughts with impossibilities, it is now liberated and ideas start flowing around automatically.
It is interesting to see how efficient it is to thrive upon heartfelt energy. Once I accept it’s presence it seems that it overrules what goes on in the brain. The insecurity (and therefore lack of courage) that blocks this process is a quality of the gut brain however (more on that here).
Realizations In The Shower
What helped initiate this shift was a simple conversation between two man that I watched. The shower after, allowed me to process this: how turning to the age of fifty had provoked changes in the two talking to what was really important in life. Then, in the shower after all, is one of these moments we are usually alone with our thoughts. Even when we are unable to find time during the day to find a moment of tranquility, every person with a shower still has one.
This made me realize, that I want to value life exactly like that. I am 26 years old, far from turning fifty, but I do not feel that I should wait with acting upon this realization until then. Nevertheless, here is another reason to be insecure. If everybody starts realizing these things with fifty, am I not missing something if I am contemplating similar thoughts right now? Then I remember however, have the guts to follow heart before brain.
I am frequently reflecting on how I have in the past months come to certain realizations and perspective changes. In the first two blog posts on this subject I wrote about how I first try to cultivate and increase my awareness, where after I reach a point where I consciously aim to integrate the newly gained perspective in to my life. In this third and last blog on the subject I will explain how I try to cultivate a change of perspective.
First off, I think it is important to consider that any change I make is part of a bigger process. This is important to me because what on one day might seem like a life altering outlook can be normal the week after. If I want to optimally profit from the alternations I go through, seeing things for what they are will allow me to take appropriate steps to keep continuing the road I am on without getting lost in the moment.
Being conscious will also allow me to put setbacks in to perspective. If I am solely focusing on the present, disregarding the bigger process, a setback might really feel as a setback. Whereas, if I look at the bigger picture, a setback usually is an opportunity to learn.
Nevertheless, it is impossible to integrate anything learned directly in to all parts of my life. There were so many times I had to reinforce certain decisions after being caught by the novelty of a situation. When other parameters in my life differ from the regular, I find it hard at times to reproduce a satisfying decision based on my values. For example, going out to eat in a different country, with a different language and food culture, there might be signals that might normally make me say I do not want to eat that. Whereas, in this case there is so much new that I perceive these signals differently. The same goes for responding in a preset manner to friends or family just because there was a time specific interactions were bothering me. Having set the intention to put these interactions in to a different light does not mean I solved the issue forever. This is definitely the case with patterns within a family. Having lived together for so long, there was a lot of time for patterns to get intertwined in a lot more ways than we tend to be aware of.
On a more material level, to make any changes last, I believe it best to literally start living them. If I talk about them in my social environment they are already more real than if I would keep them to myself. Asking for support to help me maintain a certain direction can be as simple as telling me when I am off, but also conversations about obstructions can be a great way to redirect intentions.
Taking this one step further, I believe that a set of values will make life inevitably lighter to manage. It is easier to make decisions in relation to a certain context than when I am simply drifting from stimulus to stimulus. However, by this I do not advocate blindly subscribing to a religion or becoming a full blown radical left-wing supporter, nor does it need to be a fixed set of values. Rather, if I figure out what is important to me and my happiness, I can relate my decisions to that.
From my own experience I have noticed that if I stick to my values this generally gets accepted by the environment I am in. Even when the values of my environment are entirely different. I have been in a lot of situations where I deliberately had to emphasize that I do not eat any animal products, nor can you make me happy with a glass of Coca Cola. When I communicated these intentions clearly, I never had the idea people thought me unthankful, something a lot of people worry about in this regard. Nevertheless, if I would be in a less confident state of mind my intentions were bound to be received with more apprehension.
The take home message for me here is, that if I live my change, my mindset and my values, I believe people will realize that that is who I am. The form of feedback originating from this makes the cultivation of this same change more sustainable. Ultimately, strengthening the fundament any authentic life can flourish upon.
Starting of the blog and the new year, it seemed like a good idea to talk about a different perspective on time. Progressing to the next year always creates a special feeling, for some it is full of anticipation and for others it is filled with hope. Another chance to do things better, leave bad habits behind, and finally start eating right. Regardless of what happens though, we always keep counting our years as they pass by.
Our calendar and idea of time progress linearly. Day after day, month after month, year after year, always counting on. This invention of ours “helps” us determine where we are in space related to our idea of time. We can tell when somebody is late for work, when the sun comes up, when somebody should know enough mathematics to progress to 4th grade, and when you can expect to retire. All makes perfect sense, right?
Artificial Life, Artificial Time
Until you realize we are natural beings living in nature. Yes, we still live in nature even though we stacked it with roads, bridges, and cities. Just another concept to support those other inventions of ours, such as: money, time, distance, and borders. All these inventions reinforce each other in order to sustain society.
In effect, this creates a bubble where everything seems fixed but never really is. Because, borders are being fought over, there is always too little time to do everything you want, it is too far to walk to the supermarket and there is too little money to buy that new car. This all distracts us really from who or what we are, which diminishes our true needs: social contact, real food, exercise, and a sense of purpose in life.
To me, however, more and more it starts to make sense to drop this idea of time progressing along this artificial line of ours. Feeding the idea of that we are all different and “individual” (un-dividable). I am older than you, I have more experience than you because I work here longer, I am better than you because I play the guitar longer, and I have the right to retire because I am 65 years old. This way there will never be a person like you, everybody will always be ahead or behind you. Ever more creating a feeling of disconnection from the world around us.
However, in nature there are obvious cycles taking place. The sun goes up and returns, the moon shows itself in cycles, the earth moves in cycles, the seasons progress cyclically, women have their menstrual cycle and even men seem to experience cycles.
On a macro level there are times when the earth heats up or cools down depending on what happens elsewhere in our galaxy. Even our own inventions are subject to cycles, our economy, for example, needs to crash now and then in order to prosper again.
Keeping faith in this idea of time can make things really confusing. Our artificial creation keeps you thinking that this time is important. However, our bodies are subject to other inputs as well, including the cycles found within nature and our own lives, which influence our appetite, sleep, fitness, and ultimately our mood.
Once you become aware of this, you might recognize similarities with the people around you. Whereas cycles in nature seem to be dynamic returning phenomena, like the seasons starting around the same time each year, human cycles are initiated by the way you grow up, but also through changes in (social) environment and other life changing events. Thus, a 23-year-old experiencing a break up might experience the same feelings as a 65-year-old quitting his job.
Personally, during my work as a Physical Therapist I saw clients ranging from 10 to over 90 years old. It really surprised me how much I would have in common with somebody who was 90 years of age.
Leaving the linear way of perceiving time for what it is, a useful tool for navigating space, allows for seeing that everybody is living through similar cycles in different ways. Sometimes we return to similar situations, but at another point in our life. Understanding time cyclically this starts to make sense. If you stick to the idea of linear time progression it seems you have set a step back – ridiculous.
Adopting a cyclical view will allow you to realize how you are influenced by the world around you and vice versa. This will facilitate a sense of connection with the people around you, wherafter the world automatically becomes a more meaningful place.
Time to See Things Differently
Upon finishing this blog post, I challenge you to let 2018 be the year where you start seeing connections rather than disconnections. Possibilities rather than impossibilities and perceiving a familiar life situation as another opportunity to learn instead of seeing it as a setback. This will energize you along the road to find your own authentic way of life. In the meantime it will open your eyes to see that everything around you might actually be a bit more connected to you than it was.