Cultivating positive mind states is key to lessening stress-inducing worry related to time—how we use it and whether we have enough of it.
No one wants to be stressed. We want to stay connected to our innate joie de vivre and feel passionate about our work, deeply connected in our relationships, able to travel and have fun, and to weather life’s storms without getting overwhelmed. Still, stress happens.
Managing time itself is often a significant source of stress. Though each person’s to-do list looks different, many of us find ourselves at some point during the week, if not each day, feeling as though there isn’t enough time to get all the work done, see all the people we want to see, and do all the things we want to do—not to mention carve out a little time for ourselves.
While we cannot change the reality of how much time we have, we can shift our relationship with time. Mindfulness and meditation practices are great ways to become more at ease in our relationship with time and more intentional about taking time for ourselves.
Do you experience stressful thoughts and feelings when you think about all the things you need to do? Many people’s habitual response to thoughts about managing time is the stress response—a physiological change in the body that includes an increase in heart rate, release of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline, and muscle contraction. Why? According to internationally recognized leader in new biology, Bruce H. Lipton, PhD, what we call “habits” are actually the brain’s “hardwired pathways.” In other words, perhaps by now your brain has become wired to automatically link the concept of time with stress-based reactions; it’s become a habit.
One of the greatest gifts of mindfulness and meditation research has been the understanding that not only can we become aware of our hardwired patterns, we can change them. Richard Davidson, PhD, a renowned pioneer in neuroscience, has said, “We now know that the brain is the one organ in our body built to change in response to experience and training. We don’t take this revolutionary idea as seriously as we should.”
We can take that idea seriously; we can train and reshape the structure of our brains through meditation and mindfulness. Sharon Salzberg, well-known for her teachings on loving-kindness, shares in her book Real Happiness the findings of a study in 2010 in which volunteers received eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction training. Before-and-after scans of their brains showed a shrinkage in the amygdala, the part of the brain that initiates the body’s stress response. And, the more the volunteers reduced their stress through meditation the more the amygdala shrank. There were no changes in the brain scans of the control group.
By practicing meditation and mindfulness we can take apart and examine our response to time and reconstruct a new relationship. We can strengthen our capacity to disconnect from automatic thinking as well as balance our emotional reactivity. Without the stress response activated, we free ourselves to engage more fully with the moment we are in.
This week, make a commitment to focus on your relationship with time. Begin by simply noticing your reactions when you are scheduling something new on an already full day, facing a deadline, or thinking about something you want to do but aren’t sure when you can. Bring awareness to the thoughts you have, the sensations in your body, and any unique hardwired responses you have (the desire for chocolate, a need to clean, an urge to text … ).
If you have a regular practice (meditation or yoga, for example), weave this question of time into this week’s practice. If you don’t, use the laboratory of your life. Work with the tools you already have: start up an honest, open-ended conversation with someone about how you each manage your time; if you write, explore on the page; if you dance, use your body to move your questions and discoveries.
Even one deep mindful breath can invite more space and presence into the equation, me + time = ?.
Time is truly a gift to be enjoyed. By making space each day to pause and rewire your brain toward positive states of mind, you are stepping out of habitual thought patterns and consciously stepping more fully into who you are right now and the way you want to live.
Did you know?
1440 Multiversity’s name is inspired by the 1440 minutes in every day, each one offering an opportunity to connect to your best self and the best in others.