The Lost Art of Compressing Time
We all live in the stream bed of time. Sometimes the waters move agonizingly slow and we ache for the future. And then, there are times when time seems to “fly,” leaving us in its wake, yearning to slow things down and savor the fleeting moments.
A 65-year-old colleague recently told me, “I can’t remember when the days passed so quickly. It’s like toilet paper when you get to the end of the roll.” That same day, a vibrant 26-year-old grad student mentioned, “I’m going so fast, there’s not a minute in my day when I’m not doing something. I need to slow down and smell the roses.”
Regulating the passage of time, and making the most of the time we have, is something we can master at any age. Mastery comes by learning to compress time.
The art of compressing time and having the time of our lives (rather than missing out on these times) involves four core life skills that allow us to more fully occupy, enjoy, and draw satisfaction from each moment, relationship, milestone, minute, day, week, month, and year. Mastering these skills at any age begins with a deep breath, willful determination, and the decision to practice effective self-management.
Life Skill #1: Self-Manage Your Overanxious Anticipation of the Future. There are times when we (anxiously) sit in wait. Perhaps it’s a vacation, special day of celebration such as a birthday or anniversary, a milestone like retirement, or a hard-earned accomplishment such as a graduation or securing our first job. Counting the days until we’ll finally be happy, or when it will finally be over, can cause us to press down on the accelerator pedal of time, fearing that we will exceed the speed limit and miss out on everything around us, or that our lives will be reduced to a blur.
Being overanxious, we might also attempt to slow down or even stop time. Imagining the worst, terrorized by the negative possibilities, we hold our breath as the days of our lives pass. Whether we’re caught up in trying to speed up time or slow it down, self-management begins with stepping back, taking a deep breath, calming our thoughts, and doing whatever we can to best ensure a positive outcome. When we vent, rather than hold on to our fears and worries about the future, and channel our excitement and sense of wonder into action, we master, rather than enslave, ourselves to, the passage of time.
Life Skill #2: Release Your Regret and Bitterness Over the Past. Dwelling in the past is yet another thing that robs us of our present. Self-indulgently holding on to regrets, failures, grudges, anger, resentments, and losses that we may have never processed (from an emotional standpoint), collapses rather than compresses time. Stuck in a revolving door of unpleasant memories, lingering sorrows, and self-defeating narratives, we feel miserable and hopeless. And, we lose time. Catching ourselves in old, habitual thinking and/or hiding, denying, repressing, bypassing, and shutting down (rather than airing out) our feelings, we take the first steps in learning to compress, lengthen, lighten, fill, and sweeten our time.
Life Skill #3: Occupy the Present Moment. “Be here now!” is one of the mantras of modern psychology pioneered by Ram Dass. Mindfulness and meditation involve unplugging from the stream of our own thoughts, settling/calming our minds, and opening our hearts. Tuning in and arriving in this present moment has become a common daily practice, allowing millions of people to participate, rather than just be spectators, in their own lives. Showing up fully awake, undistracted by, and attentive to, all that is happening in, around, and between us allows us to occupy the present, be more consciously aware, experience newfound freedom and peace, and use the full measure of our inner resources to create the kind of world we wish to live in.
Life Skill #4: Practice Gratitude, Humility, Love, and Peace. Few things afford us greater enjoyment in life than being able to experience gratitude. Humbly focusing on the taken-for-granted miracles, gifts, blessings, and privileges of our lives is not only a ticket to compressing time, it allows us to stretch time. By relaxing into life’s package deal (meaning that everything that comes to fruition also falls away), we learn to make peace with impermanence.
We may not be able to change time, but we can change how we experience it. We don’t get to play God; every life has its storms and rough waters. But making the most of our journeys means becoming the masters of our ships as they transit the waters of time—and summoning the will to live courageously. Compressing time is a formula for steadying our vessels in turbulent times to ensure smooth sailing… and having the times of our lives.