Traveling through time

If you can look into the seeds of time,
And say which grain will grow and which will not,

William Shakespeare
1564 – 1616

Have you ever dreamed about having access to a time machine? You know, the kind in science fiction stories where people get to go backward or forward in time.

I’ll be honest; I have, on more than a few occasions. I think we all indulge in that fantasy at different points in our lives: we long for the ability to go back and change some past event or to go forward and get a glimpse of the future.

There’s a theory that says there are two types of time for most people. One is calendar or clock time: the demarcation of days and hours that we all know. The other is psychological time: the moments we spend trying to relive the past or imagine our future.

It’s a bit foolish to spend much of our lives in psychological time. We can go back and revisit moments from the past, but too often, we do it because we wish there had been a different outcome. Unfortunately, no matter how often we replay past events in our minds, we can never alter what happened.

If we’re going to be happy in the present, we need to accept what happened in the past. Certainly we can and should learn from our mistakes, but wishing to change the outcome can only leave us frustrated and dissatisfied.

It’s just as futile to project what might happen in the future. We often try to live our lives before events occur. I’m not talking about planning or being prepared; I mean the sort of imaginings whose only purpose is to generate a positive emotional reaction. By lingering over possible futures, we give up the only time we really have, which is the present.

Here’s an exercise you should try. Do some introspection. How much of your life is spent in psychological time? How much time do you spend going back to events in your past, wondering why you did something or how you could have acted differently? And how much time do you spend imagining what might happen? If you’re like most people, you spend far too much time in the time machine.

It’s okay to go down memory lane occasionally to savor pleasant memories from the past. But most people spend too much time dwelling on past mistakes and misfortunes. It’s a waste of energy, and it robs you of the only time you have: the present.

Stop living in psychological time and learn to make each moment count. The more you do with the present, the less you’ll be concerned about the past or the future.

O! Call back yesterday. Bid time return.
William Shakespeare

Copyright © 2014 John Chancellor

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