How to Control Your Perception of Time So You Can Be Happier

By Alyssa Gregory

timeYou can argue that a minute is a minute, no matter who you are or where you live, but the perceived speed of time can change person-by-person and even minute-by-minute. Ask anyone who has ever done something they have not enjoyed; they may say that time slowed and dragged by. And consider the idiom, “Time flies when you’re having fun.” Time often seems to go too fast when we’re enjoying something, like a vacation or a movie.

While you can’t lengthen or shorten time at your leisure, you can change how you perceive time in order to become more productive, less rushed or happier.

What’s Your Time Perception?

The first step is to get an idea of how you perceive time. The Zimbardo Time Prespective Inventory is a free assessment that gives you a set of scores across different time perspectives. Once you take the test (it only takes about 5 minutes, though depending on your frame of mind, it may feel like 10), you can use your scores to measure your time perception against the averages to identify areas where a change in time perspective may benefit you.

Analyzing Your Time Perception

As an example, the assessment gave me a score of 4.77 in the future time perspective. Measured against the graph, I am landing high above the average future time perspective score of 3.5. When I review Zimbardo’s description of time perspectives, I am clearly a future-oriented person. The summary tells me this about a future-oriented person:

They are able to avoid temptations and distractions that are perceived as short-term inducements or time wasting, such as play and other consummatory activities, when there is work to be done or tasks to be accomplished. Much of their behavior is primarily an instrumental means to goal attainment.

No surprises there! But reading on, the summary says:

If their goals, when attained, are not substantial, it is likely they will feel as if they have worked hard and become successful at something that really wasn’t worth it, thus leaving them with a sense of existential meaningless of their life’s worth — in other words, being set up for mid-life crises.

Wow, so I have a very strong propensity for facing a questionable feeling of worth if I continue to put so much weight on goals and goal attainment without more balance on my expectations. Combined with my lower-than-average score in the present-hedonism perspective, this certainly suggests I may be able to benefit from slowing down and enjoying life more.

Changing Your Perception of Time

The assessment above is an exercise developed with the book, “The Time Paradox,” by Phillip Zimbardo and John Boyd. The book contains quite a bit of information about each specific time perspective and how managing your perception effectively can lead to increased success, better health and greater fulfillment.

In general terms, though, once you know how you perceive time and determine how you WANT to perceive time, you can teach yourself to control your perception and how it impacts every aspect of your life. I view this kind of change as dependent on three key thought processes:

  • Understanding relativity: Your perception of time relates directly to your life, your environment and your internal pressures. Considering this relativity is necessary if you want to bring about change.
  • Consistent awareness: Being able to distinguish between internal and external time pressures, and being able to manage those pressures requires that you have a steady awareness of where they are stemming from.
  • Conscious effort: Changing your perception of anything isn’t easy, but with conscious thought, measured actions, and repetition, you can change your time perception to reach increased fulfillment.

How do you perceive time? Do you think you could benefit from a change in perception?

Image credit: otdfi

  • Netometry

    Great article, Alyssa. I will explore the links you offered and indeed, hope for change within my own perception of time. I’m as interested in this topic as you are, it complemented my mood and needs for the day. Thank you very much for writing. -Mary

  • Zahid

    Thanks Alyssa for your helpful tips, i have just finished reading your top 20 busi’ Networking.

    Founder, Director
    GTech, India

  • Anne

    Interesting article. I actually work on a product (Qlockwork) that tells you where you spent your time and it is astonishing the difference between how you perceived the passage of time and how much time you actually spent on something.

    When you get “in the flow” hours can pass and when I look back on what I did I can easily find I spent 4 hours straight on something without even leaving my chair ;-)

    But it has good sides and bad sides. If you lose track of time when working on something like a document, you gets loads done, but unfortunately it’s just as easy to lose your sense of time while you’re browsing the web and find you’ve spent 4 hours on Facebook ;-)

    Anne Currie
    Qlockwork Timer Tracker



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