Why We Need to Start Thinking About the Past, Present & Future as One
Physicists have been working with time in its many forms since Einstein introduced the world to his theory of relativity. In physics, past, present and future are all the same thing. Time flows according to a lot of very complicated rules of quantum mechanics. But this September, Nick Stockton, a Science writer for Wired, wrote about a recent paper published in Annalen der physik (the same journal that published Einstein’s seminal articles on special and general relativity) that “gravity isn’t strong enough to force every object in the universe to follow the same past, present, future direction. Instead, time’s arrow emerges from observers.”
For decades, physicists largely agreed that time is measured as correlations between an object’s location, and these measurements serve as a framework for knitting the universe together. But, new research indicates that the math of quantum mechanics does not explain how time’s direction emerges. If gravity is too weak, there is no mechanism to force molecules to move in the same direction (in terms of time). Stockton explains, “If that math doesn’t check out, that leaves the observer: Us. A faraway corner of the universe might be moving future to past. But the moment humans point a telescope in that direction, time conforms to the past-future flow.” The paper concludes that the research takes Einstein’s theory that time is relative to the observer a step further: the observer actually creates time.
In our book SLAMMED: Succeeding In A World of Too Busy, we consider the possibility of directing time—to complement our values, our desired lifestyle, and our goals. We tell our readers that if we want to move beyond the Slammed phenomenon in which society’s modern pace of time has trapped us, then we must change our relationship with time. We have to change our mind about time.
We already do this—it’s just usually in a direction that makes us feel even more Slammed. When we are busy we start to feel overwhelmed, stressed and flustered. We realize time is scarce. And when time is scarce and we become hyper-focused on what we are giving up, we start to do all sorts of crazy stuff like counting the seconds it takes to do every single thing in our day–How long it takes to ride in an elevator (why do people have to push every floor?), wait in the grocery line (why is mine always the slowest to move?), and how to time those traffic lights just right to shave two extra minutes off our commute!
The recent breakthrough in the physics of time has us thinking: if we actually create time, can we also control it? In Slammed, we lament that for years the human race has studied time management techniques like setting boundaries, identifying due dates, posting milestones, listing goals, setting up rewards and incentives, and using technology to calendar both work and personal items to assist us in constructing a bulletproof system to keep our priorities clear and achieve our potential. Only to realize that creating more action items, checklists and structure often backfires by adding to our already Slammed condition. Perhaps instead of clamping down on the situation and holding on tighter, working our way out of the Slammed cycle requires that we let go. Changing our minds and our relationship with time is about taking a leap of faith (probably not the phrase a physicist would use!) and letting our values guide our actions, often without any end game in mind.
Changing our relationship with time means we lead how we act and react to time with a set of value criteria that allows us to use lessons from our past, get out in front of the present “emergency” tasks of execution that suck up all of our time and energy, and simultaneously engage in conversations (sometimes with ourselves) that center around a clear and compelling vision of our future.
And we aren’t saying that you should stop performing triage when it is a necessity. But if triage is all that you ever do, nothing will ever be better. Not in your personal life, and certainly not at work. Achieving an un-Slammed life will require thinking simultaneously about two “times”:
- what tasks must I do now, this hour, this day, this week without exception?
- what are the incremental changes that I can make now that matter tremendously to my future?
We have to start thinking about where we are today and at the same time where we are tomorrow. If we can fence off the triage work in our minds for a moment, what does that give us permission to dream of for our future? This act should be FUN and motivational. It should feel like a breath of fresh air – and most people we know discover that it does.
Stay tuned for our next posting “The Biology of Time: Start Paying More Attention to Your Internal Clocks”