The trip back Print E-mail
News - Final Word
Wednesday, 24 October 2012 07:38
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Have you ever wondered why the trip back feels so much shorter? Driving back from a place always seems to be much quicker than going there.

According to Israeli psychologist Dan Zakay, we all suffer from this illusion. In the August edition of ‘Psychologist’ Dan explains why: We perceive time either retrospectively by using the brain’s memory traces or prospectively by using the brain’s attentional mechanisms.

When awareness of time is not important, any guess you take about the duration of something will fall in the retrospective category. When timing is important to a situation, your estimation automatically becomes prospective. Being stuck in traffic when you’re late for an appointment can make five minutes feel like an hour. But, when you’re not late, your attention is distracted by things happening around you.

Research has shown that the length of our retrospective estimates relies on how much information we processed. The more information you processed, the more valuable you judge the amount of time that passed and the more you can put markers on it and actually remember it.

Time, however, nearly crawls to a grinding halt when you’re trapped in a boring conversation. ‘Boring’ is akin to being in ‘empty’ time, says Dan, because we don’t judge the information as useful. We keep checking our watches and all our attentional resources will be given to prospective timing.

In any situation, when you focus on when-will-it-be-over, you remove the biggest part of yourself from the situation and end up with unbearably ‘empty’ time. “Give up waiting as a state of mind,” writes Eckhart Tolle. “When you catch yourself slipping into waiting . . . snap out of it. Come into the present moment.”

Even when the present moment feels unbearable, being there can be helpful because you begin to see the way in which the mind taunts you with the past and the future, says Mark Williams, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oxford. “Rather than blaming yourself for thinking you can’t cope, you acknowledge what is happening.”

And, to tell you a secret, the present moment very seldom is unbearable. Ninety-nine percent of the time you fear something that might still happen; not something that is happening now. Fear is a future-based monster.

I guess that’s what all the people who say “you must face your fear” actually mean. They’re trying to say that you should bring your fear into the present moment. Jumping from an aeroplane, scaling a cliff, dangling from an elastic band over a bridge – aren’t these the sort of things to shake you right back into the moment? I think that’s what the adrenaline junkies get addicted to – the feeling of being present.

Fear is future-based, but a past-based focus can be just as successful at sapping your joy. It is difficult, if not impossible, not to take the past into account. But to keep focusing on regrets and to refuse to forgive  . . . Well, it’s as Mary Morrissey says: “To not forgive is to drink a little poison each day and expect the other person to die.”

We miss so much when we’re stuck in the past or constantly project ourselves into the future. So, how do you reconnect with yourself in the moment? Usually, if you want the right answer, you have to stop asking the wrong questions. The opposite of asking, “What am I doing wrong?” is not “What can I do right?”

‘Doing’ shouldn’t even be the operative word here. It really doesn’t matter what you’re doing, as long as you’re present while doing it and don’t treat the present moment as if it were an obstacle you need to overcome.

To reel yourself back into the moment, ask the following: What do I hear? What do I see? What does it feel like? Smell like? What does it taste like?

These are the first steps to reconnect you with a kind of attentiveness that is only available in the present moment. You’ll recognise the being-there; it’s sort of like having all the time in the world to slowly slip down into a luxurious hot bath.

Not that I’m saying you should be tripping out on hot baths all day long; just that it’s a good doorway to the present. Step through. It’s the right trip back to the moment.

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