Features and Occasionals

How to Be Happy

By Dan Schmidt

I am always on time for my life. Say this to yourself any time you feel stressed or anxious. Then say it any other time you can. Say it repeatedly in sets of 100. Reinforce that this is your life happening, and that plans and life are always different. You are always on time for your life. Knowing it makes it all feel somewhat better. You will be kinder to yourself, and thus to others. We could all use a bit of that.

We are living under time pressure. Many of us are chronically late. We hurry from task to deadline to appointment to date. Where’s the joy, the contentment, the romance?

Being on time assumes we are able to agree on what we should be doing at a particular time. I’m all for integrity, but I see many of us struggle with our agreements about time.

Some people have different ways of looking at time. This can be cultural. In the 1970s German engineers were sent to Saudi Arabia to help with building oil refineries. They were warned that Arab workers would be very lax about time, at least by German standards. The Arabs were also cautioned that the Germans would be very strict. What happened?

The Arabs would show up for the 8am start at about 8:30. The Arabs thought they were doing great! They normally considered anything before 9 to be “8 o’clock”. They expected the Germans to be delighted by their punctuality, and were taken aback by the reaction. The Germans would be astounded, but not in a happy way. They got to work by 7:50, and could not imagine someone actually being 30 minutes late for a work day.

Philip Zimbardo, the brilliant psychologist famed for his Stanford Prison Project, co-authored a book about our approach to time. The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life (Zimbardo and Boyd: 2009). He says that how we look at time is an important component of personality—equal to whether we are introverted or extraverted or other significant indicators. You can check out your time personality—the Zimbardo Time Profile Index is available online for free.

What happens when we criticize ourselves or others for time challenges? First, it takes us out of the present moment. We shift to focusing on our plans and how they are not working, and from there we go to our fears about the consequential effects.

Next we lose esteem—either self-esteem, and/or esteem for whoever made us angry over the time issue. Rapport is replaced by resentment. The relationship becomes associated in our minds with discontent. The trust and safety that allow collaborative creativity are diminished.

This process can become habitual. It’s hard for two people locked in this struggle to escape. Neither one can do it for the other. Each has a responsibility, and that is first to oneself, to get okay with what is, and let go of plans and frustrations.

For the one who is late:

Step one: Stop the self criticism. Charity begins at home. Anger toward oneself corrodes the insides, and splashes out on others. If self criticism worked, I’d be an Awesome Enlightened Being and Master of the Universe, and so would you and all your friends.

Step two: Recognize that you make choices, even if they are subconscious.

Step 3: Validate your choices and actions. Yep, you are still alive, so it worked.

Step 4: Go deeper. Repeat this affirmation “I am always on time for my life.” It’s true. Think about it. It’s always now, and you are always in the center of your life and universe.

Now affirmations can be a silly New Age thing. One repetition is not going to do a whole lot. One trip to the gym won’t do a whole lot either—unless you go ape and tear yourself up.

Fortunately, affirmations will not injure your mental muscles if you do a whole lot the first day. But like weightlifting, it’s the reps that make it happen. So don’t say it once, build up to saying it for an hour or two. Make it a work out!

What will that do? Just like weights, small efforts accumulate. It can be a challenge, and you will find you have to concentrate to keep going. Your mind will trot out the old voices of powerlessness. The subconscious beliefs that hamper all our function will become exposed. And you will directly contradict them with each repetition.

Can you go from “I’m always late. I suck. I hate time. I hate my f-ing life” to a whole new mind set? Yes. Science says so. The big word is neuroplasticity. It means we rewire our brains throughout our whole lives.

Don’t believe that? Try imagining falling in love. Something makes you undo the caution that your last break-up created. Without neuroplasticity there’d be no romance.

Hate romance? Okay. Without neuroplasticity, no one could have switched from land lines to cell to smart phones to whatever is coming next. We are awesomely plastic (able to change).

Insistent repetition of an affirmation will lead to rewiring in the brain. The connections that favor the affirmation are built and reinforced, and the ones that the affirmation contradicts are sidelined and weakened.

Got new wiring, now what?

First, the self criticism diminishes. That’s good for your mind, making room for useful thinking. And it’s good for your body, as research clearly shows that self-critical thinking depresses our immune system.

Second, a new attitude toward time agreements happens. It’s easier to be on time if you plan realistically. And it’s easier to be realistic if you think you are actually an okay person and the world doesn’t actively hate you.

Third, you notice the benefits of apparent problems. You may be late for work in a traffic jam, but you let yourself enjoy the unexpected time to yourself. You may be late for a date, but as you run down the sidewalk, you are still present enough not to step in front of that maniac coming around the corner. Stress stops turning a bad moment into a brutal day, and life gets better.

Fourth, it gets easier to make amends. A little slack goes a long way. It’s hard to be compassionate or even notice someone else, when you’re bitterly ragging on yourself. Being less consumed by your own deficiencies means you will have more resources to offer in a relationship. A more pleasant perspective allows you to actually hear someone else’s needs, and to respond fairly.

So how can you start this new practice? Say the affirmation. Say it out loud in your car, or any time you are alone.

Want more progress?

Make a bunch of written reminders. Use sticky notes, or whatever you can think of, to make it so you see the magic words as often as possible.

Next, consider that all our issues are really about what others will think of us. So—say it aloud to someone else. Get a partner, and have them sit silently while you and say it repeatedly for five minutes. If they are up for it, give them a turn. Listening can be a great way to find out how you feel about time, and to see what it means to suspend judgment, even for five minutes.

Imagine a life where you did not feel stressed about time! Now go make it happen.

Dan Schmidt is a Feldenkrais practitioner and bodyworker, working in private practice and clinical settings for 25 years. He teaches classes for the public and for massage therapists. We love the way he thinks, and so we ask him to write for us now and then. somanaut.wordpress.com


This article was originally published on November 1, 2016.