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Time Is an Illusion: Clock Time Versus Psychological Time

Like for many others out there, 2020 was a challenging yet eye-opening year for me. Having lost my job after Hurricane María, it was overwhelming to lose it again three years later. As the days in lockdown dragged on, I saw all my short-term goals fade further into the future. Social media posts and constant news cycles weren’t helping either. Eventually, my anxiety got pretty severe. And even though I was lucky enough to begin therapy with my psychologist, it took me a while to get out of my head. 

Eventually, I made some adjustments. Instead of spending my mornings on social media, I would prepare coffee and meditate. The long hours I spent watching Netflix turned into exercise or reading sessions. Shortly after, my anxiety diminished. Living fully in the present moment allowed me to understand that time is an illusion. And once I accepted this, it became easier to let go of the thoughts that weren’t allowing me to move forward.

Clock time 

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Clock time allows us to deal with our daily matters. We use it to quantify periods or events in history, as well as to establish goals, so it’s beneficial in these aspects of our lives. We also use clock time to learn from our mistakes. Our past experiences should serve as a reference to avoid committing the same faults. But when we dwell on these thoughts and identify with the guilt and self-criticism, we unintentionally transform this time into psychological time. 

Psychological time

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Allowing clock time to turn into psychological time is what we call anxiety. Be it past experiences or future worries, psychological time occurs when we are so immersed in our thoughts that we don’t stop to observe the present. Yes, it’s important to have goals and plans, but when those goals and plans become the focus of our thoughts, we miss out on the process. Furthermore, if those plans don’t turn out like we wanted them to, we use psychological time to reconsider what could’ve been done differently or wondering how a new outcome might affect the end result. This constant back and forth between regret and preoccupation distracts us from the only moment that truly matters: The Now

The Now

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The Now is the present moment. And it is the only moment we have at our disposal to make decisions and implement them. We do not exist outside of The Now, yet sometimes we allow psychological time to take over our minds until we are no longer in the present moment. While past and future thoughts are important to learn from our mistakes and prepare for our future, allowing them to take over us produces anxiety. Furthermore, constant worrying can also produce fears that prevent us from doing the things we want to do.

Let go

It’s important to use time for the practical events in our lives, but once we are done using clock time, we have to let go of the thoughts to avoid falling into psychological time. Even if we feel disappointment about the things that didn’t go as planned, we have to learn to accept them as they are. Questioning the past and pondering on the future takes our focus away from the present moment; and the present is the only time we will always have at our disposal. We create, live, and work in the Now. And living fully immersed in the Now requires that we let go of the past and accept it as it is. Only then can we genuinely focus on the work we have to do now to reach our goals. 

We can’t change what has happened, and we cannot fully predict what will occur. Things only unfold in the present. Start genuinely focusing on the Now and see how different it feels when you use time to your advantage.

Andrea is currently majoring in Journalism at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus. She’s an introverted empath who enjoys long drives while listening to good music. When it’s time to sit down and write, coffee and Led Zeppelin serve as her inspiration.
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