Our Tendency to Time Travel

Scott Leonardi
Oct 29, 2020 · 7 min read
Image from Psd-dude.com

I’ve come to understand just how oblivious I’ve been at my blind tendency to time travel without my knowing about it.

I do it almost every day in such a way that it’s nearly undetectable. That is, until I reached into my fleeting bag of runaway time, grabbed a handful of seconds, and actually thought about it for a moment.

I’m sure that most people who grind away at jobs they don’t necessarily enjoy can relate to the old workman’s tradition of watching the clock.

We all know the joy of getting lost in our menial tasks and looking up at the clock to see that a few hours have flown by, just as we know the oppressing heartbreak that crushes our spirit when it feels as if you’ve been working for three hours only to look up and face the horrible truth that it’s only been about 20 minutes.

When your days are spent worried about the seconds on the clock and how fast or slow they seem to be ticking by, our minds tend to do this weird thing where they start to almost displace themselves in time. Although you may have five hours of work left, you start imagining what it’s going to feel like when you’re done for the day and can finally clock out, regardless of the fact that your working day isn’t even halfway over. This may be more true for people working jobs they really don’t enjoy or are forced to do out of financial necessity, but I still think it’s a universal sentiment to be fully aware of how much committed time you have left on the clock counting down to your freedom from obligation.

Back to time traveling.

Like any other person with a job they don’t enjoy, I completely understand the habit of clock-watching as I do it all day myself.

Only three hours left… Yes! Hour and a half, come ooonn…. Thank God, 20 minutes. Let’s go, let’s gooooo…

When you’re working and thinking like this on a daily basis, your mind turns it into a habit in the same way it would with any action or thought pattern you succumbed to that often. What I started noticing was that even on my days off, when I woke up early and had the entire day ahead of me, my mind, without me even realizing it, was still projecting itself into the last hours of the day. This was especially true if I already knew or had an idea what I was going to be doing the entire day. When my day off was already somewhat planned out, I couldn’t help but let my awareness slip from the current moment I was living in, to the feeling I would experience later that night when everything I was going to do was over.

I couldn’t truly be present and fully experience or enjoy anything I had planned for myself because my mind was still in such a habit of projecting itself to the end of all activities. Just as I would torture myself in anticipation waiting for the end of my workday, I would steal from myself the very free time I was so eager to have while previously working.

Even now, as I write these words, I can feel the pull of projection to 12 hours from now when I’ll be back home relaxing, maybe watching a show and getting ready for bed. Right in this moment, at 10:30 in the morning, I know that when I’m done writing I’m going to make some breakfast and maybe watch some YouTube, afterwards I’m going to exercise and pack a beach bag for the day, then I need to go get some new tires for my car which hopefully won’t take too long, I’ll head to the beach and read for a few hours, grabbing some food at some point before I drive to an Amazon packaging station later this afternoon to pick up some packages and deliver for 2–3 hours to catch up on some easy cash. I’ll be done around 8–9pm, I’ll drive home, make food, watch a show, maybe read more, then go to bed. Not a bad day off, in my opinion. It’s the same day I’ve been living for a few years now on my days off of my actual job as a line cook.

Knowing exactly how my day is going to go has this effect on my mind that leads me to essentially fast-forwarding my awareness to the end of the day. If I already know exactly how my day is going to go, it might as well be over already, right? I might as well be getting back into bed right now instead of having just gotten out.

I’m allowing the state of mind I’m always in at work — to watch the clock and imagine the feeling of being done with work — to creep into my daily life and pull my attention from the present moment.

I realized that I was becoming incapable of really enjoying any of the things I had planned for myself because I was constantly “time traveling” to the end of the day where everything was already over. Like going on vacation and already imagining the plane ride home while you’re still on your way there. Then, all of a sudden, you’re flying home thinking Wow, it really went just as fast I thought…

This realization of what I was doing to myself and how I was allowing my time to slip from my fingers isn’t without its responsibility.

For me and anyone else who can relate to this, it starts with accepting our situation instead of projecting ourselves into where we’d rather be. Most of the time, we do this at work. At the place that most people would rather not be spending their time. We rush through things and distract ourselves and try to stay busy in the hopes that time will sneak by without us knowing and when we look up from our work, it’ll be time to walk out back into the land of the autonomous again. We’ll be free for another night.

That is, until you take that same mentality home with you. It’s a toxic state of mind because it pulls you from the present moment and stretches your awareness so thin and far that it touches both the beginning and end of your day. All of a sudden you’re not just working at your desk, you also see yourself at your dining room table eating dinner, and brushing your teeth in the mirror that night, and getting back into your car the next morning, and again back at your desk at another point in time.

I had this feeling once while I was shampooing my hair in the shower. I always get home around the same time every night and always take a shower after the long workday to get all the sweat and grime off so I’m not soiling my bed with kitchen gunk. I stood there, lathering soapy bubbles into my hair when I pictured myself in that very same spot doing the exact same thing the very next night. Then I thought of myself in the same spot exactly one week from that moment, and one month, and wondered if I’d be standing in that exact spot one year from then, or five. All at once I saw what seemed like an infinite line of projected versions of myself all washing my hair in the exact same way at the exact same time stretching out in my mind’s eye as far as I could see. I continued to lather, hypnotized by the thought of my life being so preordained that it may as well have been 10 years from that moment, as I would most likely be entranced by the same thoughts while foaming by the head with the same bubbles.

The moment I had that thought was obviously an exaggeration of my actual reality. I knew my life would almost certainly be different within a few years, what with getting a different job, working different hours, living in a different place, etc. But it was still a pretty entertaining thought, albeit a bit concerning.

I realized how easy it is to displace ourselves from time, to project our presence into a future that hasn’t happened all because of our unconscious displeasure with the current moment.

And that was the big realization at the end of all of this. When you’re truly enjoying the moment and feel completely present and content with where you are, you don’t feel any need to project yourself into any other moment. When your universe feels aligned, nothing else at any other point in time matters. The past and future almost cease to exist because you feel so in tune with your present reality.

I realized that the only reason I was letting my days off slip away from me was because I was voluntarily giving away my time on the days I had to work, and I did it so often that even when I wasn’t there and my time was my own, I was freely giving my present moment to an unformed future simply out of habit. I really made me think that I need to either find the kind of work that I won’t feel the desire to project away from, or I need to accept my situation and be where I am, fully.

The solution? Pull yourself together! Not so much literally, but definitely at least figuratively.

Stop wishing for it to be then instead of now. Stop projecting your presence into a moment that isn’t the one you’re in. You may not want to be where you are, but it doesn’t change the reality that you are, in fact, there.

So be there. Pull your attention out of projected futures and back to where you can be fully present; where you can truly enjoy the moment you find yourself in because you know that it’s the only real way to experience this life.

Minute by minute.

Moment by moment.

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