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Weekly 3: Use time as a lens to see yourself in new ways

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Idea Journal Weekly 3

February 28 · Issue #180 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Time helps us create new versions of ourselves. Your present self isn’t identical to your past self. And you may hope that your future self is different than your present self. 
This issue explores how you can use time as a lens to see yourself in new ways. 
(~5 min read)

#1. What would your past self say?
In an interview on The Knowledge Project podcast, organizational psychologist Adam Grant points out that we’re not very good at “mental time travel.”
For example, when we face a personal or professional hardship, we tend to amplify its importance in the moment: it can feel like it’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you.
But it’s unlikely that any single hardship is the worst thing that’s ever happened to you, given all of your experiences.
Grant suggests that a crucial skill in successfully dealing with adversity in the present is the ability to get in touch with your past self.
When you’re facing adversity, he recommends these two steps:
1. Ask: What would my past self have done in this situation?
When you do this, you’ll often find that you now have resources and skills that help you deal with the present challenge that you didn’t have in the past.
2. If the first step doesn’t help, ask: What’s an adversity I faced that was similarly difficult, or even worse, and how did I overcome it?
Remembering that you’ve overcome challenges in the past has the following benefits:
  • It boosts your self-efficacy and gives you confidence that you can do it again.
  • It can sometimes help you remember problem-solving strategies you applied in the past, but have since forgotten.
You can also use mental time travel to better appreciate those things you’ve already accomplished.
Grant talks about how much he’s loved reading ever since he was a kid, and what a “meaningful life transition” it was for him to become an author and publish his first book, Give and Take.
But by the time he wrote his second book, Originals, it hardly registered as something to mark as a significant milestone: “It’s not like I should have been less excited or proud when book two came out than book one, and yet I had totally adapted to the idea of being an author.”
To better appreciate such milestones when they do occur, Grant now asks himself: If my five-years-ago self knew this was going to happen, how excited would I be?
#2. Washing dishes can be enlightening
Author and educator George Leonard writes in his book Mastery that most of us can’t avoid doing mundane tasks: from grocery shopping and preparing food, to commuting and the routine aspects of our work.
These everyday chores exist “in between” the major activities and events that really count: beginning a new romantic relationship, completing a project, getting a promotion at work, and so on.
But as Leonard points out, if you stop to think about it, most of life is made up of this in-between time.
He suggests that you can use the practice of mastery, with its emphasis on process rather than product, to be more present during these everyday activities and to reduce the feeling that time is constantly slipping is away from you.
For example, take the experience of washing dishes. You can perform that chore in a hurried and haphazard way, with your main goal being to finish it as quickly as possible.
Or, you can approach it as a kind of meditation or dance.
Leonard offers the following tips for making the most of washing dishes, or similar routine activities:
Compose yourself: Take a moment to balance and center yourself. Decide on the overall sequence of your work, and then begin.
Pay attention to your movements: Try to maintain full awareness of each motion. Even though your hands are most directly involved while washing dishes, pay attention to the rest of your body as well – especially your abdomen, back, feet, and shoulders.
Don’t rush: You’re going for efficiency and grace in your movements, and there’s no need to rush. Instead of thinking about getting the job done and moving on to something else, stay focused on the moment and the task at hand.
As Leonard notes, the irony of focusing on the process instead of the result is that it “often ends up creating more and better products in a shorter time than does the hurried, excessively goal-oriented rhythm that has become standard in our society.”
In any case, the odds are good that you’ll feel better at the end.
#3. What will your future self be like?
In an interview titled How to Design a Life, designer and educator Debbie Millman tells entrepreneur Tim Ferriss about an exercise she gives her students to help them imagine what their lives will be like in the future.
Millman’s “Your Ten-Year Plan for a Remarkable Life” exercise prompts you to write down exactly what you think you’ll be doing on a given day in 10 years.
Here’s how to do it in two steps:
1. Imagine yourself as 10 years older, and in as much detail as possible answer the below questions. Capturing your responses could take up to 20 pages or as few as 2 – the key is to dream big and without fear.
  • Where are you living?
  • Who do you live with?
  • Do you have a significant other? What are they like?
  • Do you have children? What are they like?
  • Do you have pets?
  • How is your health?
  • Do you live in an apartment or a house?
  • What is your furniture like?
  • Are you in the city or in the country?
  • What kind of clothes are you wearing?
  • What is your career?
  • What are you reading?
  • What are you creating?
  • What excites you?
  • What do you want?
2. Then read your answers once a year and see what happens. For Millman, this process works like “magic.”
Quote of the week
“The present is the past rolled up for action, and the past is the present unrolled for our understanding.”
Historians Ariel and Will Durant in their book The Lessons of History
Idea Journal
Idea Journal
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