It’s a little unnerving when you go through your daily routine and realize it’s Monday again.
How is it Monday already? Seems like it was just a few days ago and here I am driving to work again.
If I could somehow monetize that thought, there wouldn’t be any more Monday drives to work.
When we’re younger, days seem longer, weeks are extended, and summers are a long vacation. As we get older, the days speed by, weeks blur, and summers never seem long enough. What is it that causes the passing of time to go faster? My work day morning routine is practiced and executed with near perfection each day.
The hardest part is getting myself out from under my warm covers. Once I’m up, face rinsed to lift the sleepy haze, the rest is automatic.
Facial lotion rubbed in, eyeliner drawn, mascara applied, blush blended in, lips glossed.
I then scan my closet for what to wear that day. I grab my purse, slip on my heels, lock the door, and walk to my car. Two stop lights, a right turn, and a stint on the freeway later, I’m sitting at my desk going through emails. The next time I look at the clock, it’s 3 PM.
We spend so much of our time unconsciously going through the same motions, that our brain goes on autopilot.
We’re only vaguely aware of what we’re actually doing—much less how much time has gone by.
It’s not a bad thing necessarily.
Our brains have developed the capability to simplify, memorizing patterns so that regular tasks and interactions are more and more efficient as we go through our lives.
How many times have you quipped a “Good, how are you?” response when passing by a co-worker?
At the same time, a quarter of your thought process is still thinking about that weird dream you had, another is wondering how you should handle the next phase of your project. The auto-pilot mode of the brain allows us to multitask on other thoughts or activities while still performing the familiar actions.
Maybe you realize after that what you said in response didn’t exactly to your co-worker. Perhaps he never asked a question. Perhaps 6 hours or days have passed by, never to return.
When I begin an interesting project, I’m fully engaged and in flow.
If someone wearing a gorilla suit walked by and did a chest pound, I probably wouldn’t notice. Much more realistically, if someone started talking to me, there’s no guarantee I’d process what he or she said.
When I’m occupied, my attention is already operating at near full capacity—one thought lingering and leading to another—unable to take in additional stimulation. Hours may go by, but unless there’s an immediate threat to my well-being, I’m in oblivion.
Musicians get lost in jam sessions, artists paint until sunrise, and sports fans gather around the TV for the big game of the season. These are moments of pure focus, when the person is so completely fixated that they ignore everything else that doesn’t relate to their source of attention.
It is in the zone in between the extremes that we are more conscious of the passing of time.
Detached observation—otherwise described as awareness without high engagement—is when the time usually drags on.
It’s not daydreaming or simply not paying attention. Perhaps it could be called boredom, but the situation is not familiar enough to lapse completely into auto-pilot mode. This happens more in childhood to early adulthood because these are phases of your life when you’re still observing, learning from new experiences and figuring out how you react to them.
For the experiences that are exciting in addition to being completely new—such as playing a new game or learning how to swim—those moments pass by quickly.
But for the relatively mundane activities in life, such as organizing a file system, sitting through a class or meeting or driving to run an odd errand—these moments initially drag on, then become more automatic and unconscious the more they are repeated.
After early adulthood, the development pace slows down a little and a lot more repetition has occurred across a broader set of experiences. Auto-pilot mode starts being used more frequently in more situations as we age and become increasingly set in our ways. Eventually, we get to the point where we’re in auto-pilot mode for the situations that aren’t of high interest and full engagement for those that are.
I’d choose to spend most of my time in flow over auto-pilot.
This is where the adage of “do what you love” comes from. When you’re doing what you love, there’s a greater part of your life in a more active state of mind. And because you love what you do, you’re more likely to continuing exploring and pushing yourself outside of the auto-pilot mode.
My guess is that the majority of the population ends up in the auto-pilot spectrum, falling into a career path they’re not passionate about and staying because they don’t know what else to do or because it’s convenient.
There’s a quote that says that “what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Maybe if there were more people who have come alive, there would be more progress made in different areas across the world. However, one thing remains the same.