4 MIN READ | Counselling

The Shifting Nature of Time Can Be a Powerful Psychological Tool

Tasha Jackson Fitzgerald

Reading Time: 4 minutes


The language around time is a constant hum in the business world; it’s weaved into almost every major decision and relationship issue we encounter in life. Yet, it’s only a faint whisper in our profession.

Why is that? It feels like time is the forgotten stepchild of psychology, which is unfortunate, because when we play around with the concept of time it can transform our thinking, relationships, and potentially, our life.

The language around time is a constant hum in the business world.

Eckhart Tolle, the spiritual teacher and author of The Power of Now said: ‘Time isn’t precious at all, because it’s is an illusion. What we perceive as precious is not time, but rather, the single point that is out of time, which is the “now”.’

Tolle posits that the more we are focused on time – past and future – the more we miss out on the ‘now’ –  ‘the most precious thing there is’. While researchers like Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd believe that time is relative. For example, eight minutes after hitting the snooze button, and eight minutes spent waiting for a lift are drastically different experiences.

We also see cultural differences in time referenced through statements like, ‘island time’ (casual) or
‘a New York minute’ (hectic and fast). There are also generational differences in how we perceive time. For instance, children who have only experienced small segments of time, feel summers crawl by, while their parents are constantly racing in the rush hour of life, no matter the season.

And as we all know, we adults can have a strong, fiery reaction whenever we let someone ‘waste our time’. And no wonder, since many believe time is the most valuable non-renewable resource on earth.

Playing around with the ‘hands of time’ in our lives could be useful when it comes to our relationship issues and decision making. Finding ways to ‘time travel’ can create a much needed perspective shift, which can often provoke a wanted change.

Finding ways to ‘time travel’ can create a much needed perspective shift.

Here are two examples of what I mean from my practice: One theme I see often is many women are afraid they will not find a life partner ‘in time’ to have children. Often their wording is: ‘I better get moving or I will never find anyone’.

So, for these women, time is of the essence. They are literally ‘pressed for time’, and the pressure is high as science and genetics can only be pushed so far with the timing around having children.

In these clinical situations, I find releasing the ‘pressure of time’ serves as a positive domino effect in their personal lives. Instead of ‘future tripping’ and fast-forwarding 10 years to imagine a childless future, which is like acting as your own fortune teller, I encourage these ladies to work on not being ‘future-oriented’ for six months, and see how it feels.

Motivation to finally make a change can be increased by playing with the clock.

Another common theme in psychotherapy is ambivalent relationships, or partnerships that are not bad enough to leave, but not good enough to stay in. These situations can last for years, or even a lifetime. Deciding to change is extremely difficult. Obviously, many psychological factors play a role in these ‘stuck in time’ relationships.

Motivation to finally make a change can be increased by playing with the clock. With these clients, I posit future-oriented questions such as: ‘If you continue on the same path, where will you be in six months, or six years?’

Dissatisfaction in our relationships can be a major factor in our happiness

Often, the answer is: ‘I will be in the same stuck situation, or in a worse one.’ So, by focusing clients on the future results of their inaction, I’ve found it can increase their motivation to make a change in the present.

In both of these examples, dissatisfaction in our relationships can be a major factor in our happiness, and our efforts to be productive individuals in society. Depending on your point of view around the psychology of time, it may be worth an extra glance to play around with the hands of time in your practice, and see if you can find a way to spur your clients into living in the ‘now’, which is always the best place to be, unequivocally.

With a diverse clients that range from drag queens to CEOs, San Francisco-based psychotherapist , marriage family therapist and relationships counsellor Tasha Jackson Fitzgerald has been widely published in academic journals and has guest lectured as a master-level teacher. Raised by a lesbian mother, Tasha gained national attention for being an early advocate for the LGBTQ community, and was one of the first US-based therapists to openly advocate for gay parenting. Tasha has a master’s degree in counselling psychology. You can connect with her on Twitter @TashaJacksTweet


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