The Time Fallacy: How Misunderstanding Your Most Valuable Commodity May Be Holding You Back From Exceptional Long-Term Results
The time fallacy.
So much of it we have, yet so little to spare.
“Do it tommorow, you’ll have time.”
Time. How many ways it can be considered…
Years, months, days, hours, minutes, seconds. Generations, eras, eons. Maybe you prefer to think of it in breaths. If you haven’t considered it this way, perhaps you should. To quote Chuck Palahniuk’s immortal character Tyler Durden, “this is your life and its ending one minute at a time”. So why is it that the vast majority of people have difficulty achieving contentment by pursuing what they desire, choosing rather instead to settle into a less than satisfying life path? Ultimately, the time fallacy boils down to a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of time. More importantly, most have no idea how to use the commodity to their advantage. Below is a list of traits and actions associated with both the time wise and time scarce, as well as list of techniques to incorporate for improvement in your own life, beginning today.
The Time Fallacy – Consider Relativity
When you were a child, do you remember how long a day felt? How about a year? Do you remember how it felt like your next birthday was eternity away?
Then you finished high school. The days began to pass by more quickly. If you have entered the workforce full-time and/or have become a parent, you no doubt have begun to feel the inescapable squeeze known as the relativity of time.
To put a very elementary, very “layman’s” spin on the concept: while a year is still a year, when a year in the middle age of one’s life is compared to a year at the end of one’s life, the same length of time is viewed as drastically less at the end of one’s life. This is because when taken in the context of the whole of one’s life lived to that point, one year is then only a small percentage of the life lived. At the beginning of life, a year is a substantial portion of life, so in context, that same year seems quite protracted – as though it will never end.
So why does this matter? Glad you’ve asked…
The Time Fallacy – Poor Evaluation of Now
Why time is such a tricky beast to master is due to humanity on the whole. Time is an entirely human concept. A mountain lion doesn’t wake up in the morning and think:
“Oh goodness me, it’s half-nine. I have to get a move on if I’m going to beat all the traffic down to the watering hole.”
No, unfortunately all other creatures think only of the present moment. Worrying about the present and the past are decidedly human pastimes. When coupled with relativity, humans in present day society face enormous pressure when considering time and how it applies to them. As a result, humans have adopted a nasty habit of making most decisions with relativity in mind. Rather than considering the here and now, calculations are made with considerations for potential future impact. The current decision could have and a whole new outcome when a set of variables are allowed to enter the equation (a set of variables which full-well may never come to pass).
Often due to the complexity, people will choose to simply do nothing. This action, or rather affliction – has been coined by the term “analysis paralysis”. It means an individual or group is brought to a complete standstill in the decision making process due to incorporating too many factors for deliberation. So many factors, that the potential risks in outcome (negative or otherwise) based on a decision made, begin appearing to outweigh any benefit of even making a decision. I will talk about this concept and how it applies in greater detail later on.
The point is, where the time fallacy rears it’s ugly head in modern day society rests in the individual’s inability to execute actions in small increments, on even a daily basis, which will allow for staggering results over several years. Whats so ironic is that we are wired to do so, though have lost this skillset in recent years. Understanding that valuing “now” and taking action on it is the key seeing dreams manifest.
The Time Fallacy – Ten Thousand Hours
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers“, one of the traits the author determines is required to become hugely successful in a given field is the commitment of time. Gladwell surmises that approximately ten thousand hours is required to reach an expert level of mastery in any field. While the length of time and how that time is spent is fiercely debated, what isn’t in question is the fact that such a commitment, such extreme focus to a craft – must take place before a person will ever become an expert. Unfortunately, we are quickly moving towards an age of the dilettante. The current fixation with wanting immediate results is leading to less desire to become a true expert in a given field .
The Time Fallacy – Technique #1: “Time is The Reason, Not the Excuse” Mindset
How many times have you heard somebody say, “It’s too late”, or “I’m too old to start learning that”? These are excuses which are often well entrenched in people who rely on self-sabotaging behavior as there way to rationalize inaction due to fear. To overcome fear means to overcome the one thing that will lead you to find all the other reasons not to reach your goals in life. Time is exactly the reason to start something today. Perhaps you may even become a master. If you’ve entertained learning a new skill or trade, though have held off because you believe you don’t have enough time each day, or simply not enough time in your life, then you are simply rationalizing. The truth to understand is this; the joy of the new skill is in the pursuit of it. The mastery of it is an eventuality given enough discipline, over a long enough timeline.
By advising yourself that time is the reason, not the excuse, it means turning your former roadblock into the justification to go after the goal. Perhaps you’re thinking, I’m too old, I’ll be (X) years old soon. You’re going to be that age anyway. What you have to be honest to yourself about is whether you want to be that age and still feel unfulfilled. If you haven’t pursued the goal that eats at the back of your mind, I guarantee you will feel lacking, Even if it doesn’t work out, you’ll still have the accumulated knowledge of the experience, which has intrinsic value, as you’ll be able to apply it to future pursuits.
The Time Fallacy – Technique #2: Creating Benchmarks for Productivity
One of the challenges anybody faces when setting long term goals is learning how to gauge their progress. Inexperience doesn’t make this task any easier. So how does one create such benchmarks? Easy. Start with a single day. Record productivity and realize that at the beginning, your results will be skewed in the immediate, as you will likely overcompensate for past drops in productivity. This is natural. It can also be your undoing. What you’re aiming for is consistency. When creating the initial benchmarks for yourself, make them the bare minimum to meet your goals over the long term timeline. If you set goals (especially daily), that are too lofty, they will be unrealistic to keep up for any length of time. The real way to get your goal to stick is to make the benchmarks manageable for your everyday life without much initial change. Be advised, this benchmark will (and should) increase in length and depth over time. If you aren’t challenging yourself, it will be difficult to see any improvement.
The Time Fallacy – Technique #3: Developing Your Long Game
As discussed earlier in the section on “Poor Evaluation of Now”, I mentioned analysis paralysis and the relativity of time. These are critical concepts to understand if you wish to see long-term results pay off. Analysis paralysis is so common because it is a quick method for procrastination. Information gathering can quickly become a substitute for decision making. It is also intellectual cowardice. To achieve long term goals, you must realize when it is time switch gears, to go from gaining knowledge to employing it. Why many hesitate at this point is because of the “proof is in the pudding” adage. A person knowing that taking action means there is also a new way for others to judge their success. Such critiquing is irrelevant.
Ultimately the goal is your own, same as the journey towards the goal is also yours alone to take. Leave the opinions of others to the wayside. Rather, realize that taking action is a new level of challenging yourself and your initial attempts will likely not meet with the measured success you had hoped for. That is also acceptable. There is a reason it’s called a first try, as often many more attempts at a goal are required to succeed. Long game means knowing when you have the information you need to move forward and acting on it, regardless of the opinions of others, unless they can help you achieve the goal.
Why relativity of time is so important to understand is that it allows long term goals to be more manageable. When I was twenty years old, six months was an eternity. At thirty, a one year time investment still seemed a bit lengthy. I’m now forty years old and realize most of my goals require five to ten year time investments. The thing is, I’m more comfortable now with committing such time to the goals. Why, you ask? What experience has taught me is that the long term goals I’m working towards require skills and knowledge that simply take time to acquire. Often they require the acquisition of many smaller goals compiled on one another to see the much larger goals realized, yet all the smaller goals are integral elements of the whole, just the same.
For myself, there has also been a realization that some knowledge will only be learned when the student is ready, no matter how much the student pushes. Perhaps the skill to be learned is patience, for it will be the patience that allows for discipline and discipline that allows for focus and that eventually sees the long term goal realized.