Time lines are particularly useful to Life Hackers. Since productivity is all about planning the future, putting finished things into the past, and figuring out what to do with the present, it is extremely important to understand how your mind codes time.
What’s interesting, is that everybody codes time differently. Even though there may be similarities between two individual’s time lines, the experience is still highly subjective. That being said, there seem to be structural components that are universal. After all, a time line is not only something that occurs in time, but occurs in space. And we all occupy space and time. Therefore, we can say that time is experienced as distance.
Let’s take a look at a calendar. It codes time from left to right and top to bottom. We move through the hours of the day and days of the week and month just like we read a book… if we’re Westerners. What if there was another way to represent time in a calendar? What if you literally had to turn around to see your past and look down to see your present and look forward to see your future? Many people code time in their minds this way.
Let’s take a look at two major structures of time lines.
Through Time: Left to right. A through time line is outside of your body and usually in front of you. It often has the past on one side of your body and the future on the other side. This time line has many pros. You can see at a glance where you’ve been, where you’re going, and where you are right now. One major con of this time line is that sometimes it gives you more information than you need, information overload. Calendars use this time line. A though time line can also be experienced from right to left.
In Time: Back to front. In time lines pass through your body. Often, the past will be behind you and the future will be in front of you. People with an in time line are associated to the “now.” The major pro of this time line is that you tend to be focused in the present moment. You’re not paying much attention to the future or the past. This time line is perfect for peak performance states. The cons of this time line is that you can easily lose track of the big picture, where you’re going and where you’ve been.
It’s important to understand that time lines are choices, although many people tend to use one predominantly. If you haven’t discovered your own time line, then it has been an unconscious choice. The point of the following exercise is to uncover your time line and give you a conscious choice of which time line to use and when.
For example, when you’re planning or doing vision work, it may be useful to spend a couple of minutes “in time” to relax and get into a confident state of being present. Then, as you plan, move your time line to a more accessible “through time line.” Of course, your software may do this for you. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that your personal time line is flexible enough to follow the lay out. I believe this is why some people have such “a hard time” warming up to the idea of setting goals or making plans. Their habitual time line is extremely static and strongly reacts against the flexibility of using a different time line.
Eliciting Your Time Line
- Choose Examples of Past/Present/Future
Pick some trivial, everyday behavior that you have done in the past, you do now, and you’ll continue to do in the future. Examples: brushing teeth, eating breakfast, taking a shower. Think about doing this behavior five years ago, one year ago, one week ago, right now, one week in the future, one year in the future, five years in the future. Imagine all of this simultaneously.
- Notice the Location
Where in your personal space do you imagine each of these events? Next, get a sense of where the remainder of your time line is. Let the rest of your past, present, and future fill in where it belongs, making a continuous (but not usually straight) line from birth to the present.
- Notice Your Other Submodality Codings for Time
Notice the differences between past and future. Notice the submodality differences between recent past and long ago past (color, size, etc.). Do the same for your future. Check the “kinks” in your time line, or changes that gives one portion of your time line more or less visibility and impact.
- Trade Time Lines
First carefully notice your own time line arrangement so you can go back to it when you are done. Now “step in” to a different way of coding time, perhaps someone else’s. Notice how your state is different. Take this with you through several major contexts in your life, noticing what it is like. What does this time line arrangement make difficult for you? Are any of your beliefs automatically different with this new time line? “Try on” other people’s time lines to notice state, beliefs, advantages and disadvantages.
There is no ideal time line. Each way of coding time will have advantages and disadvantages. With a little experience you can predict them in the moment. Find your own best arrangement, and shift how you arrange time in different contexts.
Remember, when you do timeline work, it is important to make any changes with respect to your outcomes. Ask yourself what you want to achieve by changing your timeline. Having different ways of coding time in different contexts gives you more flexibility.