We are slaves to time. We live within time. We schedule according to time. All that we experience, feel, think — all of it happens in time. At the same time, however, the way that we experience time itself is more of an illusion than anything else. The way that we experience time depends on how frequently we experience conscious thoughts.
The more frequently we experience them, the slower time seems to pass by. The less frequently we experience them, the quicker time passes by. This is why when we sleep it feels as if no time has elapsed. The same goes for when we find ourselves focused on physical activities that require less thought and more movement. Because time — at least in the sense that we experience it — greatly depends on us and our thoughts/actions, we can use this knowledge to our benefit.
Have you ever wished that a moment could last forever? Or that the time would pass by faster so that whatever you are doing can come to an end? Most of the time our minds seem to be on a sort of autopilot. We think, but what we think and how we think can often at times seem out of our control. What we can do, however, is learn to control our thoughts, controlling what we think about, how often we think about it, and if we would so choose, think about something else. It seems easy — I know.
But how many times have you found yourself worrying, stressing or panicking? How many times have you felt down or depressed? All the things that you feel on an emotional level is a result of your thoughts and perception. Changing your perception, although it can be done, is difficult because it often involves some sort of epiphany or realization. Changing your thought process, on the other hand, is much easier and brings the same desired result.
I once had a friend who went through a very bad breakup. She thought that the person she was dating was her soul mate — that person ended up breaking her heart. Like us, she had a difficult time ‘forgetting’ about her now ex-boyfriend; the truth was that she couldn’t stop thinking about him. What did she do? She kept her mind busy with other things — physical activities to be specific — that allowed her to remove the guy from her thoughts.
Of course, thoughts like these often prove to be very persistent, but with enough redirection of her thoughts she was able to get over her ex completely. Had she allowed herself to dwell upon thoughts of him and their past then she would have likely never been able to let go of him.
That’s what it’s all about: redirection. You may not be able to stop your thoughts from ‘happening’ — although with enough meditation it is possible to a certain extent — but you can redirect them. Thoughts are like flowing rivers. You may not be able to stop them from flowing, but you can redirect their path to your benefit. Maybe you haven’t just broken up with a once loved one. But surely you experience thoughts from time to time that you wish you could block out. Instead of trying to block thoughts — because by trying to do so you are focusing on the thought itself — you have to deter yourself from that line of thinking by substituting other conscious thinking.
This is why people take on hobbies or focus on their work when they feel that they need to clear their heads a bit. Physical activities often work best because they require in-the-moment thinking that doesn’t allow for anything but concentration. Puzzles are great — not necessarily having to be the cardboard kind. So are sports, games (why do you think video games are so popular among 30-year-olds?), movies, books, anything really as long as it allows you to focus on the present and not on the past or future.
We can redirect our thoughts in order to trick the system into thinking that our problems have dissipated. Sometimes issues can’t be resolved immediately — especially if they involve other people or the things that we do on a regular basis, like work.
If you can learn to redirect your thoughts instead of dwelling on them when they arouse an unpleasant emotional response then you will be — dare I say — happier. Those things that make us unhappiest have a tendency of weighing down on us throughout our days. Maybe you have a sick family member, maybe you hate your job, maybe you found out that you have a tumor — whatever the case, if there is nothing that you can do about it then you shouldn’t think about it. Even if you have problems that you believe to be fixable, you still shouldn’t allow the related thoughts to bring you down emotionally. The fact is that human beings function better when happier.
We are more outgoing, we are more attentive and intuitive, we are more willing to work and put in the necessary hours to get things done. If we have problems that we can fix, giving ourselves room to breathe without those thoughts will allow us to be more productive when we do decide to address the matter. If we have issues that are actually out of our control — of which few exist — then we can use redirection to make our existence more pleasant.