How do you experience time?

Has it ever occurred to you that we all experience time differently?  Does it really annoy you when people are late or are you chilled checking your emails and ordering another coffee?  Do you get anxious if something over-runs or are you so caught up in the action that you completely forget about the time? Have you had your holiday itinerary planned for weeks or are you just going to wait and see what happens?

NLP tells us that there are two extremes of experiencing time: ‘in-time’ and ‘through-time’ with a whole continuum of behaviours in-between.  None is particularly right or wrong although the impact of our behaviour (on ourselves and others) might sometimes suggest we would benefit from a wider range of options.

Understanding the idiosyncrasies of people who exhibit a strong preference for ‘in-time’ or ‘through-time’ behaviour (indeed knowing where we personally stand on the continuum) can help us to communicate more effectively, adopt more flexibility and to gain new perspectives.

In-time and through-time

Through-time people experience time as more of a linear concept which they move along– it stretches out between the past and the future.  They are good at planning and keeping things on track.

In-time people experience time as something that accompanies them as they move through their life.  They are focussed on what is happening right now, they are more impulsive and able to respond in the moment.

The danger is that until we realise that there are different ways of experiencing time we think that everyone is like us and if they aren’t then they’re wrong!

At a practical level once we realise that there are differences then we can adopt strategies to accommodate other preferences.  In-time people can set alarms on their phone and make use of diaries.  They can remember that the impact of being late on someone who is through-time is distressing and they can stop to send a text rather than ploughing on and being a bit less late!

Through-time people could consider what degree of tolerance around each event can be allowed. They can recognise that in-time people find rigid timekeeping and future planning, to the exclusion of spontaneous activity, equally distressing.

Using time to gain perspective

At another level, however, this in-time, though-time thing impacts on how we organise our memories, understand the present and make decisions about the future.  I also suspect that understanding how we relate to time can help us manage our emotional wellbeing.

Sometimes when we are overwhelmed by a situation or emotion, if we tend to be in-time people, we can forget that life is a process and that nothing lasts forever.  It can be useful to metaphorically stretch time out (in our mind’s eye or on paper), step outside of it and see if we can gain some perspective and additional information.

Alternatively if we have a strong through-time preference it might be helpful to come back to the present, become aware of ourselves in this moment, focus on what is happening right in front of us and engage with what is happening now.  This can bring relief from the pressure of past influences and demands of the future.

Whatever our preference to experiencing time it is an intrinsic part of who we are.  Knowing where we prefer to be on the in-time/through-time continuum enables us to respond more effectively to situations, to other people and also to our own personal experiences and emotions.  It is a concept that is well worth exploring either right now or you could schedule it in later – which ever you prefer!