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Time Warp: How we perceive time impacts our emotions

Time is a subjective experience. We identify and catalog time differently. When we understand how we are experiencing time, we can change our perception, our emotional charge, and our results.

There are two main ways people experience time: In-Time and Through-Time.

(note: there are some variations on this…more on that at another time).

IN-TIME. Imagine that a line is drawn on the floor to represent your timeline. Now, stand on the line and look down at your feet. You are in the current moment. This is called being In-Time.

When you are “in the zone” or “going with the flow”, you are completely engaged in an activity, unaware of past performance or future expectations. Regret and worry fade away.

When you are In-Time, you will experience time as episodes, with all their richness and complexity. You will feel sensations and emotions fully and ‘lose track of time.’

To be emotionally involved and to create new work, we need to be able to live In-time. However, those who are habitually living In-Time, may not see cause and effect. The connection between different events becomes blurred. Also, when one lives in the moment habitually, they are unaware of time between episodes and may ‘zone out’ when idle. They can develop a dependency on chaos so that something is happening all the time.

THROUGH-TIME. If you drew a line on the floor representing a timeline, to perceive Through-Time you would be standing beside the line and looking at the continuum. For those who were raised reading left-to-right, Through-Time perception often has the past represented on the left side and the future represented on the right side. This viewpoint makes you more objective. You see your past and your future with equal clarity. Common threads and the consequences of actions become apparent. We need to be able to pause and consider the past when deciding how to move forward. Relationships, reputation, and learning new skills are developed Through-Time.

However, those who habitually live with a Through-Time perspective become emotionally detached from events in life. They may have difficulty experiencing the richness of the moment. There may be difficulty in finishing creative projects as they are constantly being pulled to the next thing. If given a bowl of tangerines, they are eating one fruit while peeling the next.

We need to perceive and function both In-Time and Through-Time. Consider the development of a new idea, such as a software system. The project manager, with a Through-Time perspective, creates the timeline. The developers work In-Time on the part of the project that is important that day, solving problems and moving forward.

To change the perception of time, and the emotional charge of an event, we change the viewpoint from In-Time to Through-Time or vice versa. The ability to change time perspective may take practice with the guidance of a good therapist or coach. As a critical component of our emotional system, altering time perception is a skill worth having.

For more information, contact Nancy Cramer at


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