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08.12.2014 Sharon Spano, Ph.D.

Why Time Matters and Clocks . . . Maybe Not So Much

If you stayed over at the Spano house, you’d undoubtedly be knocked out of bed at midnight by the sound of dozens of clocks chiming twelve. I admittedly have an obsession with clocks. In fact, my husband and I like to collect them. I’m embarrassed to say that, through the years, we've gathered up twenty or more.

We bought our first clock as a Christmas present to one another before we even had furniture. It’s a Howard Miller grandfather clock that has graced our hallway for more years than I care to remember. From California to Florida, in and out of five different homes, this clock has literally stood the test of time. It stands proud and tall as the keeper of our memories.

Our newest edition is a cuckoo clock from the Black Forest in Germany. We were very deliberate in selecting this particular clock from a selection of hundreds in this little old shop off the highway. I just couldn't imagine leaving the countryside without one.

We love this clock because of its joyful sound and because it reminds us of the amazing day we had in the Black Forest. The cuckoo bird offers a soothing sound on the hour, and his “chime” is followed by a melodious song that triggers a series of events beneath the forefront of a low German farmhouse. When the hour strikes, the children move up and down on a seesaw and the water wheel turns. My husband said just yesterday, “I love this clock. I love how it fills the house with music.”

Of the many clocks scattered throughout the house, the cuckoo and the grandfather are the ones to compete at midnight. On the stroke of twelve, the grandfather bellows out a bold, rhythmic sound as if to say, I was here first. The cuckoo clock follows with its soft melodious dance as if to respond, I know, but I’m just as important with all my theatrical parts.

In all my fascination with clocks, however, I've come to realize that they have little to do with how I experience time. Time and clocks are entirely two separate matters. At the end of the day, I can’t blame my clocks on how much time I've wasted, now can I?

Time is an abstract notion that is directly related to our perception. Clocks, however, are concrete objects that may or may not influence our ability to successfully maneuver time.

Clocks are interesting, but I've come to recognize that it’s our perception of time that matters.

Why Your Perception of Time is Important

Someone once told me that people who have issues with time—meaning they are always late for everything—have a spirit of arrogance.

I thought about that for a while, and it made perfect sense. Think about waiting in a doctor’s office for two hours after your scheduled appointment. What he’s really saying is that my time is more important than your time. I can overbook because I’m too important to have open spaces in my schedule. Your time, as the patient, however, is less important. You can wait on me because your time isn't as valuable as mine.

Most of us live out these types of frustration with time on a daily basis. You probably fall into one of two categories. People who are always early and people who are typically late. Rarely do people in these two categories value one another’s perspective on time.

Zimbardo and Boyd (2008) remind us that time is the currency, the foundation, if you will, of our social life and that our attitudes and perception of time have a profound impact on how we live out our experience of the world.

I totally agree.

After thirty years of research, they have identified six different perceptions on time via the ZTPI Inventory. They further contend that moderate attitudes about the past, present, and future, are indicative of better health. I love their work because it points to how our perspectives on time impact our potential for not only health, but happiness as well.

Think about your daily frustrations with self and others as a result of time-related issues, and I’m sure you’ll agree.

I stumbled on their work when we began research for The Emotion of Time and Money Assessment. The point of all research is to stand on the shoulders of giants, and Zimbardo and Boyd are definitely the giants on time.

Of course, I want you to take our assessment on time and money to determine how your perspectives are impacting your potential for a meaningful, prosperous, and productive life. But, I also highly recommend that you take the ZTPI Inventory to determine your perception of time in one of six defined areas:

• Past-negative
• Past-positive
• Present-fatalistic
• Present-hedonistic
• Future
• Transcendental future

My husband and I both took this inventory, and it explained a whole lot about how we live out time in our marriage. We won’t stop picking up an additional clock or two that strikes our fancy, but I've found that it’s just as much fun learning more about how we experience time.

Time is, after all, finite and our most precious commodity.

Zimbardo and Boyd further remind that “time is the water that moves our stream of consciousness . . . it draws boundaries and gives us direction and depth to our lives.”

I love that thought, and I’m committed to developing greater understanding about how I experience time so that I can be more intentional in the use of it.

I encourage you to do the same.

Zimbardo, P. & Boyd, J. (2008). The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life New York: NY: Free Press.

Published by Sharon Spano, Ph.D. August 12, 2014