Why We Ask "Where Did the Time Go?" Every New Year

It's hard to believe that we are less than two weeks away from the New Year. I remember when I was a child, time didn't seem to pass by this quickly. Sometimes it felt slow as molasses, but now it feels equivalent to the downpours of Niagara Falls. I've been thinking about the illusion of "time" and the "speed" of it that I perceived as a child versus how I perceive as an adult today. There is no doubt that time has been constant. The 60-seconds I have right now is the same 60-seconds I had when I was five years old. The tempo of it hasn't sped up, yet I look back and I ask myself every single year, "Where did the time go?"

On this newfound journey of living my life on my own terms, I'm realizing that I never actually dedicated the energy to mindfully and purposefully transition into a new year. In fact, I think I just simply passed by most years without soulful reflection and contemplation. Sure, I’ve thought about highlight and lowlights of one year and then set New Year's resolutions for the next only to have forgotten about them after about a week or two and never seeing them through. I didn’t meaningfully carry forward from one to the following.

And now, looking at my behavior with a new lens, I see that I naively disrespected my time by filling it with an excess of what generates mere productivity and output and not enough quality. I squandered it away frivolously, checking off the boxes and trying to get to a destination as fast as possible. It's no wonder that time didn't respect me back, and I felt as if it was always slipping through my fingers exponentially faster every year. I wasn’t grateful enough for it, and this may be why I haven't been able to satisfyingly answer the repeated question, "Where did the time go?" I’ve known generally what I accomplished like getting a promotion at work or finishing my Master’s. But I didn’t dive into the details of how I fed my soul and purpose through relationships, spirituality, and mindset. I didn’t set “metrics,” or intentions, to ground myself and to act as benchmarks to measure the quality of my life that resulted in the way I spent my time.

We are reminded of the importance of "quality," countless times, in the different areas of our lives whether it's at the workplace or in our relationships. Think how many times we’ve even quoted, "Quality over quantity." As the world has become overbearingly fast-paced, the meaning of true "quality" has been tampered. In my own experience, I defined "quality" as putting in 110% of hard, sometimes painful, effort at the forefront of anything I do so that I could get ahead and reap the benefits at a later time. While I think that this is the easiest and most common way to make sense of the word, it is at the expense of diminishing the power it has in reframing the way we think of time and how we allocate it to design our lives. 

To understand more concretely, think of this statement which may apply to you or someone you know:

"I'm working really hard now, risking my health, well-being and relationships, but that's okay. I'll win the race at some point and really enjoy life."

What I hear in this statement is that the relationship with time is negligent. It is one that revolves around single-mindedly milking time rather than protecting it and investing in it. In a way, it's like telling time, "Hey, Time! I'm going to spend you like a maniac until I get what I want, even at the detriment of really important things like my health. After I become successful, then we'll think about how to spend you better."

If we thought of time as we would money, with the exception that it isn't fluid and you can’t gain a surplus of it, we might spend it more carefully. Any financially sound person would probably never say, "Hey, Money! I'm going to spend you like a maniac until I get what I want, even at the expense of losing the roof over my head." This is the definition of financial recklessness that can lead to bankruptcy. We can draw a similar parallel to the idea of time, in which reckless expenditure of it could take us down a dangerous road of bankruptcy of our own selves, obliviously living and failing to notice important signs that would have led to a more purpose-driven life.

Another way we can look at time expenditure is through the eyes of children. Besides the stresses and responsibilities that come with being an adult, the key difference between a child and an adult is in the quality of what they fill their time with. Children fill it with fearless purpose, passion, and creativity. They use their imagination, build and rebuild until satisfied, and bring their dreams to life. Time constraints don't dictate their minds and, instead, they fill it with true "quality" of mind and intentions that is unbounded to the notion of productivity and output. The lesson here is that we, too, can weave some of these child-like qualities back into our adulthood. This is also be a fruitful way to look inwardly, reconnect, and revitalize our own sense of self.

With this new thought that time should be seen as an entity to invest in rather than abuse, I'm approaching my time in the New Year differently. I'm giving myself guidelines on where and how I'll invest my energy and respecting the time that I have as every day, hour, minute and second I have is a gift. My biggest goal is to look back on December 31st, 2018 and finally answer the burning question of "Where did the time go?" for the first time in my life with precision, fulfillment, and pride. 

Photo by  STIL  on  Unsplash

Photo by STIL on Unsplash

Here are some tools and exercises I’m using to reclaim my time and energy:

  1. Setting intentions.
    These intentions will be anchors through 2018, and the seeds that will be the driving forces in all that will be done. Draw on past experiences or patterns in behavior to help craft them. They could even be as simple as, “I intend to be kind to myself and others,” as long as it is genuinely what you want and intend to do. Write them down in a journal or even on your notepad on your phone, so you can easily reference them. 
  2. Creating a vision board.
    A vision board is a collage that symbolizes dreams, goals and intentions through imagery and words. Just as life is dynamic, this is a living tool that can and will change and expand over time to align with you. You can even leave space to accept new visions. 
  3. Setting up a journal, planner or even a hybrid, like a bullet journal.
    As much as living freely without time constraints like a child would be ideal, we know that that won't be so easy. Creating space to track how you're spending your time whether it's through journaling, planning in a monthly planner or getting the best of both worlds in a bullet journal, will be helpful in getting a bird's eye view of your time expenditure. Routinely check  in with it, weekly to monthly, so you can make adjustments to your focuses and activities. You may uncover that there are ones that no longer serve you. 
  4. Selecting and committing to a daily ritual.
    A daily ritual can be anything from enforcing a no-screens policy 30-minutes before going to bed, 10-minute meditation, or simply reading 10-pages in a book. Rituals can create a focal point to bring you back to a centeredness, diverting your attention away from daily distractions and reconnecting with yourself.
  5. Choosing accountability partners.
    They say it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to achieve dreams. An accountability partner is someone you trust and who will hold you responsible for the commitments, goals and deadlines you set. On a weekly or bi-weekly basis, you'll touch base with your partner to update them on the progress you've made on your goals. It would be most beneficial to reciprocate the partnership so that you can help each other grow. Plus, the positive, encouraging energy will be contagious, you won’t want to miss out on.