Chronoception: The Role of "Flow" in Time Dilation

Steven Kotler is the author of "The Rise of Superman" an amazing book chronicling the essential role of the "flow" state for advances in human performance. He and I spoke at length last week about his work and the role of the "flow" state in time dilation. Take a listen to a few of the world's top athletes describe the impact of flow on time perception or "chronoception".

https://youtu.be/sgDfYzG6Uyg

There are 86,400 ticks of the clock. Every single day...

Are you "Killing Time?" or "Making Time?"

“The most dangerous aspect of the comfort zone is that it seems to affect our hearing. The more comfortable we are, the more oblivious we become to the sound of the ticking clock. Because there will always seem to be so much time ahead of us, we unwittingly squander the present moment. We use it for entertaining ourselves rather than for preparing ourselves...

Each of us must pause frequently to remind ourselves that the clock is ticking. The same clock that began to tick from the moment we drew our first breath will also someday cease.”

—Jim Rohn, "The Five Major Keys to the Life Puzzle"


You Believe the “The Earth is Flat” and Don’t Even Know It…

The earth is flat…. Right? You say "no," stat, because you know better than that. Because you've been taught that Columbus sailed the ocean blue and Magellan went around it too: mastering the complex blue fractal of earth's winds, clouds and tides about 500 years ago proved this view to be true. 

You also know and can see the obvious evidence available to your senses: the fact that the other visible celestial bodies - like the moon and Venus - transit from full circles to crescent shapes regularly, clear markings of the lighting on their surfaces prescribing a sphere. Or there's the simple and obvious observation that, when you climb up high, you can't see the "end of the world" and instead objects (like ships) disappear over the horizon, indicating, yet again, a curvature to the earth and hence the (now) obvious "truth" that the earth is NOT flat.

Yet…yet, until recently a majority of the world believed that the earth was flat. Until Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle began describing the earth as a sphere, no one challenged this conventional belief, and as late as the 17th century the notion had not yet penetrated mainland China. These sophisticated cultures built the pyramids and the Hagia Sophia, and invented Algebra, Trigonometry and the keystone. Yet these geniuses ignored obvious evidence, surrounding them day in and day out, and instead followed the simple, logical, yet completely farcical explanation that the earth was flat. 

Right now, around the globe, all of modern culture is subscribing to the same kind of fallacy and one perhaps even more obvious. This error is pervasive at all levels, ages, regions and demographics, and its limitations on society are far more significant than those of the flat earth belief system. Despite ample evidence to the contrary, nearly every human being on the planet believes in the equivalent of "the earth is flat". This belief is limiting exploration, creativity and the possibility of future eventualities in the exact same way - but even more dramatically. Let's compare and contrast:

The earth is not flat
The earth is not flat
The earth is not flat

There is no such thing as linear time
There is no such thing as linear time
There is no such thing as linear time

The way we experience time is anything but linear and chronological. Hourly, daily, monthly, annually we experience seemingly odd yet natural fluctuations of experiential time. But we confabulate reasons to justify our experiences according to a view of chronological time that is the logical equivalent of the "earth is flat."  "Wow, our kids grow up so fast." "The summers keep getting shorter." “Where did the years go?” "That (3 hour meeting) lasted forever." "That (3 hour) dinner with a close friend was over in a second." “This day lasted forever.” “This day was over in a flash.” “The days are long, but the years are short.” “Was that really a decade ago? Seems like yesterday.” “That was last week but it seems like forever ago.”

Here's some quick facts. Our brains, which regulate our perception of time, don't have a central clock. More accurately there are a whole bunch of clocks that regulate our cognitive perception of time. Absent corrective action our brains will start to constrict the flow of time through our brains, and like water through a garden hose, will cause the perception of time to accelerate - just like putting your thumb over the end of the hose. 

But here is the good news. This is all cognitive bias - all cognitive error. Its just not true. It's not "real" any more than the perception that the earth was flat was real. If our brains have a cognitive bias around the process of experiencing time, then we can design a way to circumnavigate this bias and slow, stop and even reverse the acceleration of time. I am proud and happy to say that my life's mission, my passion, and every ounce of my intellectual and physical energy for the last 15 years has been devoted to doing exactly this, to going "counterclockwise" fighting time and that I've discovered ways to slow, stop and reverse the acceleration of time and “really live” almost forever. 

I'm working on the book now - "©ounter©lockWise: Unwinding Cognitive Time" (thank you Tom Stat for the title and logo) but for now I will be posting regularly on what I've discovered over the past 15 years of research, exploring and experimenting with the “physics” of cognitive time. Please go to the Welcome page and subscribe to receive email updates to the blog or weekly summaries. Watch for my upcoming webinars, and join me in person for our upcoming Summit on Resiliency (September 17). 

ents.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?llr=bzfz4usab&oeidk=a07eatrgdm58dd9ace1

Have you experienced time in a way that was not linear, not chronological?  Please share it below.

Tickets Still Available: Four Movements in Time - Tonight, 7pm, Chicago: 1335 S. Michigan Avenue

Please join us if you are in chicagoland: http://www.pianofortefoundation.org/concert/four-movements-in-time

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Four Movements in Time: An Experience in Synaesthesia, 7pm - March 28th, Chicago

A week from Saturday we are aiming to confuse the senses and hijack your perception of time through an experimental fusion of art, music, poetry, talk and dance. I hope you will consider joining us. Tickets are available here: Four Movements in Time

Here is the the Program, Music, and Performers:

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Four Movements in Time: Syncopated sharing of Poetry, Dance, Music, and Talk centered around the non-linear nature of experiential time

Why is time accelerating? Why did summers as children seem so much longer than they do as adults? Is there any way to design our lives to reverse these trends and instead slow and expand time?

Through a syncopated intersection of art, music, poetry, dance, and a TED talk on the cognitive biases that result in the non-linear processing of time, Ani Gogova (concert pianist), Tess Collins (modern dancer), and John K. Coyle (TED speaker, lyricist) will touch the audience’s senses to demonstrate the three rules that govern "experiential time" and share ways to slow the ticking of the clock to bring back summers as expansive as those when we were children so we can "really live" longer. Art in the room by Karolina Kowalczyk reflects this nostalgia and loss of childhood.

The PerformersJohn_Coyle - no logo

John K. Coyle (talk/poetry) is an horologist, Stanford d.school grad, SVP and Professor of Innovation, Olympic Silver Medalist, NBC commentator/analyst, writer and speaker. As a TEDx presenter and founder of The Art of Really Living movement, John has received rave reviews for his presentations.  His passions lie in the areas of innovation, strengths development, and an obsession with the cognitive bias on how we as humans experience time.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 10.40.50 PMAni Gogova (piano) is an award-winning Bulgarian-American pianist who appears in over 40 performances each season throughout Europe and North America, including broadcasts on NPR, WBEZ, TEDx Talks, and WFMT Chicago. Her work has gathered critical acclaim around the globe and been selected as a top recommendation by Time Out Chicago Magazine and the Chicago Tribune. Gogova holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and she served as a Professor at the world-renowned Music Conservatory of the Chicago College of Performing Arts, Roosevelt University.

Tess ColliScreen Shot 2015-03-17 at 10.32.04 PMns (dance) graduated from Columbia with a degree in dance, then traveled overseas to further study and receive her yoga teacher training. She's continually creating and performing movement-based work in collaboration with other artists, and as an instructor of various styles. Her curiosity and playfulness on the mind/body/spirit continuum form the base of her movement exploration in choreographic choices and teaching.

karolina2.jptKarolina Kowalczyk (art) was born in Raba Wyzna, Poland and has lived in Chicago for the past 20 years. She received a BFA in Illustration from the American Academy of Art and currently works at The Art Institute of Chicago. Her meticulous way of working with paper cut-outs is inspired by her childhood love of stickers and wycinanki (Polish paper art).  The pieces are created from many independently drawn elements on paper that are carefully arranged and built up in layers.

Her work is inspired by nostalgia, trauma, loss and childhood and has been featured in shows in Chicago, Michigan and Minnesota. Sample art:

Shame Revisited Close Up 3

Growing Down

Nostalgia One

Shame Revisited

Everyone Dies, Not Everyone Really Lives

Everyone Dies, Not Everyone Really Lives. What is a Really Living Moment?

At the heart of The Art of Really Living is the notion of a “really living moment” and its extreme, the “event horizon moment.” This blog post is an attempt to explain, “what does that mean and why does it matter?”

A “really living moment,” is simply this: any event, activity, moment in time, or memory that leaves a lasting impression – creates a “dent” in your perceptive memory that expands your sense of time in the temporal past. Perhaps it is easier to describe the opposite: the inverse of really living moments are the mundane hours, days and weeks of the routine – of life on “autopilot,” where these same days and weeks disappear in memory and leave swaths of time unaccounted for. In these cases it is as though you never really lived at all. From my experience, and from the research on cognitive perceptions on time, here are a few descriptions of time expanding “really living” moments.

    1. Uniqueness: Eye opening unique experiences that take you well beyond your current experiences: Examples: entering a convent in Greece during vespers, walking the markets in Beijing the first time, trying Pace (sheeps brain stew) in Albania, viewing the birth of your first child.
    2. Beauty: experiences (be they aural, visual, tactile, gustatory or olifactory). Examples: standing atop a karst in Thailand as the sun sets, the smell of jasmine in the evening, the last bite of a plate of Vietnamise lemon grass chicken, the first glimpse of the emerald waters and white sand of perfect Caribbean beach, hearing a line of poetry that resonates with you.
    3. Physical Intensity (adrenaline) intense physical activities – often with some risk associated. Examples: the last lap of a criterium bike race fraught with possibility (and crashes), skiing the steepest chutes in Colorado or Utah, completing a 500 lb. one-legged squat from lower than 90 degrees while leaning over at 72 degrees balanced on a 1mm wide 18 inch blade, traveling 31mph directly at a wall on ice (short track speedskating), eating a trinidad moruga scorpion pepper, splashing into the 34 degree Black Sea with friends.
    4. Emotional Intensity (love, desire, fear) intense emotional connections – often with some fear or risk associated. Examples: watching your daughter put her heart into a close basketball game, the first kiss, falling in love, the first “I love you,” exposing your true feelings about something important to someone close to you, the perfect father's day of "really living" adventures with your daughter.
    5. Flow State: strengths-centered activity relying on the myelinated circuits in your brain. These activities are recorded with a high speed camera – time disappears in the present but our brains record more data, more memories. More memories = more time. Examples: any activity (sport, hobby, relationship, music, etc.) that transports you into the hyperfocused state of flow. For me it is bicycle racing, skiing, exploring, writing, music, traveling, deep conversations with people smarter than me, creative dialog and wordplay.

These elements are all “stackable” meaning that they can all take place simultaneously. Occasionally when this happens, time itself can feel like it stands still and “event horizon moments” are born. Rather than a dent in your memory, it is an expansive experience that actually creates a sense of time from nothing. Often these moments have aspects of both positive and negative emotions associated with them. Eugene O’Kelley described it best in his great book Chasing Daylight where he described these wonderful / terrible moments when he had to say goodbye to loved ones – forever – due to brain cancer, but in so doing, created “perfect moments where time stopped.” Event Horizon moments are rare, they are intense, but they are made of life itself: of love, fear and the act of creation.

What are your “really living” moments made out of?Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 9.39.26 AM

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Arrival in Vlore - the emerald sea

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the one picture I waited the whole trip for: the Black Sea Plunge

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A day of "really living"

How To Maximize the Non-Linear Nature of Experiential Time and Live (almost) Forever

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNhyOYv2ejw[/embed] Are you Killing Time or Making Time? This is my life's passion, please comment and let me know your thoughts.

-John

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A Perspective on Time and Speed: Guest Post from Tom Stat

Tom is a great friend, colleague and former partner at IDEO in Chicago and an horologist in his own right. A few end-of-the-year thoughts from Tom: ---------

As the Earth completes its orbit around the Sun, marking what we call one full year, and we somewhat arbitrarily celebrate the beginning of a new year (there’s no start or finish line in our orbit around the sun), I thought I'd try to put all this in perspective.

First, we make up this thing we call "time." Someone once said we did so this so that everything doesn't happen all at once. There is no now, no past and no future. Time exists only as our sensory experience of mass and space. And mass and space depend on distance - where things are, so to speak, in relationship to other objects, how fast you may be moving relatively, etc.

In the vast expanses of the Universe, we are tiny little beings gravitationally stuck to the surface of a tiny little planet, orbiting an average star 93 million miles away. And our star is one of over 200 billion stars in a relatively average galaxy of stars (we call our galaxy the Milky Way because on a very clear night a swath of "milkiness" seems to span the sky - this is us looking at the billions of other stars that make up our galactic disk "edge on"). There are over 100 billion other galaxies in our known Universe. There may be other universes (I suspect they are made up mostly of lost socks, keys, wallets and mittens)

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Despite our isolation, we're moving pretty fast.

The Earth's rotation on its axis (one day) means that you're moving at 1000 mph.
The Earth's rotation around the sun (one year) is at a velocity of 66,000 mph. 
In our galaxy's local neighborhood of stars, our solar system is moving at a out 43,000 mph.
 And our whole galaxy is spinning (one galactic year) and based on our location, we’re moving at about 483,000 mph.

Add all that up and at some point, with respect to some other Galaxy, we're all moving at close to 600,000 miles per hour through space!

Sounds fast, but our galaxy (the Milky Way) is about 100,000 light years in diameter (that’s 587 quadrillion (after a trillion) miles across). So even at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second!) it would take 100,000 years to get to the other side. At a mere 600,000 mph, better pack a lunch.

So, if time seems to sometimes fly by and sometimes stand still, perhaps this is why.

It is Time: To Slow Time, to Expand Time, to Create Time

FullSizeRender I want to climb the ladder of my internal clock

I want to clock the ladder of my internal climb

I want to slow the hands of father time

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And time the slow hands of my fatherhood

I want to kiss my young child’s forehead and wake to find her still a child

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I want to love the loves of my life and live a life that I love

I want to sleep the dreams of heroes and be the hero of my dreams

I accept this kind of life may mean suffering for me

I will choose this suffering rather than let it choose me

It is time to create event horizons where meaning supersedes all

It is time…. to create moments of such gravity where time ceases to exist at all

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For the people we truly love, this one sacred gift we can give

The gift back of time:  It is time… to “really live”

 

"Every man dies, not every man really lives"

"Time" is the most common word in the English Language

It is time. It is time to either get busy dying or get busy really living

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It is time to get dirty, to get sick, to burnout and recover, to fall in love, to have a broken heart, to fall apart and then get back up again

Time to eat a Moruga scorpion pepper without milk.

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Time to get back out there, get back in there,

Time to get off the hedonic treadmill,

Time to unclimb the corporate ladder

I want to climb the ladder of my internal clock

I want to clock the ladder of my internal climb

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I want to slow the hands of father time

And time the slow hands of my fatherhood

Your life is 90% over... when you think it is half done

You think you are half done with life or even less? No, only 10% of your experiential time is left for you to save

You have one foot, a torso, two hands, and a watch in the grave

Be safe, stick with your routine, be comfortable, live “the dream”

and die in a few temporal seconds. Goodnight, you’re dead, end of scene.

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Time Stops When it Speeds Up

Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 9.39.26 AM Physics teaches us the theory of relativity:

In a massive gravitational pull there’s a change in activity

As we accelerate towards the speed of light

That there is an “event horizon” where we lose all sight.

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Time inside stops relative to the outside world

Under the massive forces and compression, time itself is swirled

It’s a slinky on a staircase, a complex blue fractal

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It's a radical rollercoaster, string theory in a cats cradle…

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It is bellows and helixes and event horizons at the ends

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Time stops when it speeds up, it accelerates when it bends

Thinking Fast and Slow: A Paradox We All Know

Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 1.21.02 PM Neuroscientists tell us that the experience of time is relative

And that the drivers behind its flexibility are cognitive

Kahneman calls it, “thinking fast and slow”

Csikszentmihalyi, he calls it Flow.

Regardless, it is a paradox we all know

That when time accelerates in the present, it expands in retro

LOVE = SPEED (of connections)

Friendship (Love) = Talent (Strengths) = Electricity (Speed) Every once in a great while, that magical rare occurrence happens when you sit down with someone and instantly connect, the conversation lights up with electricity and time flies. You look at your watch a half hour later, and realize it has been three hours... Conversely we often sit down with acquaintances or business partners and an hour or two later into a plodding forced conversation realize it has only been 20 minutes.

What's the difference? As it turns out it is sometimes you have a natural talent for people: and that talent is predicated on speed: the speed of the neural connections begin triggered in your interaction. The good news is you can develop a "talent" for just about anyone. The bad news is it can take a lot of time and effort and it all has to do with the science of myelin:

The field of neuroscience is filled daily with new discoveries. One of the most important in recent years is that of myelin – a mysterious substance in the brain that with practice or focus actively wraps itself around select neural circuits with multiple layers. The more practice and the greater the focus, the greater the number of layers of myelin wrapping the circuits. Myelin then acts as an electrical insulator, causing those neural pathways to accelerate their ability to send signals to other parts of the brain by up to 1000 times faster. Myelin is the gray matter of the brain and was previously thought to be “inert” and in many ways it is, but through this act of wrapping axons it is now known to play a major role.

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Here’s where the brain science gets interesting. Myelin exists in the brain in two forms – 1) Naturally accumulated and insulated circuits formed from an early age which are quickly labeled “natural talent” (which may in itself be a combination of genetics and exposure to certain stimuli during childhood) and 2) Myelinated circuits developed and accumulated through “diligent practice” – any repeated activity where the brain’s attention is focused.

Here’s the thing - a myelinated circuit is a myelinated circuit - it doesn’t matter how it is formed, it shows up the same way: as a strength or “talent” - the ability to process and understand a complicated set of inputs at incredibly high speeds. In particular, one common factor of highly myelinated circuits is that they operate at speeds significantly faster than the functioning of the neo cortex or “rational brain” which is where some of the mystique comes from. When we are able to do something without “thinking” we consider it talent, a strength.

Myelin explains many things: it explains how professional baseball players who have watched 1000’s of fastballs can know exactly where a fastball will land by looking at the stitching of the baseball before it ever leaves the pitcher’s hand. It explains how athletes or musicians who practice 10,000 hours or more have the opportunity to hone high-speed circuits that allow them to be predictive of the next move on the field or play notes with such synchronicity that only milliseconds separate them from the average skilled player.

Developing a talent for people: I think Myelin also explains something much more near and dear: the nature of our love affairs and friendships. I believe that the same process of developing a talent for a skill or sport through the accumulation of myelinated circuits exists in the relationships we build with people. Sometimes we have a naturally occurring “talent” for people in the form of pre-myelinated circuits that creates an instant resonance, and sometimes we develop those same circuits over time through “diligent practice,” in this case through repeated exposure to these people in an environment that requires you to learn their ins and outs. Sometimes we light up with electricity when we meet someone new and time flies and we operate at light speed in their presence and sometimes it is the opposite: it starts via a tedious and mind numbing learning process to get to know their ins and outs… BUT eventually, if forced together through circumstance long enough, and intense enough, we reach the very same place – a place of high speed intuitive understanding, friendship, and love. For example:

Diligent Practice --> Friendship. Exhibit A: Steve Shoemaker. Steve is one of my oldest friends and now one of my best friends. Foisted on each other in 9th grade in a carpool arrangement, and finding ourselves attending most of the same classes, we began spending large amounts of time together. Steve and I couldn’t be more different. Steve craves predictability and stability, I’m more of an adventurer and risk taker. Steve’s a bit of a Luddite and likes to tinker and fix old things. I love new technology and when something stops working I sell it or throw it away and buy a new one. Steve is an avid and knowledgeable collector of antiquities and has a house that is like a museum full of dozens if not hundreds of green bank teller lamps, brass portholes, early American oil paintings, and guns amongst other things. I care nothing for things and have collected close to nothing worth keeping except my bikes. Steve travels to the exact same places at the same times of the year and does the exact same routines year over year. I never vacation the same place twice and avoid routine like the plague. Steve’s father was the president and dean of a religious university and Steve is a theology professor at Harvard teaching grad students how to look to the past for universal guidelines about how to live today. I am an innovation consultant and a professor as well, but I teach grad school students how to explore the infinite possibilities of the future based on the innovative capabilities of man.

These days Steve and I get along famously despite our stark differences, but it wasn’t always so: we had to “learn” or “practice” how to get along. Through carpooling, debate, dialogue, arguments and understanding we overcame our differences and found synergy in some of our similarities including a love for speed, love for the outdoors, and intellectual curiosity. We also found a host of complementary benefits from seeing each other’s perspectives. In time we overcame the dissonance of our different approaches to life and now joke about and even admire our “eccentricities.” Said differently: through our brain chemistry, Steve and I have developed a “talent” or strength for each other by wrapping myelinated circuits to weave connections over our years together.

It’s like riding a bike. One of the magical indications of a true strength or talent, is that those talents reside perpetually even when un-activated. Once you know how to ride a bike, you always know how to ride a bike. Myelin sheaths never unwind so as soon as those circuits are reactivated, the skills and speed of the connections resume. I can (and have on occasion) spent nearly a decade without seeing Steve but like all true friendships when we see each other it is as if no time has passed and the conversation picks up without losing a beat. When we are together in the flow of the moment, time does that interesting counterintuitive thing: it both speeds up and slows down. Immersed in the rich present of the conversation time seems to stop, yet at the same time four hour dinners disappear in a flash. Always, though, afterward I’m left with a rich databank of memories and impressions, visual, verbal and emotional: of real, deep conversations about important things. This property – of time speeding by in the present only to expand in the past is another hallmark of these high speed myelinated neural circuits at work. When leveraging our strengths, when in a state of flow it is like we have a high speed camera recording the light, color, and sound.

My friendship with Steve is the “learned” talent gained through “diligent practice” talked about by Daniel Coyle in the “Talent Code,” Geoff Colvin in “Talent is Overrated” and Malcolm Gladwell in “Outliers.” I liken my relationship with Steve to the very successful if unpopular construct of the “arranged marriage.” As it turns out, divorce rates for arranged marriages are lower than traditional marriages. In some sense it makes sense – a matched couple, over time, without high expectations, develops a skill, a talent, a “love” for each other through the development of high speed circuits that allow friendship, partnership, and yes, love to blossom. But..

But… but what about “native talents” – skills from youth as an athlete, musician, singer, dancer, comedian… that seem to exist from childhood. Suddenly one child excels in an area and begins to blossom. Again using construct of myelin what most likely is happening is that certain circuits in the brain were wrapped and accelerated either through genetics or through a form of adjacent practice and suddenly a child finds his or herself with an advantage in some field of life.

These kids, with proper guidance and support go on to become Olympians, play professional sports, become musicians or artists, or become the Bill Gates or Steve Jobs of business. Does a corollary exist with relationships?

You bet – think about that time when you met a great friend or romantic prospect for the first time and talked for hours and hours and “connected” in an electric way – “like you had already known each other.”

I think that we occasionally have a natural “talent” or strength for other human beings and our pre-myelinated circuits begin firing at high speed. These sessions are noted for the following: 1 ) they happen organically and we don’t realize it is happening until.. 2) time suddenly simultaneously slows down and accelerates at the same time (flow), and the interaction starts happening at multiple levels and takes over all other stimulus and 3) at the end there is always moment of looking down at a watch or phone and suddenly realizing that 3, 5, or 7 hours have gone by it is hard to understand how so much time has passed so quickly. With the high speed circuits firing it feels like we are unwinding a river of deja-vus as the rational brain tries to catch up with the flow of the neural interactions.

Natural Talent --> Friendship (faster). Exibit B: I met Matt Dula at work one day in my first “real” job at Omni Tech in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. We talked briefly in the hallway one day and hit it off so well he suggested coming over for a glass of wine that evening. I think it was a Wednesday. We sat down on the chairs on the stoop of his porch around 7pm and talked and drank some wine. The conversation gained speed and momentum and quickly we were making patterns and leaps and finishing each other sentences and each thread of the conversation was woven deeply into a tapestry of shared meaning and understanding. We jumped from literature, travel, philosophy, religion, training, discipline, and relationships… A short time later I looked at my watch in the dark and realized it was 5am. We had talked for 10 hours straight and had to wake up for work in less than 2 hours!

This is the miracle of a native “talent” or strength for another person. Once in a great while a pattern match emerges where high speed pre-myelinated circuits are naturally aligned and interactional dynamics – verbal, non verbal, intonation, content and context – are put into warp speed. These magic connections allow you to jump past all the normal “get to know you” artifice and skip right to meaningful conversations about passions, shared experiences, and vulnerabilities.

I would say half my strong friendships are of the “instant friends” variety and the other half were gained through time and practice. In time they feel very similar – no time passes between meetings, they feature high speed verbal and non-verbal exchanges, a deep intuitive understanding of who they are and what drives them. Interestingly though, NONE of my female love interests ever took the “time and practice” route, which is an interesting note I will explore in a future post.

One thing that is notable about cases of “natural” talent for friendship is that these cases present the possibility for a great deal more drama than that of the “learned” friendships. Steve and I had a series of minor conflicts through the years as we got to know each other, but we never had particularly high expectations of being lifelong friends and also never had any serious conflicts because the stakes were low.

Conversely, the instant connection of my friend Matt and my best friend Kevin who I bonded with instantaneously created a whole different set of dynamics and expectations. When so many circuits are firing at once and everything is high speed and synchronous, a different expectation is created. Suddenly there are a couple of factors and expectations at play, 1) We will be “fast friends” and 2) We (think) we truly understand each other.

Well, despite the synchronicities, no person can truly understand the true depths of another, so when the frissons in the relationships emerge, sudden and unexpected conflicts surface that tend to carry far greater meaning than the depth or length of our relationships would suggest. This pattern gets exponentially more difficult when the dynamic emerges in a male / female relationship with the possibility for love.

Matt and I had years of great connectivity until conflict between our spouses intervened, exacerbating some areas of difference. At that point we ended up going several years without talking. But when Matt showed up for my birthday last summer everything was back 100% full speed. We bonded over chili peppers, gardening, cycling, literature, and deep philosophical musings regarding the nature of man and the meaning of life. It was like “riding a bike.”

Kevin and I also had a series of falling outs in college before we established a true baseline of our friendship that usurped all the minor drama. Like my relationship with Matt, Kevin and I fired on all cylinders and every conversation had multiple layers of nuance. As the poet Laureate at Stanford Kevin was exquisitely gifted verbally and our salvos would span ranges of complex creative conversational calligraphy – emergent patterns of alliteration, consonance, puns and poetry flowing and then ebbing into some frenetic filigree. Sadly Kevin went missing a few years ago after battles with his own internal demons.

I miss you Kevin and look forward to our next bout of wordplay, hypknowcriticism, and “nice nights” when you heal and re-emerge.

In the end I believe all these relationships come down to the same simple word: speed. Speed of understanding. Speed of the intuitive response. Speed of the body language, presence, nuance, leaning in, leaning back, eye contact or thoughtful gaze. It is electricity and 1000 things happen simultaneously in an interaction with someone you love and most of it is captured by the high speed lens of your emotional camera and then reflected through the rational brain for explanation. With the lens of trust gained through longer term exposure, the assumption of positive intent guides intentions and interpretations and the relationships deepen and accelerate further.

LOVE = SPEED (of connections)

Leveraging the base of understanding that myelin gives us of neural circuits, In the next two posts I’ll examine the notion of quitting: specifically when quitting is good, and when it is bad: jobs, activities, sports and relationships:

PT 1: KNOWING WHEN TO QUIT: THE TWO YEAR RULE

PT 2: KNOWING WHEN NOT TO QUIT: THE PROBLEM OF NATURAL TALENTScreen Shot 2014-09-21 at 6.03.47 PM

6. The Inversion of Experiential Time: Example 1

time-travelImagine a job where your sole activity is to enter a series of randomly generated strings of letters, numbers and symbols into a monochrome computer screen. Day after day, hour after hour, minute by minute you task is to sit there reading a string of numbers off an endless stack of papers, typing them slowly, complete with mistakes and backspaces and corrections onto the screen, losing your place almost every time, and then you review and double review for accuracy, before finally pushing “enter,” whereupon the flashing code disappears, and then you type the next 30 – 50 digit letter and number combination. As you can imagine, while performing such a mind numbing repetitive task alone, each hour begins to stretch on for an eternity, each minute expanding, bloating with the boredom, the tedium, the lack of purpose. After a while, the ticking of the second hand on the clock starts to slow, and as your eyes twitch watching it tick, you realize that time has nearly stopped… (This, by the way was my college job – entering the long strings of periodical codes for the thousands of obscure journals into the school computer at Stanford’s Green Library.)

indexContrast this with another scenario. It is a Friday morning and you have just arrived to work full of manic energy. You have a huge list of to-dos for the day, because on that afternoon, after a half day of work you are flying south to the beach, or driving up north, or heading west for vacation. You work for about 5 minutes of experiential time and are horrified to look up and see 2 hours gone. You focus more intently and as you race through your tasks, the hands of time race around the clock. Seemingly 20 minutes after you arrive (but actually 5 hours later) it is time to go and you run for the elevator… Then, perhaps you forget your tickets,  go to the wrong terminal, or your daughter throws up in the security line – (it seems it is always something) but a few hours later, you manage to arrive at the resort or cottage or campsite, explore your room, go for a hike, walk down to the beach, have a cocktail, watch the sunset, have an amazing dinner, take an evening swim, have a great conversation, read a few chapters of a great book – whatever and…yet…somehow the day seems to be over as quickly as the ephemeral and fabled “green flash” of sunset over the water…

Both of these examples include about 12 hours of linear time… But in the perception of the conscious mind (the part that lives in the present), the first scenario initially felt like an eternity and the second initially felt like a fleeting moment in time…

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Now here’s where it gets interesting. Contrast the real-time experience of the ‘eternity’ and ‘fleeting moment’ scenarios with the subsequent memories of those two periods a month or a year later when they have become part of your “temporal past.”

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Odds are good that the 12 hours of the first example (typing numbers & letters) disappears altogether leaving no trace in the software of our brains and hence takes up no actual memory time (in contrast to the “eternity” it was in the present). Is it fair to say that except for its role in enabling the second scenario that that time was lost? There is more to this scenario too - when you include anticipation and planning, experiential time goes through another inversion. More on that soon.

Screen Shot 2013-06-01 at 10.30.56 PM This scenario is simplistic example of The Second Law of Temporal Dynamics: The Law of Inversion. In the next post I will describe the law in detail.

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5. How does the brain process time?

“Time” is the most commonly used noun in the English language. The word fills our descriptions of the past, present and future. That said scientists and neuroscientists don't actually know how neural time works.brain “Despite its importance to behavior and perception, the neural bases of time perception remain shrouded in mystery.” David M. Eagleman1,

It has been known for centuries that the brain imposes biases on the perception of time, and those biases become more pronounced the shorter the period of time that has passed - an interesting wrinkle I will explore further. For now I will introduce four cognitive influencers of time.

1) There are no sensory receptors dedicated to time. The perception of time is distributed amongst various brain functions and assembled in an ad-hoc fashion as required for the task on hand. Therefore the perception of time is subject to multiple biases.

2) Over short intervals, the brain uses as an approximation for the passing of time its own rate of information processing. The greater the rate of data being processed, the more time associated with the event.

3) Emotion strongly influences the perception of the sense of time. The theory of “embodied cognition” suggests that our brains mirror and create empathic states to the people and situations around us and adjust our internal clocks accordingly.

4) Finally, It can be argued that there is no “present” or “future” at all: that all of our experiences are processed through the 15 second window of our short term memory and hence life is lived and experienced through the lens of the “near past”. If how we anticipate future events is different than how we experience them, and if how we experience them is different than how we remember them, then this notion suggests that of the three temporal perspectives, the third (past, memory) is the most important.

These factors combine to create some interesting paradoxes: as the brain assembles various timing measurements to orchestrate an incredibly complex set of physical, mental and emotional activities, significant departures from chronological time emerge. These anachronisms become particularly acute when the brain becomes highly focused on an intellectually challenging and emotionally pleasurable task and even more so if there is an emotional bond with the environment or people incorporated in the task. Csikszentmihalyi would call this "flow" which is often accompanied by a separation from the sensation of time passing. I believe it is possible to design experiences in the future to "really live" in the present, and create a past worth remembering. This is the entire purpose of this blog:

"Plan a future to really live today, and create a yesterday worth remembering"

More to come on that, for now let me re-introduce the Second Law of Temporal Dynamics: The Law of Inversion

The experience of time in the present (experienced time) is often inversely proportional to the experience of time in the past (remembered time). Remembered time governs the overall experience of time.

Next Up: I'll share a pair of stories that show this law more clearly.

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