October 3, 2017 by Dymphna

Truth Bomb Tuesday: Daylight saving is proof that time is ‘unnatural’

Why is daylight savings so hard to get our head around?

We don’t have daylight savings in Queensland. But I do enough business around the country to see people get thrown by it every time it kicks in. I get thrown by the changeover every time myself.

And seriously, it’s every year.

You’d think after this long we would have it figured out by now. But nope. Every year we spend the first few days just trying to get our heads around it.

So we wind the clocks forward, does that mean it’s earlier or later?

No no, we spring forward in spring.

But does that mean we spring forward in the day, or do the clocks spring forward and it gets later?

I have a variant of this conversation every year.

These days our phones just update, wherever I happen to be, and we don’t have to think about it so much. But I still find it interesting the way my head sort of short-circuits in confusion when I try to back it out from first principles.

It’s like I try to get my head around why the days are getting later, and whether that meant our clocks went forward or back, and I realise that the way we divide the day up into hours is totally arbitrary.

It’s not real. It’s not part of the natural world. It’s just something we made up.

It was something we did that was very clever, but our inability to get our heads around it now means that the human mind isn’t really designed to think about time.

(I guess time is a pretty recent addition to the human story.)

But if I say that – time is an arbitrary human concept – it’s obvious. People say, of course it is. We all know that.

But we don’t live that way. We live like it is real. We live like it is one of the coordinating gears of the cosmos.

Because it just seems that way.

The bus arrives at 7.42am every day, give or take a few minutes. We arrive out the front of work at 8.20. Between 8.30 and 9 everyone starts rolling in and beginning the work day. At 12.30 we go out for lunch.

And at 5.37p.m, there’s a bus that takes us home.

Time coordinates human activity – it’s one of the great technological leaps – up there with fire and wheels.

It’s a human construct, but when you’re living inside of it, it’s easy to think that it’s real – that it’s a natural phenomenon, like the seasons.

(Until daylight savings comes along and throws everything off.)

But it’s just a clever way that humans have built rhythm into their life. Hours mark the tempo of our days the way the holidays like Christmas and Easter mark the rhythm of the year.

And there’s a power in rhythm that’s worth tuning into.

One theory is that humans evolved with a sense of rhythm in order to make certain movements easier.

Like walking and running. If you had to consciously consider each step, and then consciously engage with the length and pace of each stride, running would be an almost impossibly complex task – or at least very draining on your mental resources.

But then there’s rhythm. Mostly running and walking is about dropping into a rhythm, and it’s the rhythm that regulates your stride, and means that you can be thinking all manner of pretty thoughts while you’re out there on your evening stroll.

It’s your rhythm that gives you your cues. It’s time to lift you left foot now. Time to transfer your weight. Time put your foot back down.

Life’s rhythms play a similar role in your life, I think,

Christmas is time to wipe the slate clean – set your trajectory for the year ahead. Your birthday marks another year and another point to take stock. School holidays, the footy finals, the summer cricket matches, they all have their meaning.

Over time, these events become part of our rhythm, and the associated clues – to stop and reflect, to slow down and relax, or to focus and get stuff done – they begin to become instinctual.

This process is happening whether we like it or not. The only question is whether we engage with it consciously or not.

It’s one thing I encourage my students to do is to get regular with their goal-setting disciplines. Set a regular time every week to check in with them properly, set a time every month to check your progress, set a time every year to review the goals themselves.

Turn your momentum towards your goals into a rhythm. Turn it into something that comes as easily as instinct.

In time they’ll stop being a chore. They become an effortless addition to your life – as effortless as walking around the block.

This is the ideal. This is the ‘free energy’ we’re looking to tap.

Time is an unnatural concept. But humans are geared for rhythm.

Time to use it to your advantage.

What rhythms and patterns have you deliberately set up in your life? Which of your goals do you check in on regularly?