How to get out of the psychological trap of time?

I find that as I get older, I feel like time goes by faster and faster, I feel like the day is over without doing anything, and I always feel that there is not enough time. I remember when I was a child, I stared at the second hand of the clock hanging on the white wall, its sound was “tick–tick-tick…”, just now, I opened Baidu and searched for “Beijing Time”, and saw the seconds go by The frequency is “tick-tack-tick-tick-tick-tat”, is the whole world playing at double speed?

Could it be that the universe is expanding faster, causing time to slow down? Or which country is doing time-dependent large-scale experiments? Or maybe Dior, JOJO’s nemesis, has developed a new double that can control our time?

If the discussion continues according to this line of thinking, it is estimated that the line of fictional novels can be taken.

Back to the topic, in fact, Western philosophers have made two distinctions between time1 :

  • One is the world time, which corresponds to the time in the external objective world;
  • One is the time of self, which corresponds to the subjectively perceived time of self-existence.

Our perception of whether time is fast or slow is essentially the conclusion drawn by comparing our subjectively perceived “self time” with “world time”.

And feeling the passage of time, this process is naturally a psychological feeling, a state of subjective feeling, and it will affect our psychology and behavior.

“The Power of Now” says that time is not only an illusion, but a trap 2 .

The Psychological Trap of Time

We always live in memories of the past and anticipation of the future. The past can give us identity, and the future represents some kind of relief. I pay attention to them uncontrollably, but they are only illusions. And most of our negative emotions are actually closely related to time. for example:

  • “I’m not happy” because “I posted something that made me unhappy before “;
  • “I’m useless” because “I didn’t study hard when I was in school”;
  • “I am anxious” because “the future is full of uncertainty”;
  • “I regret it” because “If only I could have chosen that at some point in the past “;
  • “I am angry” because “someone did a very unreasonable thing just now “;
  • “I’m nervous” because “I’m afraid the show will screw up for a while “.

There are two key factors in the generation of these negative emotions: one is the obvious “time” that I have highlighted. Without time, there is nothing to “think”; the other is the process of “thinking”, which is our “thinking”. thinking”. Our “thinking” uses time to attach various “emotional labels” similar to anxiety, happiness, and anger to the present moment.

When you identify with the mind, you are caught in a time trap

– “The Power of Now”

When you get caught up in negative emotions because of useless fantasies about the past or future, you fall into the psychological trap of time. What makes us more uncomfortable is that thinking will proceed uncontrollably and automatically.

automated thinking

We are always in the inertia of thinking. When we sleep, when we wake up, when we are walking, when we are rotten, when we are working, what I mean by thinking is our thinking, thoughts, judgment of others, judgment of one thing. .

Now, you can stop reading, close your eyes, don’t think about anything, count to 30 seconds before opening, in any position.

… (pretend that you have cooperated)

Think back now, what thoughts floated by in the last 30 seconds? For example, “Why do you want me to close my eyes and think about nothing?”, or “What will this article say next?”

In any case, I think it is very likely that you will have some thoughts in your heart. This is our “mind”, which is sometimes not controlled by our will. The thoughts in my mind are like cars running through my mind endlessly.

“We think all the time, and we don’t realize it. It creates a false self that constantly casts shadows of fear and suffering. This ‘non-stop mental activity’ keeps you from reaching a state of inner peace. “

– “The Power of Now”

The “non-stop thinking activity” here is very mysterious. In fact, in psychology, it has a corresponding word called automation.

Many situations in people’s inner world are dominated by some unconscious, spontaneous and instantaneous processes, which are automatic (Bargh & Chartrand, 1999) 3 .

Stereotypes and exhaustion

The benefit of automated thinking is that our brains save cognitive resources. For example, we can recognize who that person is from the blurred back and walking posture of a person.

But if automation is combined with the psychological mechanism of value judgment, it will produce a process of “labeling”, and it is easy to form the stereotype we often say .

For example, a friend of mine who is in business, after he was tricked into doing business with a few Cantonese people, began to think that Cantonese people were not good at doing business. In fact, there are people who are not credible everywhere. Because of the limited case summary, it is easy to form a stereotype by killing everyone with one shot.

Such an impression cannot be avoided. Because the cases we have been exposed to are ultimately limited, the summarised experience naturally cannot cover all possibilities. It is easy to draw general conclusions.

So, the downside of thinking is that it is often out of our control. Once it is out of control too much, it may cause more serious effects .

There is a word called “exhausted”, which describes exhausting your mind, thinking about something that doesn’t matter. Excessive “exhaustion” can easily lead to mental illness.

Human beings are naturally inclined to receive negative information. If the bad and negative information in the past is “exhausted”, thoughts such as “I am not good enough”, “What should I do in the future”, and “I am very guilty” will be ignored. If you continue to think deeply, it is easy to break the balance of thinking, and it is easy to suffer from heart disease.

For example, if you set yourself a task that could not be completed, and then every day when you check the completion of your task, you will feel very guilty about your past self, and over time, you will have serious self-confidence in yourself. Of course, this is an extreme example. However, in the workplace, the so-called KPIs may not be yourself but your leaders who constantly deny you. Over time, you will also fall into a very negative cycle because of this.

Just like cell division and reproduction in the body is normal, but if the balance of the system is disturbed, negative thoughts can grow freely and spread like cancer cells through constant self-rumination.

Automated thinking summarized through limited experience can easily lead us to fall into the stereotype of partial generalization, and repeated negative automated thinking can also lead to various mental illnesses . Faced with these problems, how should we solve them?

visible darkness

If you’re about to give a public speech to a lot of people, how do you get over nervousness?

When I first hosted a team meeting, I couldn’t help but get nervous. At that time, the young leader in our team was on a business trip, so he temporarily asked me to host it. I am especially afraid that I am not flexible and professional enough, and I am even more afraid that my cowardly appearance will be discovered by other colleagues, and then I will try to make myself not nervous, but the more I am not nervous, the more I will care about myself. All kinds of details, pay attention to whether your articulation, pronunciation, and what you have said are correct, and then your brain goes blank.

What should we do at this time? Soup quality (looking at the essence) gave a method called “performance tension”. Show your nervousness directly to everyone, “I’m so nervous right now! What should I do? Eh… What’s the third point?” At this time, everyone may give you a kind wait. The more you hide it, the more nervous you will be. That simply acted nervously.

When you accept tension completely, or even act nervous, the implicit implication here is that you are not nervous, you are just acting nervous. And the more you try to hide it, the more nervous you are.

Worrying about Luqing being discovered, and worrying about losing face, is constantly worrying about the “future”, constantly checking and criticizing one’s own performance, and constantly denying one’s “past”.

But when you are aware of your nervousness, it is like darkness being seen, and when darkness can be seen, it is no longer darkness.

Yes, it can be eliminated simply by being aware of one’s own automated mental processes.

Mindfulness and Deautomation

The key components of mindfulness are awareness and “seeing.” Once an automated mental process is intervened, it blocks itself. This is also called “de-automation”.

Although the concepts of mindfulness and meditation originated from Buddhism, it has been widely proven in the field of psychology and can significantly improve our information processing, cognition, memory, and emotional regulation.

Through repeated training in mindfulness, we can shift our attention from the past to the present and allow ourselves to realize that current thoughts are just patterns of thought, not accurate, true responses to reality . This process is also known as metacognition4 .

Speaking of which is still very abstract, I share a case of my own.

I am an introverted and sensitive person. When throwing out my own thoughts and needs, if the other party does not catch me as I expected. I would have self-doubt.

I have taken an online course before. I like the teacher very much. Most of the students ask and share in the group, and the teacher will reply. But I posted it several times in a row, but the teacher ignored it. At the time, I thought to myself: Is this teacher having a bad impression of me? Where am I not doing well?

Then I continued to think, or it was not my problem, but I found that not all group messages would be answered by the teacher. In addition to answering questions related to the course, the teacher will also reply to the cases shared by the classmates, and I mainly post some personal opinions. So I wrote out my inner process of being ignored by the teacher, and then posted it in the group. The moment I posted it in the group, I was at peace with myself. In the end, this sharing also got a reply from the teacher, and shared it as a case with students in other groups.

And the process of my reflection also conforms to the four levels of “mindfulness” de-automated response: awareness, maintaining attention, focusing on the present, and accepting without judgment:

  • Awareness : If we have emotional problems, the body will also respond. Awareness can help us overcome the “automatic mental mechanisms” that we have learned from past experiences, such as I am aware of mental processes that I am afraid to ignore.
  • Retention of attention : Because the present moment is not static, on the contrary, the present moment is constantly changing, our attention also needs to be continuously focused on the inner emotional ups and downs, the sensations in our body, and the changing thoughts in our minds.
  • Focus on the present : by perceiving the feelings of the moment, and then sorting out and hypothesizing other possibilities and reasons behind the phenomenon. But don’t get caught up in the emotions of the past and don’t focus on the uncertainty of the future.
  • Acceptance without Judgment : Allow thoughts, consequences, events to pass through your body, imagining yourself as a see-through transparency. Don’t judge them. Even a punitive, painful experience accepts it without changing, without escaping. In the case above, I shared it without emotion, which means I have accepted it.

Mindfulness, metacognition, self-examination, and uplifting thinking are all aimed at making myself realize that “my current thoughts are only temporary and one-sided”, and then I can make further questions based on these temporary and one-sided thoughts, or I You can put aside these thoughts and explore reality.

If I had to give a more grounded suggestion, my answer would be writing. Writing requires you to be aware of automated mental processes and visualize them. Feeling every breath, walking, admiring the roadside scenery, seeing pedestrians, your inner thoughts, whether positive or negative, be aware of them, keep paying attention to them, and record them.

“Live in the moment” VS “Long-term vision”

Writing here, it should be over logically, but I think there are still issues that have not been discussed clearly.

“Don’t recite the past, don’t be afraid of the future, and live in the present.” It sounds like a very correct slogan, but the question is, the past experience has brought us joy and experience in addition to pain. Isn’t the past also valuable? When looking to the future, do you just live in the present? Don’t we need to have a “long-term vision”?

How to deal with the contradiction between “living in the moment” and “long-term planning” ?

This article has written so much, if I must let you take away one sentence, it is: “Thinking” is not the same as “I” .

Mind identification creates a chain of concepts, labels, images, words, judgments, and definitions that block all your true relationships. These things stand between you and yourself, between you and others, between you and nature, between you and God.

– “The Power of Now”

When you write an article and an opinion, it gets rejected. At this point, your instinct may be to defend the view first, because you equate it with yourself.

After an opinion is expressed, it is a process of objective description and argumentation. The same is true of our thought processes, our emotional processes, they are not identical to “I”.

In “Too Many Notes? At the end of My Writing Secret Weapon , I wrote this paragraph:

When we put the concepts in our minds on paper, the pen and paper will start to “think” instead of us. Once the manifested thinking starts to be observed by ourselves, who are we? I think that my self at this time may be closer to “me”. Because “thinking” is not “me”, it is just a tool.

This is why, whenever we are in pain, the effective way to relieve it is to “self-extract”. See the thinking, distressed self as someone else and jump out to find the answer to your question.

So why do we need to sum up the past and plan for the future?

What has worked for us in the past is not self-identity and emotional experience, but intellectual experience and models. We summarize experiences and models, and then use them to make judgments about the future. These are calculated with the mind.

Therefore, “living in the moment” and “long-term planning” are not contradictory. The former is the awareness of the automatic process of thinking, and the latter is the active use of thinking.

Thinking is like a program that runs on its own. If you don’t take the initiative to control it, it will operate on its own. When you are in a state of active thinking, you have a clear purpose. For example, to understand a problem, to explore a thing.

Thinking is just a tool for you to use, and you can examine it from a higher dimension and make it targeted.


The trap of time is that it is an illusion created by the mind that affects our emotions.

The existence of thinking casts a fuzzy film on our world, and we can use any language to generalize and summarize the world in our eyes. But when a majestic mountain, a beautiful cloud, an ancient tree appear before you, you cannot deduce any “essence” of them.

Because only “artificial things” can have “essence” .

​Natural things have no essence, some are just perceived, just like being perceived by a bird or a flower. And when your mind steps in, your perception of the world is blocked.

Pine and cypress symbolize unyielding strength, poplar tree symbolizes stalwart integrity, and willow tree symbolizes selfless dedication. But in the final analysis, the symbol and metaphor of the tree is also an artificial “stereotype”.

In “Thirteen Invitation” 5 , Xu Zhiyuan and Qian Liqun finally walked together in the community park, passing a forest.

Xu Zhiyuan asked Qian Lao: “Which tree is most similar to your inner world spirit?”

Qian Liqun replied: “At this time, don’t worry about these. You are still habitually thinking this way. In fact, it is appreciation, without any knowledge intervention. I just appreciate its color, a natural encounter between individuals and life.”

Now, I feel more deeply about this conversation.

I also hope that you here can often escape the traps of thinking and time, feel the present moment safely, and experience the feeling of being truly alive.

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