Time rich: slow down time to conquer addiction

Are you time rich? If you are, my hypothesis is–based on lots of science–you have an easier time handling addictive cravings.

While most of us are time poor, it’s easy and fast to reverse. In this article, I’ll prove my hypothesis and how you can get stronger.

“Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.”

– Albert Einstein

time rich Pinterest Pin

(Disclosure: I may be slightly compensated if you purchase items I recommend through links on this page.)

Time rich versus time poor

You have the ability to speed up or slow down time. At least your perception of it.

If you’re time rich, you believe you have enough time to get everything done that matters to you. And if you’re time poor, you believe you don’t have enough. Consequently, you feel rushed, stressed, and a tendency to reject delayed gratification.

But here’s the important thing: unless you have a chaotic, always-on-call life, it doesn’t matter how much time you actually have.

Time is relative. Whether five hours or five minutes, you can expand it and thus reduce stress.

When you feel time poor:

  • your focus, productivity, and ability to lose yourself in the present (highly associated with life satisfaction) are fractioned
  • you’re more likely to purchase material things, as opposed to experiences (which is inversely correlated with happiness and life satisfaction over time)
  • you tend to eat in front of a screen, and eat fast food more often
  • you may experience hypertension, headaches, insomnia, and poor sleep quality, even depression.
  • and of course, your stress builds over time until it needs release

Oppositely, when you feel time rich:

  • you have the time for hobbies or leisure acitivites that give meaning to your life
  • you’re more likely to help others or donate your time (prosocial behaviors reduce stress)
  • you can dismiss out of hand little stressors that might have triggered a relapse
  • you have higher self-regulation (persistence to fight cravings)
  • you more often engage in environmentally-friendly behaviors like saving energy or water, recycling, and consuming organic, locally-grown foods (you’re greener when you’re happier — depression is even inversely correlated with concern for the environement)
"STRESS" with timer and silhouette of woman with hand on forehead

How does this apply to addiction?

It’s possible all reasons for relapse fall under the “stress” heading. And being time poor is one of the West’s greatest stressors. After a certain income, all but the most intrinsically-driven people care more about their time than their money. (Time-saving purchases make people happier than material purchases.)

I theorize, therefore, that slowing down time with your wizard powers can reduce stress in minutes a day and deflect long-term desires to relapse.

So this article is a collection of all the methods I found to do that.

1. Power up!

“…human beings do not seek pleasure and avoid displeasure. What human beings want, whatever the smallest organism wants, is an increase of power…”

– Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power

human statue given life by lightning bolt stretches limbs on Mars

According to Moon & Chen’s research at UC Berkeley, powerful people think they can control time.

Here’s how you can, too. They identified these factors:

  • a higher chair position makes you feel and act like a powerful boss
  • remembering a time when you had power to make a vital decision, for yourself or others, conjured back feelings of power
  • “power posing”: this is a technique popularized by researcher Amy Cuddy. Raise your arms over your head, plant your legs wide apart and feet firmly, and puff your chest up and out.

I’d also suggest straightening your posture. Animals throughout the world do this to assert status and dominance, and it’s feasible humans still have this instinct. Spine straight, shoulders back. Instant power.

In short, when you feel powerful, you perceive you have more control over yourself and your time. Thus making you time rich.

That’s why this is tool #1. Once you establish power, move down this list.

superman, with great posture

2. Breathe better

I go over the science of this (and give lots of exercises) in my free guide: Breathe to Break Bad Habits.

Basically, when you’re stressed, you tend to breathe shallower. So in addition to the posture tip above, I suggest long, slow, deep breaths. And bonus: if your exhale is twice as long as your inhale, this activates your parasympathetic nervous system and initiates the body’s natural calming response. Long story short, it’s due to more oxygen and less nitric oxide.

The body influences the mind. When you breathe deeply, it slows your heart rate, and Heart Rate Variability (HRV) influences resistance to cravings.

Tugade & Fredrickson‘s “broaden-and-build” approach first categorized this. They noted fixation on a singular reward, shallow breathing, and an inability to relax often precede relapses. But these were dependent on a rapid heart rate.

It’s imperative you slow your heart rate to become time rich. My go-to is in for 3, out for 6.

peaceful woman breathes deeply outdoors

3. Mindfulness

The paradox of time is that when you pay attention to it, it expires slower. When you’re absorbed in something, it expires faster.

Donald et al. found that, among a group of 143 university students who followed a mindfulness program just a few minutes a day for 20 days, 3 benefits arose. They became more likely, when living in the present with their stress, to pause and act not on immediate emotion, to rely on their core values when responding, and to be more confident and armored in future stressful encounters.

Even just those few minutes a day, jammed into a hectic schedule, can make you feel time rich. It’s not just the breathing, it’s the focus on sweeping away thoughts.

It’s easy to get started. I recommend:

multicolor silhouette of head with rainbow cloud around it

4. Experience awe

Long ago in my Kintsugi theory, I postulated Awe as a fundamental human experience. I extrapolate it to Meaning, something we can’t live without and strive for above I’d say all else.

Rudd et al., in four studies, found a link between feeling awe and experiencing greater perceived time. It also lowered stress, increased patience, and boosted life satisfaction. Plus it made the participants value experiences over things and increased their desire to volunteer time helping others.

Awe, “the emotion that arises when one encounters something so strikingly vast that it provokes a need to update one’s mental schemas,” is crucial for becoming time rich and giving meaning to your daily struggles.

Here are some ways to experience awe:

  • nature: from majestic hiking trails to observing the fractals in leaves to feeling small in the grand scheme of things to stargazing to videos of the Grand Canyon
  • beautiful music you’ve never heard before
  • religion, when it makes you feel like part of a larger story
  • slowly savoring food, thinking about where it came from
  • hardly breathing and listening to sounds around you (no screens or music)

A caveat, though: while it’s good to savor and be present, think more of the future when a huge craving hits. It’s safer to appeal to your emotional brain than your logical brain when you practice urge surfing.

man, hands on hips, takes a deep breath and stares across lake

5. Be unselfish

Mogilner et al.’s research found that spending just 10 minutes doing something for someone else makes us feel powerful and efficacious, thus expanding time. The study participants who received an hour of free time, in contrast, felt more time poor and about as stressed as when they started.

You don’t have to do anything huge. Heck, go write a thoughtful response to someone’s post on the r/nosurf forum. Be creative and get out of your head.

As the title of that paper goes, “Giving Time Gives You Time.”

6. Try something new

Ever driven part of your regular commute and somewhere along the way wondered “when did I get here?” Habits or routine tasks are familiar grooves in our brain that require less energy. Time contracts, and before you realize it, a lot of it has passed.

It follows, then, that forming new grooves by doing something new, or in a new way, expands time.

(This also partly explains how TikTok keeps people in a time-contracting trance.)

So to be time rich, try something new:

  • a new restaurant / store / fun place
  • a new game or puzzle
  • a new exercise
  • try using your nondominant hand for a chunk of time (safely)
  • see how many steps you can take with your eyes closed without bumping into something or losing your balance (mine is 15)

And so on. The point isn’t necessarily to get out of your comfort zone, just to do something you haven’t before.

This should make time slow down ever so slightly. And that means you’ll make more time for your priorities and goals later in the day. (see next)

goldfish jumping out of water-filled bowl

7. Good habits

The premise of my book Quests: Habit Change for Addicted Warriors is that good habits that appeal to your most deeply-held beliefs, practiced daily even in tiny ways, strengthen your resistance to short- and long-term addictive desires. I condensed 78 scientific papers and 7 paper books, so I know the science is there.

(And my own experience: writing fiction has stopped cravings cold, short- and long-term.)

But it’s hard to focus on fulfilling “side quests” if you’re not time rich.

Socioemotional Selectivity Theory (SST), as popularized by Carstensen et al. in 1999, says that people are most motivated to seek hobbies or knowledge when time feels expansive. (And remember, time is relative. Even with little actual time, you can make it feel longer.)

When you feel time to be expansive, you focus on meeting your psychological needs. This is why when people have too much time, they can soothe boredom or the chaos of emptiness with YouTube or the like. Time rich people build structure.

“…individuals who experience more time affluence apparently report higher subjective well-being in part because they experience more mindfulness and greater satisfaction of their psychological needs.”

– Kasser & Sheldon, Time Affluence as a Path toward Personal Happiness and Ethical Business Practice

When you fill your time with time-wasting fluff, you feel empty inside. (In Scholastic philosophy, this is known as acedia.) But when you fill it with meaningful “work” (hobbies, helping others, something creative), you’re more refreshed. Despite it being “work.”

Deci & Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory also proves this. People experience higher well-being (a buffer against stress) when they feel like they’re choosing their own behaviors, when they feel powerful and competent, and when they feel connected to other people (even spiritually).

It’s also important to do your good habit for the intrinsic motivation, not an external reward; it’s more sustaining. (I go over this more in Quests.)

You break habits by making habits.

Being time rich is about making habits.

boy stares into colorful nature door from bleak grayscale city

Takeaways: becoming time rich

(Jane McGonigal’s book SuperBetter introduced me to this “time rich” field of research. She lists more ways to do this in her book, but I didn’t find them all applicable to addiction recovery. Still, it’s one of my top recommended books for people like us.)

  • Becoming time rich expands the time you have; when you perceive you have enough for yourself, but not too much, you focus on doing things that make you happy and resilient to stress
  • Time poverty adds to stress; being time rich reduces stress; stress is a feasible header under which all relapses happen
  • Being time rich is over time associated with every measure of subjective well-being

Time is not liquid like money. Treasure yours.

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