Have you ever noticed that when you get close to the end of something hard, you wish you were at the finish line? I notice this feeling the most in a mountain bike race. It doesn’t matter how long the event is, but when I’m 70% done (or sometimes even before), I start dreaming of the finish line. It also happens during a workout or a project. We start anticipating being done and then wish to be at the finish line. I admit I’ve even done this looking at how long it’ll be before my son’s nap, wishing the time away so I can have a break.
Why do we try to speed up time?
Most of the time, we worked hard to even get to the start line, and then we catch ourselves wishing the time away. I don’t have all the answers, but there are my thoughts. I think that sometimes we wish time away because we are bored, uncomfortable, or thought things would be different. The thing I’ve learned through racing that applies everywhere else in my life is that the uncomfortable moments never last. The patience of wading through them and catching the next wave teaches us that we are resilient. It doesn’t mean you have to enjoy the discomfort, boredom, (insert how you feel and why you might be wishing it away). I used to wish time away, even when I was winning a race because I felt like I had everything to lose and felt vulnerable. How can we savor more moments in life, even when we find ourselves wishing it away?
- The awareness that you are trying to rush time or wish time away is a good place to start
- Ask yourself why you might be wishing time away. When I catch myself wishing time to pass with my son until naptime, it’s because I want a break. When I wish time away at a race, it’s because I either feel vulnerable to something bad happening, I’m bored, or things aren’t going my way and I just want them to be over. What insight can you get from noticing you are wishing time away?
- Ask yourself how you can savor the moment. What joy can you find, if any? How can being present and not wishing it away serve you later?
- Remind yourself “this is what I came for.” When you do an interval workout and you are suffering and just want it to be over, that discomfort is actually what you came for because it’s how you improve. If you are out doing a sport or at the gym, this is what you came for. If you’re a parent, raising children is what you came for. It doesn’t necessarily make it easy, but a simple mindset shift maybe makes you realize that it isn’t going to be perfect or feel good all the time. It shifts you from avoiding discomfort and into a mindset of accepting the discomfort as normal, but also impermanent. Another note is that we often look back fondly, even on hard times. I hear people say some of their favorite times in their lives were when their kids were little or some of when they were in the thick of the hardest (voluntary) challenges they’ve done. We look back fondly at these moments, but sometimes when we are in them, we want to speed up time because we wish things were easier. Savoring the challenges and knowing that later this will also be a moment or moments that you will fondly reminisice is powerful. How will the “future you” feel if you savored the moment?
- There is wisdom in discomfort as long as you aren’t damaging yourself.
- There is a texture of acceptance for what is when you try to savor instead of wish it away.
“Happiness is a butterfly, which, when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”-Nathanial Hawthorne
Do You Say I’ll Be Happy When?
We often assign contentment to the endpoint of a goal. We say things like:
- I’ll be happy when I save $5,000
- I’ll be happy when I lose 10 lbs
- I’ll be happy when I win a race
- I’ll be happy when I go on vacation.
- I’ll be happy when I buy a house.
The first problem is that our happiness in all of these examples is that we place our happiness on an outcome. The second problem with this is that even if you do achieve the outcome, your brain will rapidly recalibrate to a new normal, or if it looks like you aren’t going to achieve your desired outcome, you may lose all motivation.
We’ve all progressed and met goals that we thought would make us happy, but when we get there, it’s often not as amazing as we had hoped or we don’t feel that contentment we were hoping for. In ancient Buddhism, this phenomenon is called the “hungry ghost” where we keep trying to feed our ego, but we never feel full. It’ll never be enough. We also look at other people who have more of whatever it is we are striving to obtain and automatically assign that they are happier than us.
We are on a quest to feel fulfilled, to feel happy, to feel content. But what does that even mean?! Have you ever sat down and tried to define what happiness means to you? Our dictionary defines happiness as showing pleasure or contentment. Aristotle used the word eudaimonia to describe the feeling of happiness. It’s a greek word that translates to human flourishing or blessedness. The word happiness is often considered too vague in research and has been replaced with the term “subjective well-being” instead.
We often hear “focus on the process and fall in love with the process, don’t think about the outcome.” I do love this advice and it’s something I often remind myself to remember. I can personally think of things I’ve achieved where I’d say “I’ll be happy when…” but that happiness is short-lived. Being happy working towards doing something, doing your best, and focusing on daily steps to improve are great ways to feel more fulfilled and find meaning in your life. BUT! There’s an even better way I found to talk about happiness and define happiness.
The Theory of Authentic Happiness: Martin Seligman
Martin Seligman is a pioneer of positive psychology and created a Theory of Authentic Happiness. Look him up if you want to read some of his books. The Theory of Authentic Happiness defines happiness with three elements: positive emotion, engagement, meaning. We need all three. To get deeper: positive emotion is what we feel (pleasure, proud, etc). Engagement is achieving a state of “flow” or concentrated attention. And meaning refers to belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than the self. This way of defining happiness really resonated with me: positive emotion, engagement, and meaning because a lot of them weren’t just an end state or an outcome. We achieve flow or concentrated attention just by being focused on one thing. A deliberate presence- everyone gets there in different ways, but it’s based on action, not the end result of the action. I like meaning as a sense of purpose to help others because again, it’s not specifically outcome-based, but actions you take on a daily basis to give your life meaning. There may be gold stars, podiums, promotions, or more money that might come along the way as a result of these actions, but don’t push happiness to when we get those things and are data points on a trajectory. And positive emotion- well who doesn’t like that! Try to think of times this week when you experience positive emotions and then try to figure out what they were linked to.
For me, positive emotions are often linked to improvement (getting better on a technical section), feeling a sense of joy(like when I spend time with my son or experience a beautiful trail), helping somebody, or being around people that make me feel more loved.
To summarize, I’ve talked about simply being aware of when we wish time away to avoid discomfort, boredom, or some other emotion. There is value in accepting the moment and looking for value in it, especially because the discomfort we are wishing away is often something we signed up for. One caveat is that sometimes we have difficult times in our lives come up that suck and we didn’t sign up for them; really heavy things like death or sickness of a loved one (or ourselves), pandemics, etc. In some of these cases, we won’t know when the finish line will be. We can try to appreciate the here and now while still gently holding onto the idea of a finish line (to maintain hope). We can hope for the future or a result, but also find a way to savor even difficult times or moments, accept what is now, and live in the present a little bit more. That doesn’t mean ignoring all the negative emotions either.
Next, I talked about one way to define happiness and how we often will hang out happiness on a future event because we think it will bring us contentment. I shared a theory from positive psychology with how to find contentment and meaning en route to achieving your goals, and pointed out that getting that gold star or achievement might not be as amazing as you originally thought. That isn’t to be a downer- quite the opposite. It’s to show that we can find happiness and joy in our daily actions instead of saying, “I’ll be happy when…”
If you’re interested in working with me 1:1 to take care of your foundation, I offer health coaching. Contact me to see if I have space on my client roster!