EPISODE 26: Time, Attention, & Liminal Space

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Other episodes like this one to check out:

#21: The Four Ships: how certain relationships form the foundations of your business

#19: Aligning Your Seasons with Your Work

#11: THREE Phases of Creativity + 1 You're Probably Skipping


Time. It’s a tricky thing. And our relationship to it… well, it’s complicated.

Whenever I ask someone how they’re doing, most of the time they’ll respond with something about how they’re experiencing time: 

“Busy, but pretty good!”

“Ugh… I’m so busy…”

“I’m so busy” is practically an anthem in our world. 

And sometimes I wonder… what are we so busy about?

Welcome to this week’s episode of From Hustle to Hell Yes - I’m your host Emily Carter and…

I’m obsessed with time and how we use it and experience it. 

When does it seem to fly by, when does it slow down? 

Where does that feeling of ‘not enough time’ really come from, and how can we best use this most precious of non-renewable resources?

Ben Franklin famously said, “time is money” - an early hint at the ideas that would coalesce as opportunity cost over 100 years after his death. It’s a concept that now underpins the majority of day-to-day economics. You probably put the idea to use without even noticing you’re doing it: when you do the mental math of weighing two options and the loss or benefit of doing one over the other. 

Stephen Covey said, “The key is in not spending time, but in investing it.”

Time is often referred to in similar ways to money, reinforcing the message that equates our productivity to our self worth.

A question I find myself asking as I gain more clients and become more and more time-committed in my business, and perhaps you’ve asked this too: “How can I best use my time?”

Unpacking this question in particular is the focus of this podcast episode today. Spending your time well can be a tricky tightrope to walk. It’s easier to think about it when instead of weighing pros and cons of the ways we could potentially spend our time, we instead imagine how to have a positive attachment to time. What does that even MEAN though? Time is such an abstract concept and one that can cause what my husband refers to as “think-y pain.”

Our experience of time is linear as well as cyclical. Time is a river, ever flowing in one direction. And yet, there are cycles we continually go through even as time marches on. In many geographical locations, nature has 4 repeating seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall. And during each season, certain things are happening that don’t occur during other times of the year. Linear time is the kind of time that flows like a river - always moving forward, time marches on, we never live in the same moment twice. Cyclical time acknowledges that there are seasons - processes or events that repeat themselves. If you think about your business, you probably have seasons throughout the year where you experience winter, spring, summer, and fall - you integrate those new ideas, then those ideas germinate and you nurture them - you put in the hard work to make them a reality, then you harvest the fruits of your labor, and enter a period of rest. 

The nature of time is both linear and cyclical, and part of cultivating a positive relationship with Time is to notice this nature and work with it instead of against it.

Time is like a slinky - from one angle, you can be looking through the center if the slinky end to end, it’s easy to perceive the cyclical nature in the concentric circles. From the side it’s easy to see the linear nature of time - flowing in a line from end to end, never overlapping. But from an angle you can see both. Just like a slinky that can be stretched of compressed, time also expands and contracts. We can experience time as flying by or slowly passing. We might even experience a kind of timelessness: flow. 

We can choose to value time according to what we can squeeze into a certain timeframe, what you can get out of it and what can get done and dusted, more and faster. We can also choose to value time for the experience of it and being present in the moment.

A more seamless blend these two distinct natures of time can give us control over when we experience states of flow. Flow state, aka “being in the zone,” is the mental space you’re in when you’re fully immersed and focused, fully involved in what you’re doing, and enjoying the process of whatever you’re doing. Being able to more readily drop into that state is #relationship goals in the relationship to time.

Ok, you might be thinking, how do we do that?! 

Our relationship to time is inseparable from our attention. 

So, to cultivate a positive relationship to time requires 3 key ingredients and they’re all related to attention: self awareness, curiosity, and a level comfort with liminal space, the space in between what has just ended, and what will emerge next. 

Whether we are aware of it or not, we are experiencing liminal space all the time - from the pauses between our creative projects to something as regular as our breath: the pause between each inhale and exhale is the liminal space of our breath. In our experience of work-life, liminal space may feel scary. It’s a time of unknowns, when we’ve finished with one thing but the next thing hasn’t yet begun to unfold for us.

We have to learn to lean into these pauses, the liminal spaces. You can’t be fully present unless you pause, unless you allow yourself to sit in the sometimes uncomfortable stillness. Pause to rest, pause to reflect, and pause to integrate. The wonderful think about leaning into pausing is that you don’t have to TRY, all you have to do is allow yourself to pause and be still, and the rest, reflection, and integration will happen naturally - because that’s what happens when we pause.

I was chatting with my 9 year old on the way to school, and I’m not sure how we landed here, but he said to me, “I’m very resilient, Mom.” 

“You ARE resilient! What does that mean, though?” I asked.

“Well, I’m resistant to cold…” he replied (“and to wearing a jacket,” I thought to myself.)

“And I’m not afraid of anything.”

“Hm… so resilience is never feeling cold and never being scared?”

“No, more like I enjoy scary movies - I like that feeling.”

“Oh. So you get excited when you feel a little afraid?”

“Kind of. I just like the company of it. You know, there COULD be something scary, but there also maybe isn’t.”

“You like being in the company of fear?”

“Not fear… the company of possibility. I like being in the company of possibility.” 

Wow. The company of possibility. I can’t think of a single phrase that sums up what it feels like to be in the in between: when you’re in a liminal space, you’re in the company of possibility and this can be an exhilarating experience or a terrifying one, and which way you experience it definitely depends on your resilience. Cultivating ease in the space in between is very much part of building resiliency, and a key ingredient to cultivating a secure attachment to time.

So what does that have to do with time and how we relate to it? Managing our time, spending our time well, not wasting our time… all of these questions are ultimately about our attention. In her amazing book, How to Do Nothing, Jenny Odell discusses the attention economy in-depth and I can’t recommend it enough.  Jenny explains in her book how the Attention Economy treats our attention like a limited resource—a person has only so much of it.

It’s a very noisy world out there. Lots of people giving advice. Lots of ambient noise - cars, construction, everywhere you turn there’s something to distract you. Ads. Email newsletters. Facebook. Insta. iPhones. Politics? There is so much filtering your brain is doing every waking moment. What you are paying attention to, your mind is tending to and using to build the world around you and creating your experience of time.

We might engage the attention economy in small ways, so we think it’s annoying or distracting. In the short term, it can keep us from doing what we want to do. In the long term, it can add up and keep us from living the lives we want to live.

I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but I believe it’s true.

Ignoring the Attention Economy is actively robbing us of our aha moments. It’s stealing our time for rest, reflection, and integration of new ideas in our brains. 

My point here is - the Attention Economy has a huge influence over how we experience time and what we do with it… and it is exhausting our brains AND our bodies. But we can reclaim our attention, and by extension redefine our experience of time. 

The most immediate way to practice reclaiming our attention is to check in with our body more, noticing what it needs, and and then giving it what it needs. This is where our second ingredient to cultivating a positive relationship with time comes in: Curiosity. Curiosity is the desire to know more, the spirit of inquiry, asking the right questions at the right time AND listening to the response. Otto Scharmer, MIT lecturer and cofounder of the Presencing Institute, taught me that Presencing, the blending of presence and sensing, can be used to connect with the source of your highest future possibility and to bring it into the now. Techniques of presencing were specifically developed for navigating the liminal space between the wicked hard problems we’re facing - from climate change to the global mental health crisis - and the development of solutions, but it’s also an incredibly useful tool for navigating ANY liminal space. It’s a way to connect to your inner sources of knowing, to let go of whatever no longer serves you, and to open yourself to whatever is emerging. I highly recommend Otto’s books on Theory U, but I’ll warn you that they’re written in a very academic style that can make for a pretty heavy reading experience. Presencing requires a blend of inquiry as well as deep listening. Curiosity and deep listening are the tools that allow us to see our reality more clearly, without preconceptions and judgments. As a coach, I help my clients gain clarity for navigating their business by using Presencing - using curiosity and deep listening, reflecting back to them and shining a light on the areas that need their attention. 

And that brings me to our last ingredient for cultivating our relationship to time: self awareness. I look at self awareness primarily through the lens of somatic embodiment, a combination of somatic psychology and embodiment practices. 

Somatic psychology is build on 3 main principles: 

  1. The things that happen to us, the events of our lives, impact the physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual self as a whole.
  2. Everything that happens to us must be processed through our sensory systems.
  3. Thoughts occur in the mind but also have physiological impacts on the body. (For example, you might experience stressful thoughts in the body as jaw clenching and tightness in the shoulders.)

Embodiment is a philosophy / theory that’s based on the idea that the mind is integrated into the body’s sensory-motor systems and that cognitive processes are guided by body-based systems. Neuroscience does in fact support this theory: studies indicate that thinking of music, faces, flavors, odors, and other objects actually evokes body-related activity in the brain. (Pulvermuller, 2001) In other words, our physical experience of the world is moderated by the body and the brainguides the body’s interactions. 

Embodiment focuses on 3 types of sensory feedback, each of which can be used to regulate the nervous system:

Exteroception: sensing the world through our 5 senses of taste, smell, touch, hearing, and seeing.

Proprioception: feedback we get from gravity acting on the joints of the body - through dance of through yoga for example.

And Interoception: the experience of the internal body, sensing hunger, thirst, body temperature, pain, tension, etc. 

Through combing in somatic psychology and embodiment, we’re can actually look holistically at our relationship to time and begin to cultivate a more positive relationship with it through the use of feedback from the physical, cognitive, spiritual, and emotional awareness that is always available to us if we put our attention there.

So to summarize what we talked about today:

Cultivating a positive relationship to time requires 3 key ingredients: 

1. self awareness, and the processing of our experience of time through the physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual body. We can use somatic embodiment as a tool for further developing this self awareness.

2, curiosity, we can use the reflective practices of inquiry and deep listening to become more curious about our experience of time


And third, a strong, positive relationship to time requires a level comfort with liminal space, the space in between what has just been completed, and what will emerge next. If you’re someone who’s always saying “I’m too busy!” When an invitation comes your way, consider checking in on what you’re busy about - is everything you’re doing truly needed right now, or might you be feeling anxious about being in the company of possibility?

Keeping busy when we’re in the liminal space only creates the illusion of control. Practice being in the company of possibility and in stillness: our anxiety about what’s next can’t be relieved with busy-ness.

I like think of it like this: The way to escape when you’re stuck in quicksand is NOT to move faster, it’s to lose all the extra crap you’re carrying, to be still, and then to move slowly and deliberately. That’s the essence of what Gestalt Therapy calls the fertile void - aka Liminal Space. It’s where the aha moments happen.

My all-time favorite quote about time comes from JRR Tolkien: 

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” 

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring 

This episode was hard to tackle, my friends, and we’ve only scratched the surface of hoot cultivate the relationship to time! If this episode resonated with you, check out episode 11 on phases of creativity, episode 19 on seasonality of time, and episode 21 on the Four Ships.

As always, I hope you’re finding ways to have more ease, enjoyment, and effectiveness in your business. Until next time - bye for now.