Tag Archives: time

Cognitive Pearl #095 The Moment & It’s Loving Embrace

Jerusalem cats tale






In my previous post, I suggested that a function of the sensation of the passage of time is part of our pattern recognition abilities. The sensation of time provides a background standard to organize the contents of our lives. We categorize, prioritize, plan, and respond based on the sensed temporal immediacy.

In our work, ‘sensed’ or ‘felt’ time has great relevance. The anxious, overwhelmed client not only experiences a swarm of threats; all of those threats are bearing down on him NOW. For the anxious there is no reprieve of ‘later’. As one of my clients described it, ‘I’ve gotta do everything right the hell now!!’

Similarly, the depressed client, especially when in a dysphoric mood state, is immobilized by regrets anchored in the temporal space of NOW. While clients may describe events in the past tense, their affect and cognition are temporally centered in the present and in the future. A client described his misery as watching ‘reruns of past failures scheduled for the next hundred years’.

In order to feel better our clients must do things that give them pleasure and mastery. Because of its enormous influence on their abilities to plan and do things, our clients’ temporal orientation is vitally important. The good news is that temporal reorientation in the vast majority of circumstances is accomplished easily. Here’s some of the ways which I’ve noticed and which I’ve developed further:

1. The imposition of temporal order through activity scheduling. The mere establishing of appointments has a reorienting effect. Cognitive therapists have long used activity scheduling to extend our efforts to bring the client back to the unpolluted now.

2. Helping the client establish a renewed sense of time through dialogue. The client centered psychotherapies in general, and cognitive therapy in particular, have always advocated ushering the client into the moment. We do this with dysfunctional thought records and with all of the homework assignments that we prescribe.

Most importantly it is our reassuring insistence which compels both client and therapist into the present. Instead of preoccupation in the past, we focus on present symptoms and ways to feel better now. While I acknowledge that past experiences and future risks are part of our work, I often explain to my clients that the best way to heal their lives and help them blossom, is to be rooted in the loving embrace of the present moment. From that secure position they can go back or forward in time and process anew the traumas of the past and fears of the future. 

To be continued!

Cognitive Pearl #094 Which Side Of The Bathroom Door

If your eyes are open






The motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, once remarked that the length of a minute depends on which side of the bathroom door one is. His observation graphically illustrates that time is experienced differently depending on circumstances (such as needing to go potty).

Yet what fascinates me is why we need to keep track of time in the first place. Is it not enough that our physiological functions keep track of time for themselves? Beyond the social convenience of keeping track of time (it’s much easier to plan a meeting when we all arrive at the same moment) and the technological requirements for synchronization, why did nature endow us with the sense of time?

To suggest an answer, at least this cognitive therapist’s perspective, let’s consider the most basic of cognitive skills: pattern recognition and it’s correlate, pattern deviation. Pattern recognition requires the ability to discern. This incredibly important cognitive skill requires a reference point against which observed phenomena are monitored.

This capacity is not uniquely human. My dog can track a wayward ball rolled across the floor and grab it. What makes the human capacity for pattern recognition different however is the enormous demands that we put on ourselves and our environment. While Sleepy’s abilities to track that ball are no doubt a manifestation of his predatory skill set, he has no idea of the subtle and myriad differences that I need to live my human life.

And that’s where the sensation of time comes in.

The sensation of the passage of time provides the background information for us to measure so many of the contents of our crazy, complicated lives. Priorities are set according to their time (temporal) immediacy. Our interaction with the world around us is shaped by the duration of events. Time provides the ‘antihero’ to those wonderful moments of transcendence, moments when time falls away like some unneeded clothing. And when human life is disrupted such as by trauma and misery, time becomes both part of the suffering, and as we’ll read about in the next post, part of the healing.