It’s true: we live in a preoccupied age. We have way too much stuff to get done in way too short an amount of time. However, some researchers at Duke have another explanation for feeling harried: some of the things on your to-do list are in conflict with each other, and that makes you feel pressed for time.
A study published in the Journal of Marketing Research identifies a couple of ways to deal with feeling stressed about time conflicts. Like what? Say you want to spend more time with your friends, but also want to train for a marathon. It’s tough to fit it all into one Saturday, so you end up feeling pressed for time when you’re supposed to be relaxing.
Fortunately, researchers have identified two tricks that can help you remove the stress of pursuing two competing goals. In one experiment, researchers had people think about two competing goals. Then they had one group do the following:
“[Please] uncross your arms and legs. Make sure you are sitting in a comfortable up-right position. Now, please breathe so that each complete breath (inhale plus exhale) lasts 11 counts. The inhale should last 5 counts (i.e., 1-2-3-4-5) and the exhale should last 6 counts (6-7-8-9-10-11). Please complete 10 of these 11 count breaths now.”
The other group didn’t get a breathing exercise.
Then, both groups completed a questionnaire that measured their perception of time, rating how much time they felt they had on a scale from one to seven, (from “boundless” to “constricted”). The breathing exercise improved the study volunteer’s perception of how much time they had.
Another experiment involved the technique of reframing, which we’ve actually discussed before. Study participants were once more asked to think of two competing goals. Half were given the following instructions:
“Please read the following statement out loud: “I AM EXCITED!” Repeat the statement three times before moving on to the next page. Try to believe what you are saying.”
The other half stated their name three times instead. The participants then took the same time-perception survey as in the previous experiment, and the group who had to say how excited they were gained a perception of more time available to them than the group who said their names aloud.
On the one hand, we get it: this sounds like some new age nonsense—to put it kindly. On the other hand, there’s an experiment showing that it works, and what do you really have to lose?