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  • Writer's pictureGreg Graber

Beware of Time Travel

Over the years, movies have spent a lot of time romanticizing the concept of time travel. Some of these films include: Somewhere in Time, Lost in Time, The Planet of the Apes, and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. And who could forget quite arguably the most popular time travel flick of all time, Back to the Future? While the idea of jumping into the DeLorean time machine and zooming to either the past or the future with Marty McFly and Doc Brown may seem appealing, there are inherent dangers to time travel.

If you think about it, we all spend a lot of time traveling through time. Most all of us have had instances when we replay things in our minds that transpired in the past and we wished we could have gone back in time and fixed the outcome of a situation or experience. Or maybe you spend a lot of time daydreaming or worrying about the future. If so, you are not alone. Most of us do. In fact, research shows that our minds wander to the past or the future about 47% of the time we are awake. If you think about it, this statistic is staggering, as our minds are wandering almost half of the time. These frequent time traveling mental projections are not good for us. Don't get me wrong; some mental time travel is necessary. For instance, we need to learn from the past and plan for the future. However, our ability to spend more time in the present moment is where our success and happiness may be found. If we focus on the present moment after we have planned carefully and learned from the past, the future will take care of itself.

Harvard psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert, who did the research that determined our minds wander about half the time we are awake, also found that most of the time when their experiment subjects reported that they were mind wandering, they were not happy, even when they daydreamed of seemingly pleasant experiences. So what does this mean? It means that humans, unlike other animals, are given the ability to make sense out of the past and contemplate the future. This is a wonderful skill to have which enables us to make meaning of our world by reflecting on past experiences and anticipating perceived threats in the future. This is a good thing and a bad thing. On one hand, from an evolutionary perspective, these skills have assured our survival. On the other hand, our inability to mentally let go of the past and future often diminishes our happiness and productivity.

The good news is that there are things we can do to cut down our compulsion to spend too much time in the past or future. This is illustrated in a text message I recently received from Cameron Kinley. Cameron, the starting cornerback for the Naval Academy football team is an outstanding young man who also serves as the Senior Class President. An impressive student and citizen, the Washington Post recently wrote an article about Cameron and his potential White House aspirations entitled Navy Class President Cameron Kinley Eyes Another Presidency. Despite being such an accomplished young man, Cameron, like the rest of us, spent a lot of time mentally time traveling between the past and the future.

His text to me: "Mr. Graber! I had my first collegiate interception. I was able to stay calm and composed throughout the whole game. I owe a lot of that to you. I used the "Faith/Fear" breathing technique from your book before the game, at half time, and many times before I took the field. Thank you."

As we have learned in previous posts, conscious breathing exercises can help us stay focused on the present moment. When we breathe though our nostrils in this manner, it gets more oxygen to the brain. This enables us to stay focused and present. In Cameron’s case, he also used a mantra (“Faith/Fear”) to help his mind stay centered. When we can train our minds to focus on a mantra like this, it cuts down on over-thinking and cluttered thoughts from swirling around in our minds. Essentially, it helps to keep us from time traveling.

Here is the Faith/Fear technique Cameron used:

1. Each time you breathe in, say to yourself the word “Faith,” as if you are breathing in faith.

2. Each time you breathe out, say to yourself “Fear,” as if you are breathing out your fears.

It is two SIMPLE steps. It is easy to do. The hard part is remembering to do it! Just remember to breathe in though your nose and breath out through your mouth.

Another simple but effective technique we can use to keep in the present moment is to make sure our feet and our minds are in “alignment.” I have used this method when working with student athletes, but we all can utilize it. Living in today’s modern society, we have so many external and internal distractions which make take our minds all over the place. If we aren’t careful, a constant state of distraction becomes our norm in this “age of distraction.” As I tell many of the basketball players I work with, get into the habit of aligning your feet and your mind when you find your mind time traveling.

As I say:

When your feet are on the basketball court, make sure your mind is on the basketball court.

When Your feet are in the classroom, make sure your mind is in the classroom.

When your feet are in a social situation, make sure your mind is in the social situation.

Train your mind in this fashion. When you catch your feet and mind aren’t in alignment, don’t get upset. Gently remind yourself to get them in the same place. Do it over and over. It is always a work in progress. If you use this method and constantly work on it, you will see that over time your distractions (mental time travels) will decrease significantly.

As we have seen in movies throughout the years, time travel is always a romantic notion initially. However, complications and difficulties inevitably arrive in the plotlines, and this fantasy usually becomes a nightmare. This often becomes the case with our mental time travel projections as well. The good news is that we can do something about it. Make your destination the present moment. It is the only place where life happens.

Greg Graber, the author of Slow Your Roll- Mindfulness for Fast Times, teaches mindfulness and Social & Emotional (SEL) skills to schools, top sports teams, and various organizations around the world. Graber, a frequent keynote speaker, currently serves as the Director of SEL at Lausanne Collegiate School. He may be contacted through his website:

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