Have you noticed how time plays tricks on you? It can whiz by so fast or it plods along incredibly slowly; leaving you bored and restless.
Ironically, time perception doesn’t run like clockwork. It changes and is distorted by situations, emotions and even your age.
I have a memory of sitting next to my grandma telling her how excited I was for Christmas, but how it was taking a really long time to arrive. My Grandma laughed and said, “When you get to my age, you won’t have that problem, time travels very fast for me.” This was a very strange concept for my 8 year old brain.
Time perception is a subjective thing that is studied by psychologists and neuroscientists. For our other senses like touch, taste, smell, sight, etc., we have specialized sensory receptors. But there are no specialized sensory receptors for time.
Why does time travel differently when you have ADHD?
There are 2 big reasons why time travels differently for you.
- Being able to accurately process time is a skill that develops gradually from when we are babies to the age of 10. It involves memory, attention and dopamine. The 3 key elements needed to learn how to process time are also areas that the ADHD brain has problems with.
- Ideally, everyday, our circadian (body) clock resets itself to match the earth’s 24 hour rotation. It uses external cues like daylight, for this reset. However, many ADHDers’ body struggle detecting the rising and setting of the sun; which in turn causes problems for the sleep cycle and understanding the passage of time.
How does time pass when you have ADHD?
One ADHD client described how time passes for him:
“If I look at my watch and it’s 11:00am, then it’s 11:00am until I look again. I might look again in 2 minutes, or 4 hours. But it’s 11:00am until I have actually looked at the watch again to see what the hands are now saying”.
Dr. Hallowell says that to an ADHDer, there are only 2 types of time: NOW or NOT NOW.
Why is it a problem?
10 problems that can occur when your time perception isn’t fine tuned:
- It is hard to motivate yourself to follow a plan when a project isn’t due for 2 months.
- Your final work often doesn’t match your talents, because you have had to rush to complete it in the last few days before the deadline.
- You seriously underestimate the time needed to complete a task.
- You are often late, rushed and flustered when you arrive to meeting or appointment.
- You have developed a reputation as being unreliable, insensitive, or self-centered, even though you are trying really hard.
- You forget to buy presents and cards for your loved ones’ birthday.
- You stress out the people around you, because you are still packing while everyone else is in the car, ready to go to the airport.
- You always think travel time to appointments take less time than it really does.
- You are overly optimistic of how much you can get done in one day, and then get very disappointed with yourself when you aren’t able to get everything done.
- Getting ready in the morning and leaving for work on time is a daily struggle.
Here are some suggestions to help you develop your sense of the passage of time.
1. Wear a watch
Almost every person I meet who struggles with the passage for time, doesn’t wear a watch. Wearing a watch is quite an easy thing to do, but it has big benefits. It helps you develop an understanding of the passage of time, as well as being a visual reminder of what the current time is. Having a watch on your arm makes it pretty easy to notice what time it is, even when you aren’t actively looking. Go buy a watch, and start to wearing it today!
P.S, if you are thinking that you don’t need to get a watch because you can check your phone to see the time, that doesn’t count!
2. Have a clock in every room.
Have a clock in every room including your bathroom. Traditional clocks (with hands) are more helpful than digital. They aren’t an expense investment, yet they can really help you keep track of how time is progressing and help you to be on time for appointments.
3. Use an agenda.
Buy an agenda and enter in all your appointments. Get the format that has the hours of the day for each day. It helps you to get a visual of what your days look like. It also helps you to plan your days realistically.
4. Get a wall calendar.
Get a wall calendar so you can see whole year in a glance. It allows you to see events that are scheduled in the future and how they relate to today’s date. This helps bridge the gap in your mind between ‘Now’ and ‘Not Now’.
5. Have a daily appointment
Develop a habit of looking at your wall calendar and agenda every single morning or evening. This daily appointment with yourself helps you remember exactly what you have planned and if there are any actions you could do today to help you prepare.
6. Play a game.
Play a ‘Guess What Time It Is’ game. At any time you haven’t looked at your watch for while, try to guess what time it is. It is a fun way to see how your time processing muscle is developing.
7. Reset your internal clock.
No matter how topsy turvy your body clock is, you can reset it. Not only will your sleep cycle be in sync with the rest of the world, it will be easier for you to understand how time is passing during the day. In the ‘Sleep Solution: How to Sleep Very Well When You have ADHD,’ I walk you through a simple step-by-step process to reset your body clock. Come and join us!