your mileage may vary

Try This Advice If You’re Terrible at Staying in the Moment

Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

Think about the last time you had no weekend plans — nowhere you needed to be, no nagging errands to do, just a glorious expanse of open immediate future to fill as you pleased. What did you do with it?

Your answer, according to a forthcoming paper in the journal Current Opinion in Psychology, likely depends on your scheduling style. People tend to conceptualize their time in one of two ways: There are “clock-timers,” who mentally divide up the day into hourly chunks, and “event-timers,” who think of the day ahead based on the activities and tasks they have waiting for them. A clock-timer might eat lunch at noon, for example, simply because it’s lunchtime, while an event-timer would eat lunch whenever they get hungry. A clock-timer would stick to the same bedtime each night, while an event-timer would go to bed once they felt they were done with the day, whenever that happened to be. Clock-timers are externally motivated by the passage of time; event-timers are internally motivated by their own desires.

Research has found that each approach has its advantages — clock-timers’ ability to zoom out and think big-picture can make them more creative, for example, while event-timers’ inward focus helps them to be more in touch with their emotions — but one in particular sticks out: Event-timers seem to be significantly better at staying in the moment, a difference that studies have documented in a variety of different contexts: They savor the flavors of their food more. They get more enjoyment out of positive feelings like awe and gratitude. They’re even more easily able to mentally immerse themselves in a yoga class.

Granted, the world itself runs on the clock, and appointments and meetings and deadlines all require us to operate on something other than our own internal sense of when something should be done. Still, if you’re the type who struggles to stay present — if too many of your minutes are punctuated by a million other worries about what you still need to get done — it can be helpful to make a conscious effort, every so often, to shift yourself into more of an event-timer mindset. Try thinking of your day in terms of a to-do list, which keeps the timing of individual tasks open-ended, rather than a calendar, which designates a chunk of time for each one. Or take a break when you feel fatigued, rather than sticking it out to the time you’d designated in your mind as an appropriate stopping point.

Or, at the very least, keep in mind that it doesn’t hurt to become a little more aware of how you’re processing your schedule. It’s always satisfying when you can put a name to a nebulous thing you know about yourself — there’s that click, that flash of recognition, that sudden sense that you now make a little more sense. And it’s useful, too: Recognizing your scheduling style can help you decide when you’re plugging along just fine, and when, for the sake of your stress levels or your overall happiness, it might be in your best interest to try a new way of thinking.

Try This Advice If You’re Terrible at Staying in the Moment