What’s your relationship with time?

(Link to the Audio Version of this article is shared at the end.)

The world around us is witnessing a phenomenon it never has before. Among other things getting tested, right at the top could be your relationship with time. As we go ahead in the discussion, you would discover that your relationship with time defines who you are and how it impacts your relationship with the world at a much deeper level.

This relationship has always had implications on how organizations look at their critical Talent, and how leaders create expanded results. (more in this earlier article)

For a couple of weeks now, your experience of time has been receiving a significant shift. A jolt, actually. While disposable time is abundant like never before, it is not creating a sense of overall abundance or fulfillment. Time seems to be not moving. There is uncertainty and every day reveals something unthought of. Whichever part of the world you may be in, you are sharing a common sense of disruption, dissonance, and anxiety with the rest of the world.

While the external forces are playing out, and have compelled us to make drastic lifestyle changes, it is worthwhile to look at some meta-principles from our inner world.

Meta-principles here connote what is happening at a higher level of abstraction than what is immediately comprehensible or usually noticed.

In essence, your relationship with time is your relationship with structuring or programming your time: your hours and your days and your weeks. You experience time in a certain way because you have ended up choosing mechanisms that make you experience time in those particular ways. Since most of the readers would be part of organizations, their time until now has been programmed to a larger degree, than that of say, a villager. Other ways of experiencing time create discomfort. If not addressed, even dis-ease.

Your dissonance is a function of your Structure Hunger. And so is your peace!

The term Structure Hunger is a gift to us from Eric Berne. For those of you who are familiar with him, yes, the same Berne of “Games People Play” fame, who gave us Transactional Analysis(TA)/Parent/Child Ego states among other gems. It is one of his less referred to and even lesser understood constructs even among TA experts and enthusiasts. It is shrouded in the thick forest of other more popular constructs from TA like ego states and transactions.

Berne looks at the question of human existence, needs and motivation from a completely fresh perspective. He called the core needs as hungers and identified two of these. The first is Stroke Hunger. As @Shubham and @Rachana once put it brilliantly, Stroke Hunger is the seat of existence for us.

As a human being, I am constantly checking whether I exist through acknowledgment and feedback from the world. The absence of sufficient strokes is ‘existential angst’ or ‘existential crisis’.

These acknowledgments and feedback are strokes, and they transform from my physical stroking for a baby to progressively more psychological and symbolic ones as I grow. (Think of Rewards and recognition and signaling and tokenism!)

The second core need for human beings is structure hunger which arises from the first one. It is this need that drives us to create strategies to handle our time in ways that we collect the strokes we need. Berne identified 6 primary time structuring mechanisms of fulfilling this hunger, 6 meta-strategies if you please.

The first three, Rituals, Activities, Pastimes, can be simply looked at as how we normally think of them. These can also be extended to workplaces. Think about the workplace you know of and what all resembles these.three.

The fourth mechanism is the most complex and elaborate. It is the dubious villain of “Games People Play.” Games are more complicated patterns of exchanges. Though repetitious, these are predictable to the trained eye, We all know of the recurrent dramas or drama like exchanges in personal and professional lives, which almost always end up in the same heartburn, the same exhaustion and the same lack of fulfillment for all concerned. Sometimes, even knowing these does not give us an exit from them.

The fifth and sixth, actually belong to the two extremes of these meta-strategies to respond to Structure Hunger. These are Withdrawl and Intimacy. You would see that while we intuitively get the sense of what these connote, we also realize the profound depth and layered nature of both.

As I said before, this has implications on how organizations look at their critical Talent, or their leaders create expanded results. Like, if the time spent by teams is absorbed by rituals, which pass off in the name of fruitful activities (meetings!)? Or whether the absence of intimacy with tasks and teams is reflected in the lack of authenticity and inclusion,…in the disconnect with strategy and culture.

You can see how some of these are more reliable meta-strategies of time structuring since the predictability for collecting strokes is higher through them. Then there are others wherein one collects stronger strokes but with lesser predictability. (Can you identify which ones would those be?)

Organisations work with creating more and more of predictability. This automatically leads to abundance of rituals, pastimes and games; and a serious dearth of intimacy and meaningful, productive activities. Eventually, in some serious, unfortunate withdrawals.

At the individual level, the lockdowns and quarantines take away our much relied upon activities, pastimes, and games at the office. Work from home throws us in a tizzy in the absence of this certainty of time structures.

Adding to it is a new intensity of dramatic Games at home. We are all able to identify with Jokes likening home situation as big boss, impending scarcity of divorce lawyers, and sexist memes. That’s the funnier side of all the nerves, tantrums, and outbursts that Games entail.

Dramatic Games are default occurrences in this new mix since Intimacy for such a long duration is exhausting and unsustainable, since pastimes are unfulfilling beyond a point, and since new rituals would take time to set in. There are chores in the name of activities, but we are not used to working without directions, hustling, and pressure. We are doing “stuff,” which is significantly different in quantity and nature. Finally, we don’t know how to do nothing.”

All in all, right now we are groping in this unprecedented situation day after day, to answer the fundamental question about our time structuring hunger:

What do I do with my time now?

How do I fill my hours and days and weeks? What do I do that gives me the same satisfaction which I derived in the structured existence?

It is the absence of your usual reliable time structuring combination over days and weeks which makes it seem like confinement. That is true even if there is no physical reality around it the way it exists right now.

The ability to be able to move between structured-precitable and unstructured-emergent is the biggest indicator of adaptability and resilience.

It is the most critical leadership trait, nay, human virtue! It is at the heart of all of “change management” and all the challenges therein. As the first step, let’s use this opportunity to reflect on it for some time. Share if you can how it’s connecting for you.

In the following posts, we share some recommendations for you to develop this critical trait, leveraging this framework: SpaceEnergy as a winning differentiatorEmotional Battery, and Mental Battery.

Click here to listen to Audio of this article

Also, do feel free to reach out to me for absolutely anything that you would like to talk about. Anything triggered or aggravated by the present times or otherwise. Anytime.

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