Anna Jelen is an expert on time and a refreshing lateral thinker (see image…). I got to know Anna at a joint workshop a few years ago and I really value her as a person. In the following interview, she explains the different factors that adversely affect our lives nowadays: Anna believes we are too focused on the future and worry too much. Her advice is that we should live more for the present and make a conscious effort to create individual moments that we can enjoy. This helps us to tame our wandering spirit and to make the most of each day.
Claudia Kraaz: Studies have shown that our minds wander for around 50% of the time and we are not focused on the physical here and now. Why is this the case and how can we benefit from changing this?
Anna Jelen: That is true. Interestingly though, this phenomenon differs from culture to culture. In our part of the world, we tend to be excessively ‘future-oriented’. This means that we spend a lot of time contemplating the future – both the immediate and the long-term future. This includes asking ourselves questions such as: “What do I need to prepare for my next meeting?” or “What are we doing at the weekend?”, “How can I organize childcare for next week?”, “Where are we going on holiday this year?” or “How can I make sure we are financially secure when we are older?”
Being ‘future-oriented’ is not a bad thing per se. The question is whether the focus here is more on worries and anxiety – or on motivational thoughts, such as dreams and visions. One type of thought that is very helpful is the following: When I find myself thinking too much about the future (in either a positive or negative sense), e.g. when I tell myself “I want to write a book one day”, then I transform the future into the present by asking myself: “Which steps can I take today to achieve that goal?” In this specific case, the answer may be that I want to write ten lines of text each day.
Forget your fear of missing out
What do you recommend to help us focus our wandering minds on the here and now?
It is helpful to also stop and pause for breath. Do this several times a day. You can start by setting an alarm or by always taking a break at a specific recurring point in time – e.g. when you take a drink or go to the toilet. Simply pay attention to where you are when you take a break. Ask yourself how you feel at that moment in time. You should forget your fear of missing out. It is wonderful to simply lose yourself in the moment, no matter where and when.
I have a personal trigger when I wash my hands and then look at myself in the mirror each time I go to the toilet. I always ask myself the question: “So, Anna – how are you doing?” I then embark on a wonderful internal dialogue and one thing is certain: We are not talking about a little small talk. This is a brutally frank discussion. The benefits of stopping and pausing are that we are not running around non-stop – and missing out on the present.
Listen to your body
You are a fan of rituals. How do they help you to live for the moment – and which simple rituals can help us? Can you give us some concrete examples?
I think that we all need to find out for ourselves which rituals help us. However, I would like to share the following advice: Listen to your body’s internal clock and gear your rituals towards it. For example, I repeatedly hear people say that they like to perform a certain ritual each morning, such as doing yoga. In doing so, they are making time for themselves. That is fine – but what if my inner clock tells me one morning that it wants to do something entirely different? My body perhaps needs some kind of spiritual motivation.
This is why I distinguish between physical and spiritual or intellectual rituals. I decide what I want to do each morning and I ask myself the question: “What type of ritual do I want to start the day with today?” You should try to really listen to your body. Do you want to go to the gym – or would you rather sit on your sofa with a cup of tea and slowly prepare yourself for the day ahead? Or would you like to read a few pages of your book (I usually fall asleep in the evenings without having a chance to read properly)? Or you may prefer to start the day with a few yoga exercises – or opt for a particularly warm or cold shower that morning.
Rituals help us to live for the moment –because we consciously choose to be in that moment. Whenever we decide on a concrete course of action, we assign importance to that topic and are less rapidly distracted. And this is time that we set aside for ourselves: Since we don’t have much time to spare, we want to benefit from this moment – meaning that we immerse ourselves in it more consciously.
Don’t wait for holidays or free time in the evenings
You recommend that we should consciously create moments in life. Why do you consider this important? Which moments do you create in your own life?
When I was 17, I had a near-death experience. As I lay there thinking my time was up, I experienced something amazing: I was shown pictures from my life – one after the other, every second. I then understood that time itself – and our lives in particular – are made up of individual moments.
And I am referring to those very precise moments that were shown to me. Surprisingly, they were not the most spectacular events in my life. Instead, I saw really everyday, almost mundane moments. After that experience, I viewed EVERYDAY LIFE in a very different way. I no longer wanted to wait for the evening, weekend or holiday – I wanted to make something more out of each day.
And since I really don’t know when my life will end, I have started to consider everyday life as a ‘mini-life’. Every day is like a short life in itself, filled with consciously created moments – no matter where I am. I hand out compliments, smile at people, walk slowly to the post office rather than rushing, go to the sauna in the middle of the week, etc. I always try to consciously create moments for myself but also for others, thus making ‘grey everyday life’ a little more colorful. And we shouldn’t forget about the importance of unplanned and unexpected moments. Nowadays, I once again allow more time and space for such moments and consciously do not plan them – I wait to see what happens next.
What would you describe as a good day?
A good day is a day that I have been able to live according to my values – be it in my professional or personal life. In concrete terms, this means that I first need to know which values are important to me. At the moment, I have three key values: love, creativity and adventure. I try to integrate them into my actions and my being every day. In the evening, I often ask myself: Was I able to pass on some love to my fellow human beings today? A few kind words or gestures are often all it takes. I also ask myself: Did I have any opportunities to give free rein to my creativity today? And: Did I manage to incorporate any adventure into my everyday life? If I had the chance to enjoy my ‘almost daily’ ice bath, I would say that I can tick ‘adventure’ off my list for that day.
I think that if the values that are important to you become part of your everyday life, this makes a large contribution towards creating a ‘good day’ – which you can then also describe as fulfilling and meaningful. At the same time, it is important to know that it is not only the good days that count. A ‘bad day’ often helps us to advance further as individuals than a good day. I take them all, good or bad. ☺
Anna Jelen (aged 42) describes herself as typically Swedish-Swiss. She is passionate about time. For as long as she can remember, she has been considering the way people manage their time. Anna has been holding inspiring talks and workshops on this topic in Switzerland and abroad for 15 years. Her motto is: “We only live for a limited amount of time and it would be negligent to ignore that fact.” Her book ‘I have time’ is due to be published shortly. Further information about Anna Jelen is available at: https://anna-jelen.com/.
© Claudia Kraaz