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Creativity and Distorted Perception of Time

For some people it's a real struggle to be on time to things. As one such person who struggles with this, I wanted to explore why this might be the case. I found my answer. Interestingly enough, people who are chronically late have a distorted perception of time. A study conducted in the 1990's at San Francisco State University, revealed people who are perpetually late tend to be more creative. There's more to it than that though.

Type A vs Type B

If you're familiar at all with Type A vs Type B personality, then you know there are a lot of generalizations made. You categorize people into boxes by oversimplifying personality traits. I always take this with a grain of salt. However when it comes to understanding human behaviors the principle of Type A/ Type B is helpful. You probably know someone who is Type A. Typically they are very competitive, stress prone, need quick results, and have little patience. While Type B people are more relaxed, innovative, and patient. Studies show, Type B people tend to work in more creative fields such as writing, acting, painting etc. Because of their personality and leniency, Type B personalities have a relaxed sense of time and urgency, compared to their Type A counterparts which see timeliness as godliness.


Also people who are chronically late tend to be more optimistic. The reason being, they believe they have more time than they do. They're unrealistically hopeful for positive outcomes. This way of thinking contributes to poor time estimation. Optimists also have a distorted perception of time. Like people with a Type B personality, their internal clock is off. Optimists believe they have more then they actually do to get done specific tasks.

Chronic Tardiness

For people who are always late, it's not necessarily something they intentionally do. Rather it's hardwired into their brain. Whether it's meeting up with a friend, or arriving to work, they're late. Not by choice though. Researchers conducted a study of time perception by asking participants how much time they thought had passed after a timed minute. Results showed Type A people thought around 58 seconds had passed, while Type B people thought around 77 seconds had passed. Yet again proving the distorted perception of time that people with Type B personality experience.

Cultural Perception of Time

The importance of being on time will vary by culture. In North America, Western Europe, and Japan, the business standard is punctuality equals professionalism. Time is money. Being late is seen as unprofessional and uninterested. In these countries, tardiness is not tolerated. But travel to the Middle East, Latin America, or East Europe and relationships are more important than time. That means finishing up a conversation is more important than being on time to a meeting. In some cases, arriving early to a meeting is an insult to the host.

Creativity is Your Flow State

When you're doing something you truly love, it's normal to lose sense of time and reality. It's an immersive experience. You're in your flow state; by this I mean complete and undivided focus on a specific task. In this state, outside stimuli are blocked out. It's myopic. But if you're engaged in a boring activity, suddenly you're very aware of the time... and it's interminable! Interestingly, some scientists suggest that being bored is the best way to invite divergent ideas and creative thinking. The argument for this being, the flow state narrows our focus. Making it harder to indulge in wild and innovative thinking. I would suggest both the flow and the boredom state are necessary parts of the creative process.

Creativity and the Absent Minded

Perhaps you've picked up on the connections between creativity and a distorted perception of time. Have you ever wondered why some of the most brilliant minds are also absent minded? Albert Einstein for example, the man who discovered the mathematical formula to calculate the speed of light, is also famous for being unable to drive himself home. There is a proposed theory that people who are geniuses have greater difficult comprehending small or trivial details. That's because their brain has a difficult time processing things that require little to no thinking. It's a strange concept, but has proven true for many creative minds.

Creativity and Charism

Have you ever heard of charisms? It's defined as a spiritual gift given to you by the Holy Spirit for the church and the world. Your charism could be anything from a beautiful singing voice to a tender heart for the poor. Everyone's charism is different. Most importantly, it's geared towards helping others. By embracing and exercising your charisms, you're glorifying God. Interesting parallels can be drawn between charisms and the flow state of creativity. I would argue this crossroads is your overflow. What do I mean by this? Imagine filling up a glass of water. If you keep pouring, eventually the cup will overflow. The same is true when we're at our natural best. When we're doing things that energize and motivate us (entering into the flow state) that's our overflow. The opposite of overflow is depletion; doing things that exhaust and drain our energy. If you ask me, overflow this the secret sauce to fulfillment.

The Bottom Line

In some cases, people who are chronically late can improve their time perception. This depends on how they're wired and their personality. Optimists have proven to be tardy because of their mindset. The importance of punctuality will vary by culture. Even the greatest geniuses of our times, were absent minded. When you're in the zone with your work, time fades into the background. By combining your charism with your flow state of creativity, you get overflow. You when you're at your natural best. Isn't that the goal?

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