How we spend time shapes our attitudes about whos in charge of our lives

Oct. 1, 1998
I can`t count the times I`ve heard a co-worker or friend say, "I`ve been bad. I haven`t eaten right all week, and it`s been days since I`ve exercised. I feel lousy, and my attitude is a problem."

Mary Martha Stevens, RDH, PhD

I can`t count the times I`ve heard a co-worker or friend say, "I`ve been bad. I haven`t eaten right all week, and it`s been days since I`ve exercised. I feel lousy, and my attitude is a problem."

How we feel physically and emotionally colors our attitude and actions every minute of the day. If feeling bad is a frequent companion, don`t be too hard on yourself - we`ve all been there. Subconsciously, what we really are thinking is, "I don`t have time to get my life under control."

Unfortunately, in order to turn things around, we begin rushing through everything we do. In time, fatigue takes over, and our goals are lost. Mark Twain said it this way: "After we`d lost sight of our goals, we doubled our efforts." When this cycle becomes a habit, we don`t just feel "bad" emotionally, we begin to exhibit physical symptoms of distress as well.

At this point, time has become the enemy and our goals are deadweights that are pulling us down. When we realize that this is happening, we need to remind ourselves that time is a friend that patiently waits to serve us. To get back on track again and get out of the "I am bad" mode, we need to 1) understand the value of time and 2) learn how to use it wisely.

Benjamin Franklin , one of our country`s greatest statesmen and inventors, asked us to think about time in this way: "Doest thou love life? Then do not squander time. Time is the stuff life is made of."

In A Woman`s Guide to Time Management, Alex Mackenzie and Kay Cronkite write that time-wasters are anything that prevents us from achieving our objectives effectively. Time-management seminars and books discuss hundreds of thoughts and actions that cause us to waste time. Their lists include everything from avoiding decisions for fear of unpleasant results to living with too much clutter. But constantly thinking, "I am bad," is the biggest time-waster of all. Such negative thinking consumes energy and creativity - the two things we need most to achieve success in life.

Instead of wasting time living with negative thoughts, we can free up time by incorporating three time-expanding habits into our lives.

First, spend more time reflecting on thoughts that are inspirational and uplifting. Benjamin Franklin frequently is quoted in this context, because his sayings inspire us to succeed. Two of his most famous sayings are:

- "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."

- "God helps those who help themselves."

Reading these axioms keeps us going in the right direction, even in the face of great difficulty. Whether we have committed ourselves to losing 10 pounds or having a more positive outlook at work, filling our minds with meaningful thoughts is the first step toward gaining balance in life.

This exercise in positive mental association applies to our friends and co-workers as well. If someone at work always is negative, don`t get involved with that person. Spending time with those who are upbeat and positive gives us the energy we need to stay on track. Feed the mind well and it will guide us to our true nature, which is strong and wise.

Be patient

Benjamin Franklin`s formal schooling ended early, but his education lasted throughout his lifetime. He once said: "The doors to wisdom are never shut." He read voraciously, taught himself simple algebra, geometry, navigation, logic, history, science, grammar, and five other languages. Later, he signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States and served as one of our ablest diplomats.

My favorite Franklin saying is one that should hang in every dental hygiene operatory: "He who has patience can have what he will." Franklin`s actions were a testament to his belief that, over time, if we are patient, we can succeed.

It takes time and patience to care for ourselves. For example, if we have set a goal of walking every day after lunch, but the office receptionist consistently overloads our schedule - be patient. Positive life choices can be adhered to when we are rested and have formulated a flexible plan to reach our goal - a plan that works every day no matter what may come our way.

Don`t forget to plan

Richard I. Winwood writes in his book, Time Management: "We can waste our money and we`re only out of money; but, when we waste our time, we`ve lost a portion of our lives. We gain control of our lives through planning."

Given the above scenario, we could spend months brooding and boiling over the lack of time to walk after lunch ... or we could learn to develop a flexible plan.

Personally, I have found it invaluable to make a short list each night before I go to bed of all the things I want to accomplish the next day. If those things require a few minutes of preparation - like making a sack lunch that is relatively healthful - then this becomes part of my plan.

Sometimes my list will consist of one word per line - i.e., walk, which means that I will take a 10-15 minute walk after lunch and dinner, if possible. But if my schedule doesn`t permit me to walk after lunch, I`ll take a longer walk after dinner. If family demands are pressing after dinner, I will walk later in the evening. In other words, I am committed to my simple plan. The simpler, the better. And I don`t put a lot of pressure on myself to get it done every day. I am patient. If I don`t get it done today, I will get it done tomorrow.

My plan helps me sleep better, too. If the list includes something I need to do at work the next day, the act of writing it down allows me to relax and let go of the tension that would come if I were trying to remember it all night long. Then, in the morning, I read the list over to reinforce what I need to do to stay on top of my personal plan.

Winwood makes this task more appealing when he reminds us that, "The list is not in control - you are." He indicates that we don`t have to make a list every day; however, a daily plan is a way to stay focused on priorities. "Planning puts you in control, and a byproduct of control is freedom," says Winwood.

How we spend our time is vitally important if we want to be fit for the life we have envisioned. Franklin also wrote, "Little stokes fell great oaks.". This reminds us that little by little, we can attack any problem and attain any goal. With planning, patience, and good company we can achieve great things.

References available upon request.

Mary Martha Stevens, RDH, PhD, is a RDH consulting editor. For many years, she was manager of health and wellness for Puritan-Bennett Corp. Currently, she is clinical associate professor, UMKC School of Dentistry. She can be contacted by e-mail at [email protected].