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YOUR LIVING TIME (introduction to the concept of “personal timelining”) by

Lee Lukehart Copyright © 2011 Lifescope Inc.

Upon being introduced to someone, one of the first questions you may ask is “so, what do you do?” Why does this exchange take place? Politeness aside, usually because we want to know who this person is, and we do this by gathering information. The answers to these questions provide data that help define the individual. When those questions are asked of you, you answer because you want to convey details about who you are. The remarkable thing is, you tend to define yourself to yourself the same way. We all form our identities this way, by relating the circumstances of our life in such a way that explains why they occurred or presently exist. The statistics of our lives shape our personalities to such an extent that we characterize ourselves by these criteria. Upon slight reflection you may protest that you are much more than a list of life events, and I agree. A collection of historical facts does not make the person. But it does catalog the situations that generate the building blocks of your identity. It is your personalization of those events—the choices you make about which details are significant and what to emphasize in the telling of your personal story—that constructs your concept of self. Psychological luminary Erik Erikson terms this ego identity, the development of a defined self within a social reality. This is why retrospection—the process of reviewing one’s personal history—is so valuable. And so powerful. The act of consciously looking back provides another chance to understand past events, this time from a different vantage point. You are possibly more self-

aware, probably more objective, and positively in a better position to apprehend the previously unseen influences. You are more likely to find reasons other than those you used to explain your reality at that time. Not only do you gain more material with which to build an identity, but you are able to consciously reassess their suitability and value to your current situation. Retrospection brought to bear on the present moment has a related term, introspection—also known as selfexploration. The chief pursuit, as Socrates admonished, is to “Know Thyself.” A time-honored method of self-exploration is journal writing. A journal has many forms: a young girl’s diary, an artist’s sketchbook, the scientist’s notebook, the traveler’s log. As the need beacons—not necessarily on a regular daily or weekly basis—the journal writer records thoughts, feelings, observations, and realizations. In journaling, we practice the art of perspectiveshifting. By examining different viewpoints, we broaden our sensory acuity. Without this examination, we fail to recognize changes that have been, and are, taking place. With retrospection, however, we get in touch with the transformations, and re-align our image of reality to the updated representation. Journaling, like life, is a voyage of discovery. But this article is not about the many benefits and varieties of journaling. Entire books have been dedicated to this task, and have succeeded admirably. Rather, I wish to introduce an offshoot that more resembles a cross between a journal, a logbook, and a calendar. This methodology combines the exploratory writing of observations in a journal or diary, with the more concise tracking of occurrences in a logbook, with the date-graphing aspect of the calendar—all in a process I call personal timelining. In basic terms, a timeline is simply a listing of events in chronological order. From this list, one could determine the sequence of events, and see which events occurred in close proximity to any other. Note that the term “event” can have several diverse meanings, and all of them can apply here. Essentially, an event is any activity, occurrence, outcome, change, or

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condition. In addition to the “hard” facts—where you’ve lived or relationships you’ve had, for example—intangible items can be tracked as well. No proof is needed that something actually happened; since it is your experience, perception alone is sufficient. So, a decision is most certainly considered an event. A feeling or emotional experience is an event. Any thought or awareness of something—is an event. An enhanced way of looking at this list of chronological events is to put them on a graph of calendar time. Take, for example, jobs you’ve had and promotions you’ve received. Upon this chart, your events are placed corresponding to the dates or date ranges they occurred. So now, rather than reading down a list of “three years here” and “two years there,” you can experience a visual representation of your career. This illustrates the most notable distinction between a timeline and a simple listing of events, namely that spatiality is preserved—the relative position or space between events. To better appreciate the significance of this, consider our ability to enjoy music. It’s been said that the space between the notes is what makes the tune. So if you think of your life as a song, then timelining can help you “hear” the cadence and melody you live by. Or stated another way, a timeline helps you perceive the continuity of events—to understand how the instances interrelate. Here’s an example to further demonstrate how this works. A typical timeline would include the items mentioned above, as well as occurrences regarding health, recreation, education, financial transactions, and whatever else is deemed important. Each life category tracks horizontally across the graph (see Figure 1). The timeline has now become synergistic. In addition to keeping related historical information in a single place, and in addition to seeing the progression of events for any particular category, you now also have the ability to easily recall and view the whole panorama at once, for any period of time in your life. To extend the musical metaphor above, you are now hearing how the aspects of your life harmonize. And if you want to

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sing along, you don’t have to memorize it—just read from the sheet music. You’ve no doubt noticed that this presentation format makes an excellent memory aid. You will find forgotten details cascading into your mind, as you travel back in virtual time. However, notice that you go there with your current sensibilities intact. A perfect example of “if I knew then what I know now…”

Figure 1. Handwritten personal timeline The impact of seeing one’s life laid out before them like this can be powerful indeed. Why wait until some close brush with death to see your life flash before your eyes? Not only do you develop a sense of personal history, perhaps with renewed appreciation for all the things you’ve done and been through in your life, but you get a clearer picture of your own identity. Before you is your definition of reality, as you experienced it. Notice too, the many people with whom you’ve crossed paths on this journey. At a time when members of society are growing more insulated and isolated, it’s regenerative to remember how much humanness we’ve been part of—all the connections we’ve made with friends, family, and significant others. Creating and reviewing your timeline can positively direct your future actions, as well. As Seneca said, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.” Surveying your historical record of situations, you broaden your response options to current problems. Even if you don’t directly apply a lesson you learned from experience, you’ll tend to be more creative

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since you’ll be freshly aware that there are always more options that those which first spring to mind. While one can create a timeline with a pencil and paper, the power and flexibility of timelining is more fully realized through computer software. Software provides the flexibility to record your event in whichever form you choose—journal, logbook or calendar—and view it in any of the other forms. Software preserves your effort, and lets you easily build on your previous entries. You may choose to write to the depth best suited to the moment of entry. It’s easy to jot down an entry or record a thought, then go back when you have the time and presence of mind to expand upon it. Therefore, the process of timelining is better able to be used during the fewminute fragments in which our time is often sliced. It is at home in today’s hectic world, and its benefits are especially, forgive the pun, timely.

Figure 2. Personal timelining software It is appropriate that the need this tool addresses reflects the times in which it was created. People of the twentieth century have witnessed fantastic transition, and the rate of change is growing even more dizzying. An often used, but illustrative fact, is that a single New York Times Sunday paper contains more information than a person of the 1700s saw in their entire life. I submit that even the scale of this example is obsolete. Via a fiber-optic Internet connection, the

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capability exists to receive the entire Encyclopedia Britannica in under ten seconds. The burning question for the residents of this imminent data-rich age: How do we evolve and adapt to this complex and fast-changing environment without going into sensory overload? The answer: Become more adept at selecting, framing, and referencing the information. One solution is to learn to manage large chunks of information by grasping it at a metalevel—from a higher, more comprehensive perspective. How we interpret the patterns in events is frequently expressed in terminology which suggests the viewpoint of the observer. Phrases like “from the 30,000 foot level” and “in the trenches” are unmistakable in their expectation of the view from those physical vantage points. Perspective is the key to re-framing the scope of the information, to make it both more manageable in massive amounts, and more useful so that any detail can be plucked, when needed, from the digital cornucopia. Personal timelining makes possible this type of data management. And it does so with the most important type of information—your own facts and perceptions about you and your world. I think it’s not merely coincidental that this knowledge explosion has been accompanied by a selfdiscovery renaissance. We are seeking calm within the storm, meaning from the facts, wisdom from the knowledge. More and more people embark upon introspective quests because, with the average life span dramatically lengthened, there becomes so much more potential self to discover! So amid the apparent incompatibility and conflicting stances between high-tech and high-touch proponents, I believe it is viable for people to use technology to facilitate their inner search for meaning. And more to the point, I believe it is imperative that we do so now, before the development of our technologies outpace the development of our ability to use them wisely. Before there were clocks, we humans regulated ourselves by the seasons and by the sun and the moon. Time was not some abstract concept—it was the natural unfolding of all life’s events, the flow of life itself. The ancient Aztec and Mayan cultures raised the observation of

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celestial rhythms to a science, where diligent sentinels measured and recorded skyward changes over the course of centuries. Other past civilizations left monuments to the importance of connection to those longer cycles. The original purpose of Stonehenge, for example, is still a mystery, but we know that it marks important seasonal transitions, most likely used to coordinate agricultural activities like planting and harvest. Now they are silent monuments to these beliefs. For the most part, our society has lost touch with the organic patterns of life, and our involvement as integral participants in the process. Human nature is such that we try to bring order to our world, to make sense of it. Time, as we now understand it, was created in the Industrial Age. Since then, the efficient application of time has permeated all classes of society. Now, our existence sliced into ever-smaller containers, we are capable of nano-second measurement. But does this help us better manage our lives or bring meaning to our years? An enduring fact of life is that time is the medium by which we measure our existence. The ever-changing flow of time is the fabric into which we weave the events of our own lives. Now, more than ever, we need a frame to hold this fabric—a framework of thinking that provides continuity so that we may better interpret from varying perspectives the meaning of our experience in this life. The perceptual tool of personal timelining is one such structure. ###

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Your Living TIme  
Your Living TIme  

A collection of historical facts does not make the person—but it does catalog the situations that generate the building blocks of one's iden...