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Elaine Aron, Ph.D.

Elaine N. Aron Ph.D.

Time and Transitions

Slowing down and making time for the many transitions of life.

We just completed a weekend workshop for parents, teachers, and counselors of highly sensitive children (HSCs) at 1440 Multiversity in Santa Cruz. They said it was much needed and appreciated. (This will repeat at Kripalu on the East Coast September 28-30—please let parents of HSCs know). A theme was the need to give HSCs time for transitions and in general to try not to rush them. (Items on that are even on the HSP Self-Test.) But then some parents, mostly the HSPs, chimed in that they, too, have always been seen as slow or late, which frustrates others and makes them feel there’s something wrong with them—that old theme. Let’s look at this.

Life is full of transitions: Waking up, falling asleep, going from relaxed time to starting to work, or stopping working to take a break, or preparing for a trip or returning from one, or staying on a schedule you like but just don’t always keep to. I set a timer to get up from the computer every half hour for a break from sitting, but sometimes I let it chime over and over. I joke that I really need an ejection seat!

A transition often implies a deadline: Get moving because there’s a deadline, a place you have to be, a decision others are waiting for. Or a break you planned to take before you do more. Do you often miss your downtime because you didn’t stop when you should have?

Most HSPs do not wish to be late. Hence mostly this slowness ends up leading to rushing, or no break. But sometimes it also leads to procrastination. What are the causes? Let’s turn to good old DOES, the four characteristics of HSPs.

Why We May Be Slow

D, depth of processing, causes us to be thinking, maybe planning or imagining, and not noticing the time passing. Or we are in a creative flow. If we are about to go out, depth of processing also causes us to think of all the things that might happen while we are out and what we might need. (We are usually the person who has the thing others forgot to bring.) As we add things, we’re slowed down. Thinking of all of this seems to speed up at the end as the final moment comes.

The result of D is O, over-stimulation, which makes our thinking less efficient, which we can sense, and therefore, we need or wish for even more time to be sure we are not forgetting anything. It can be pretty miserable. As I drive away from my house, I sometimes have an uncanny sense that I have forgotten something—ONLY when I really have forgotten something. When it comes to me, I have to drive back or do without. That’s the unconscious depth of processing.

E, emotion and empathy, adds to both depth of processing and over-stimulation as we worry more about what we might forget and about being late. This slows down our preparations just when our empathy tells us that others need us to speed up.

S, sensitivity to subtle stimuli, means noticing small things about what we are doing (for example when writing thinking of some subtlety and adding another paragraph on something) or things we see around us before we leave the house that may remind us of more things we might need or ought to bring—a snack, a jacket. Just as difficult, we see things that need doing before we transition, like plants that we suddenly realize need watering or something about our clothes that needs fixing.


Leave time! Leave extra time. Leave absurd amounts of time. Geez that’s hard. We can think of so much we want to do and have so little time as it is, what with the need for downtime. Yes, but you cannot do it all. You will learn this lesson over and over, because rushing is no fun and often leads to “haste makes waste” (missing your flight; missing rest, sleep, time with people you love; spilling something on your clothes so you have to go back and change). Rushing when driving can also be dangerous. Further, slowing down, especially taking a break, often means we are more efficient afterwards and waste less time, so in the end we have more time: “Do less and accomplish more.”

An aside about time. A part of the name of the new retreat and seminar center in Santa Cruz, 1440 Multiversity, where we have taught at, refers to the number of minutes in a day and the value of using every one of them well. I’m sure they mean time for rest too, but just hearing it, it almost makes slowness and downtime seem like wasting life. In some traditions, your length of life equals the number of breaths you take or heartbeats. If you slow down you live longer. It makes sense given the huge effect of stress on longevity. Even if you exercise, that probably means in all a slower metabolism. Maybe that place should be called 1—4—4—0h well.

Make a list of what you need to do or take. Have a list of what to do today and number the items according to their priority so you feel complete enough when you have to stop. Have a master list for going to work, or getting kids to school, or travel. Then do “save as” and adapt it for any special circumstances. I have a master list of what to take on a trip, and then revise it for the one I am planning for right now. I even have a list of the things I need to do before going to bed. It saves trying to remember when your brain is busily processing other stuff.

Prepare in quiet if you can—no extra stimulation. If someone else is packing, wait until they are done to do your own packing. Get up a little earlier than others in your family, just to get your brain warmed up and make a plan for the morning or the day. Maybe you need a paper and pen to jot down things you do not want to forget.

Keep a little tablet or post it thing and a pen in every room, so you note something you need to do or bring rather trying to remember. Or make a note on your electronic gadget. (People forget as soon as they go to the next room—this is an automatic brain strategy that everyone does—that’s why it helps to have a note pad in every room or your phone with you.)

Warnings. Say you have a half hour. Keep an eye on the clock and have an idea of how much you should have done twenty minutes before your transition or departure time, then ten minutes, five. Just like the warnings you give kids. “It’s almost time for bed. You will have to put your toys away in five minutes.” Think of me saying, “Hey you, HSP, put away your toys.”

May all your transitions be smooth and always towards something better. (And if something better is waiting for you, you can’t get there until you make that transition.)