Time frames are often built into our expectations.
We know what to expect if we apply for a job and the prospective employer says s/he will make a decision by the end of the month. Or if a real estate agent tells us that the seller will respond to our offer within 24 hours. Or if a physician tells us that we will require a walking boot for three weeks. Those time frames are imposed by others and help to manage our expectations.
Some things occur, however, without defined time frames. How long will this headache last? How long will I be out of a job? When will I know if my loving feelings toward someone will be reciprocated?
When there are no defined and guaranteed time frames, when tend to establish them in our own minds. I call this “the psychological time frame”. For example, if every other headache we’ve ever had has resolved in two days, a headache that lasts a month will exceed our psychological time frame. If we’ve never been without a job, and now we are out of work for ½ year following an economy-related layoff, that exceeds our psychological time frame. And when the man or women that we think we love continues to date others while still appearing to enjoy our company over a period of several months, that also may exceed our psychological time frame.
There are some important considerations in this regard. We have to continually remind ourselves that the psychological time frame is our own creation. It is not based on anything factual or guaranteed. By no means, however, is it meaningless. It can serve a very important function of helping us to evaluate our strategies up to this point. Sometimes it may be a guide to action – such as seeking medical treatment or changing our job-seeking strategies. Sometimes it may teach us to accept the fact that a prospective employer or romantic partner may not have the same sense of urgency about our current situation – and we can choose to be patient or to move on.
Psychological time frames are not the same as actual time frames. They should not be guides for predicting that bad things will definitely happen. Instead, they should serve as guides to evaluate strategies and to take action – or to decide to tolerate ambiguity for a while longer.