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How often do you reflect upon Chronos and Kairos?

Today is April 10 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you reflect upon Chronos and Kairos?” Navigating the chaos often requires one to reflect upon their use of time. Everyone has the same amount of time in a day but not in a lifetime. Therefore, time is indeed limited since you have no idea how much of it you have over the course of your lifetime. To help with such an exercise, it is important to understand, practice, and assess how you use Chronos and Kairos. Knowing the difference between the two can help you leverage your mind, body, and spirit so you can make the most of your limited time navigating the chaos.

The ancient Greeks had two words for time: Chronos and Kairos. Chronos refers to chronological or sequential time while Kairos signifies a proper or opportune time for action. While Chronos is quantitative, Kairos has a qualitative, permanent nature. For example, knowing what time of day it is involves Chronos. The same holds true to understanding what day of the month it is. Any reference to chronological time is Chronos.

Jocko Willink and Chris Gardner offer two examples of how they leverage Chronos to navigate the chaos. Retired US Navy SEAL commander Jocko Willink sets three alarms each morning: one electric, one battery-powered, and one windup. In Extreme Ownership: How US Navy SEALs Lead and Win, coauthored with Leif Babin, Willink says that “discipline starts every day when the first alarm clock goes off in the morning.” He sets three alarm clocks because “there is no excuse for not getting out of bed, especially with all that rests on that decisive moment.” He is, however, not the only successful person that has a high level of self-awareness with an understanding of how to effectively manage time.

On the cover of his book The Pursuit of Happyness: Start Where You Are, entrepreneur Chris Gardner has a watch on each wrist. It’s not until page 160 that he explains why. One day, Gardner, a stockbroker calling on new account leads, was late to a prospective client. He failed to close the account but took to heart what his prospective client told him, “Son if I can’t expect you to be on time, I can’t expect you to make timely decisions with my money.” From that point onward, Gardner started to wear a watch on each wrist so as never to be late again.

The stories of Willink and Gardner may seem extreme, but they illustrate two excellent examples of the second characteristic successful people often demonstrate: they work hard at maintaining a high-level of self-awareness. Steve Jobs said: "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life." He we referring to Chronos, of course, as Kairos is far more qualitative in nature and is hard to waste.

With Chronos serving as the interpretation of time related to chronological time, Kairos has a much more dynamic meaning. Kairos can be overlooked, misunderstood, or ignored and is an Ancient Greek word meaning the right, critical, or opportune moment. Kairos refers to the proper time for action. The most common illustration of Kairos is the moment in archery when the archer pulls back the bow, pauses for a moment, then, upon recognizing Kairos, releases the arrow towards the target. Thus, Kairos is subjective and a complex concept.

For example, how one defines the right moment to release the arrow is up to interpretation. Most people tend to spend most of their awareness in Chronos. Electronic calendars provide a daily to do list for most professionals these days. Calendars posted on refrigerators outline a family’s weekly appointments for parents and children alike. All too often, however, Chronos tends to be the primary focus for people. Arranging Chronos time is certainly critical and one needs to organize their limited time so as to make the best of each day. Doing so at the expense of Kairos time could jeopardize your ability to translate one dream after another into reality.

It is important to remember there is no one word in today's English language that completely encompasses the definition of Kairos. Its’ complexity requires a period of reflection to better leverage its application. In short, there are three elements involved with a basic understanding of the term Kairos.

First. Kairos involves figuring out what to say or do at the right time, which in and of itself is subjective. Second, there is a level of appropriateness to consider when engaging in Kairos. And third, along with taking advantage of the timeliness and appropriateness of a situation, the term also implies being knowledgeable of and involved in the environment where the situation is taking place to benefit fully from seizing the opportune moment.

So, there are three questions then you could ask yourself regarding the use of Kairos:

  • Is this the right time to say or do something?

  • Are my actions or words appropriate at this ‘right time?’

  • Is my knowledge about the situation detailed enough to warrant action now?

Common applications of Kairos while navigating the chaos include:

  • Is this the right time to get married?

  • Is this the right time to have a child?

  • Is it appropriate for me to say something now?

  • Is it the right time to change jobs?

  • Is this the right time to walk away?

  • Is this the right time to launch that business I always wanted to?

  • Is this the right time to retire?

  • Is this the right time to write that book I always wanted to?

  • Is this the right time to tell someone I love them?

The process of identifying, assessing, and deciding on Kairos requires a good deal of self-reflection. While discussing critical questions with others might be helpful, realize that ultimately you are the one who needs to release the arrow from the bow.

In her publication Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art author Madeleine L'Engle commented on Kairos and wrote “but BEing time is never wasted time. When we are BEing, not only are we collaborating with chronological time, but we are touching on Kairos, and are freed from the normal restrictions of time.”

  • How often do you reflect upon Chronos and Kairos?

  • How can you better balance Chronos and Kairos in the pursuit of your dreams?


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