Last week I drove to North Carolina and back to work with a client. It was a 500-mile trip, eight hours of highway driving each way. That’s a lot of alone time and it can become a bit monotonous. To pass the time quickly I did several things you probably do. I listened to podcasts, I finished a few books on audible, and I made it a point to call some friends along the way. However, there was one thing I did that seemed to pass the time more quickly than any other activity.
Small Area Hypothesis
I incorporated something called the small area hypothesis into my drive. This psychological concept tells us people are more motivated when their focus is drawn to whichever is smaller in size, their completed actions/tasks/time or their remaining actions/tasks/time.
Imagine you’re running a marathon. I’ve run half a dozen and can attest to this—early in the race, you don’t focus on the fact you have 24 or 25 miles to go. That would be rather daunting on your psyche. Instead, focus your thoughts on, “One or two miles down already!”
Eventually you’ll encounter a tipping point, the halfway mark in the race. That’s where you begin focusing on the remaining miles. Your thoughts become, “Only 13 or 12 miles to go!” That’s because the remaining distance gets smaller and smaller, resulting in more motivation to finish the race.
So how did I incorporate this psychological tip into the trip? When I first started, and I hit the 50-mile mark, I texted my wife to let her know, “50 miles down.” At the 100-mile mark I did the same thing. I continued to do this every 50 miles until I hit the 250-mile mark. At that time I let her know I was halfway through the drive. From that point on, it was 200 miles, 150 miles, 100 miles, then 50 miles left.
This might seem like a silly head game but believe me, it really did make the trip go quicker. When you’re traveling 75 miles an hour, going 50 miles only takes about 40 minutes. I was pleasantly surprised at how fast each 40-minute segment came and went.
I also saw this at play when I was in college. I had no idea about this little bit of psychology but here’s how I unknowingly used it. During finals week I would study from 8:00 AM until 8:00 PM each day, only taking an extended break for lunch and dinner. I would set my clock for 45 minutes of intense study followed by a 15-minute break. Rather than focusing on how long the day would be and how much studying I had to do, focusing on small 45-minute segments made the time pass quickly. Before I knew it, the morning was over and I was off to lunch. After refueling, the afternoon went quickly and suddenly it was time for dinner. The final few hours of study flew by compared to the earlier parts of the day.
The next time you have something that will take quite a bit of time—a long drive, a 10 or 12 hour workday, a long-distance run, studying all day, etc.—I encourage you to try this small area hypothesis. I think you’ll find as I did, the time will seem to pass more quickly than you might imagine and before you realize it, you’ll be finished with your activity.
Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach, and consultant, he’s one of only a dozen people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence.
Brian’s first book, Influence PEOPLE, was named one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by BookAuthority. His follow-up, Persuasive Selling for Relationship Driven Insurance Agents, was an Amazon new release bestseller. His new book, The Influencer: Secrets to Success and Happiness, is a business parable.
Brian’s LinkedIn courses on persuasive selling and coaching have been viewed by more than 500,000 people around the world!