A Look at the “Mental Calendar”

Our idea of a calendar is ingrained from early in our school years. Teachers have large, colorful calendars with monthly tear-off sheets or calendar banners that scroll across the top of the chalkboard. Some take that image and it becomes their concrete idea of time.

However, there are many people who visualize a year in a completely different way. Whether they have trained themselves to see it in a certain light, or the mind has already decided what these months will look like, they view the calendar in a seemingly odd sense.

Is it possible to combine what others innately see, and productivity, to force yourself to visualize a calendar in a more efficient way?

Calendar Synesthesia

Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which the mind mixes sensory signals. People with synesthesia, known as synesthetes, may associate numbers with a certain color, or order. They may perceive a certain smell or taste simply by looking at something, and visa versa.

Calendar Synesthesia is the unofficial/non-medical term for people who have sensory association with days, weeks, months, and years.

There is a great discussion on a ‘Mental Calendar’ at this Metafilter thread.

Examples of Mental Calendars

The following examples illustrate that people have a firm idea of how a year looks to them. The mental construct is formed, and they can pull it out of their brain at any time.

Mark Jaquith

Mark Jaquith, a WordPress developer, created a mockup of how he visualizes the months.

From his article:

When I think of “now” in a month-to-month sense, I visualize myself as standing on the appropriate month on that layout. If I think about another month, I visualize myself looking at the other month’s placeholder. So when I look at September from April, I’m standing on April, facing south.

tempus

‘Lobstermitten’

I illustrated Lobster Mitten’s idea of a mental calendar for him/her. The following comment is how one person sees time:

Mine is like the face of a clock. Jan1/New Year’s Eve is 12:00. Dec 1 is 1:00, Nov 1 is 2:00, Oct 1 is 3:00, and so on. Or sometimes I think the equinoxes are 3:00 and 9:00, and the solstices are 12:00 and 6:00.

lobstermitten

UPDATE: 5/11/2010

The following calendar is from Dana in the comments section. He describes his mental calendar as a, “3D circle tilted at about a 30 degree angle, which January 1st at the highest point. Each month of the year takes up varying amounts of space on the circle (summer months are typically bigger) and each month has a very distinct color associated with it.”

Have an example of how you see time? Leave a comment or design it yourself and I will update this page with your example.

Common Themes of Mental Calendars

Some of the common ideas that I have seen from comments are indicators that the mental calendars are not the same as ones that are constructed from paper.

January is Not the Beginning

A comment from the same Metafilter thread from above explains that linear is not always the case. InsanePenguin writes:

It’s pretty hard to explain but by my best estimation, it begins with Aug/Sept (perhaps because my birthday is in August, or the school year begins in September) and continues in monthly blocks to the right. That is, up until we hit December and January. January takes a sharp 90 degree turn straight up and continues that way… June/July and August/Sept never actually connect in my mind. I simply can’t figure out how the blocks would connect.

“The Pull”

Visualizing time as distance is reoccurring. Imagine the farthest distance being the latest month and January being right in front of you. As time passes, your mind pulls the calendar closer to you.

Colors

Sara Anne’s comment illustrates that time and colors blend.

Each month has a color: January is brown, February is pink, March is green, April is white, May is peach, June is turquoise, July is blue, August is gold, September is orange, October is black, November is gray/green, December is red.

Partial Bologna?

One of the most intriguing comments was not about those who see a solid picture, but rather the conscious forcing of an image:

gauchodaspampas notes,

Since it’s not as concrete, some of this may be biased by the fact that I’m actively trying to visualize it the way I usually do, which inevitably means that it is definitely not accurate.

Top to Bottom, Left to Right

This is how I see a calendar. Not because I mentally see it like so, but because it makes the most practical sense. It has become the easiest method to force upon myself. As below, the practical sense of top to bottom, left to right, can be taken to a new level.

Going Forward

Aaron Dragushan’s Method

When discussing time with a good friend, Aaron raised the idea that calendars, in reality, can be displayed as they are envisioned in the mind. He took the time to cut apart his calendar and paste it together in a way that worked for him.

aaron

What does your mental calendar look like? Leave a comment below!

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10 Responses to “A Look at the “Mental Calendar””

  1. Jill 19. Apr, 2010 at 8:29 pm #

    I was very happy to see someone else puts thought into things like this. It was refreshing to find someone with a similar mental calendar.
    I had to share it with my readers.
    http://orderuporganizing.tumblr.com/post/533953369

    Thanks for the post.

  2. Carlos Urreta 20. Apr, 2010 at 3:28 pm #

    Thank you so much for your write-up. I found it so interesting when I was doing the research. I became lost in the idea of seeing dates in different ways.

    I also became a fan of Order Up Organizing. Looking forward to your updates and future tumblr entries.

    Cheers!

    -Carlos

  3. Ned Buratovich 11. May, 2010 at 6:24 am #

    Years ago I decided to make a calendar that showed every day of my life. It became an obsession, and I taught myself Quark XPress just to be able to lay out something that huge. Then I decided to print them up, so I had to learn to work with a Pre-Press and printing company. Then it cost a zillion bucks to make one, but only two zillion bucks to make several thousand, which I did. Then I went around giving speeches about how we only have so many days to live our dreams and sold calendars. Then I tried selling them online, but haven’t been very successful, either from the positive, motivational angle or the cynical angle. (Moderator has removed off-topic links.)

    Well, thanks for letting me share (spam, whatever)… I actually stumbled over here via Mark Jaquith because I’m an old web weenie trying to learn the WordPress world.
    One of These Days…

  4. Dana 11. May, 2010 at 5:42 pm #

    Here is a link to a 3-D representation of my calendar year that I created a couple of years ago.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/65028506@N00/4496995375/

  5. Cheryl 10. Aug, 2011 at 7:36 pm #

    I have a circle and january (green) is at the bottom. Going counter-clockwise, I then move to February (charcoal gray), then March, April, etc. with July and August at the top. September is at about 1100 (yellow) and then it slopes down to January again at the bottom of the circle. I wonder how this affects how I perceive time. Do I think my years are longer or shorter than people without synesthesia.

  6. umesh Nayak 27. Dec, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

    Dear Sir/ Madam

    I am very proud to introduce you Mr Nagananda from India aged 22 years is a Mild mentally retarded person has an IQ of 58 (Normal 90-110). that he has extraordinary talent of telling the day-date ,in short we can call him “Walking calendar” I don’t know whether it is an extraordinary talent or Super natural Power.

    1. If you tell any date, he tells the day (with in 4 sec)

    Ex; 15.08.1937 Or 28.04.2058 fall under which day?

    2. He can tell how many Sundays or any days in a particular month

    Ex: How many Sundays in June 1960 or how many Mondays in December 2075 (hell tells the date with no of days)

    3. In which year 1st Jan & 31 Dec fall Monday or Wednesday he tell the correct year

    4. He can tell the Similar & equal Years

    Ex: Which is the Equal & similar year to 2012, or 1954 or 2050 ect ect

    5. He can tells the year that Months starting from Mondays or Sundays

    Ex: In 1950 Months Starting from Mondays or in 2045 months starting from Wednesdays

    6. He can tells all the leap years past or future

    7. He can tell the Equal & Similar leap year to 1984 or any other

    8. He can tell the past & future Indian festivals date & day

    Ex: in which day “Nagara pachami (Indian festival) fall in 1980 or 2077

    9. As on today he has 500 years data

    And he has much more extraordinary talent in this field

  7. Ciara May 26. Jan, 2013 at 2:43 am #

    My mental calender is VERY confusing to explain, so I try to draw it on paper, as best as I can. Definitely not perfect from what my mind tells me. But I’ll try to explain. All of the months connect. January begins horizontal then ends vertical connecting with February. Febuary is short and is vertical connecting with March. March is the same as Febuary but a little bigger. April is a kind of long. It starts out vertical but kind of curves horizontal connecting with May. May is horizontal and kind of curves up connecting with June. June is horizontal in the very beginning then goes vertical connecting with July. July is huge. Half way through July it curves slightly to the right connecting with August. August curves to the left with each week, connecting to September, weirdly. September through November go up vertical. Their medium sized. November connects with December. December is the biggest month of them all. It is very hard to explain how I see December. In the beginning it’s vertical then alittle after Christmas it curves to the right and goes straight down, stopping. Not connecting with January. I think the reason why I see July and December long is because of the seasons. July is the start of summer and its one of the longer seasons. And I feel that December is the longest because winter feel slow because of the cold.

  8. Kitty 01. Feb, 2013 at 1:18 pm #

    My calendar is similar to Dana’s, except it’s shaped more like a racetrack, and without the colors. December and July are at the narrow ends of the racetrack, with winter at the tilted up end and summer at the bottom. I stand on the date and look across the racetrack to other dates. Right now, on February 1, we’ve just finished coming around the curve from winter and are on the straightaway that goes through to early June, when it starts to curve around toward July.

  9. Polyhedra 02. Feb, 2013 at 4:54 am #

    I have never heard of synesthesia until today. I thought everyone saw the year as I do. I cannot think about the day without seeing it as a point on a oval almost racetrack like shape which is suspended is space and somewhat translucent. Is I am traveling around the year, I can see the other months and dates as I’d I am looking from my current spot in the year inward to the interior of the oval. The oval racetrack has a very long “front stretch” and “back stretch”. The front is June, July, and August with August sort of scrunched and turning into the short shoot which is part of August, September, and part of October. The back stretch is not as long or stretched out as summer, but inclues the rest of October, November, and December. I can always “look” at the calendar in my brain and see birthdays (mine) and others and holidays. All holidays have a very fixed point on the oval and I can see them approaching or going beyond them as I look around the year or actual travel in time past that date. The end of the back stretch is the holiday of Christmas an coming in to the short shoot is the New Year. This short shoot has more months and still seems the same size however as the fall end of the oval. It includes Jan., Feb, Mar., Apr., and half of May. May turns the corner in to the long front stretch ( at least twice as long at the short shoot) and is the remaining part of May, June, and part of August. August is the hardest part to see and it seems to be in a different spot when it actually is the months of August in real time. When I get to August is it in the front stretch. See it now during February, it is more in the corner. This is always the same. All other months seem to stay in exactly the same place on the this model. This has been my perception and yearly path since I can remember, which would be before I was in elementary school. It has never changed. I think my brother has the same model or a similar one. We both have excellent memories (annoyingly so to our friends and relatives!) and have had exactly the same dreams.

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  1. A Look at the “Mental Calendar” « Tempus Fugit by Mark Jaquith - 10. Apr, 2010

    [...] me) with what might be called “strong calendar synesthesia” visualize their “mental calendar.” I like the idea of cutting up and rearranging a physical calendar to match! I might do that in [...]

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