Why Time Seems to Fly by (and How to Slow It Down)

Our parents warned us about this, but it’s hard to understand until you experience it yourself: with age, time flies by. It catches you by surprise, probably because it is such a powerful and quirky concept. You cannot add time to the clock, but once you understand how this phenomenon works, you can at least try to imagine life as if it flows a little slower.

Our “relative” time changes

There are various theories about why our perception of time changes with age. First, we perceive time as relative , which means that the hour at age 5 is different from the hour at age 55.

As a child, you don’t live very long, so one year makes up a huge percentage of your total life. However, as an adult, you have already experienced many years. So one miserable year seems much less.

This interactive timeline kind of helps you visualize this concept (theorized by the philosopher Paul Janet ), but the basic idea is this: we perceive time in relation to the total time that we have experienced in life as a whole.

We have fewer new experiences

The older we get and the more we study the world, the more we develop a daily routine. The days begin to merge together, and time seems to pass us by .

The psychologist William James reached this conclusion in Principles of Psychology . He explained that compared to childhood, there are fewer new and memorable experiences in adulthood. We often measure time by the first – our first day of school, our first kiss, our first home, our first child – when we run out of our firsts, James says that “the days and weeks flatten out … and the years become empty and collapse.”

When our memories are detailed, this moment seems to last longer . Here’s what neuroscientist David Eagleman said on his New Yorker profile:

“This explains why we think time speeds up as we get older,” said Eagleman, “why summer goes on forever in childhood, and old age passes while we doze. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain records and the faster time passes. “Time is a rubbery thing … it stretches when you actually turn on the resources of your brain, and when you say, ‘Oh, I got it, everything is as expected,’ it contracts.”

So when we get into terrible autopilot mode, we race all day without any real details of our surroundings. It’s like a long commute to work – sometimes you get to your destination without even remembering how you went there.

Stress and “time pressure” speed up the day

In a study published in Ammons Scientific , researchers asked subjects how quickly time passes, from very slow to very fast. They also asked them to rate the accuracy of the statements used to describe the speed of time. In short, they found that most of the subjects reported that time flies so fast because we have so many things to do but don’t have enough time to get everything done.

Researchers have called this “time pressure” and it goes hand in hand with stress. It makes sense to consider other theories as well. The more stressed we are, the less likely we will be focused and focused on the moment – we are just trying to get through the day as quickly as possible. When we do this, we don’t have time to immerse ourselves in our surroundings and build detailed memories. Thus, our perception of time flies unnoticed.

Try focusing on “mindfulness.”

If the theory that we are experiencing time in relation to our years of life has any weight, it makes sense that the way to curb this might be to stop comparing our present time to our entire lives.

In other words: live in the moment . When you focus on the present, you think about the absolute, not the relative, value of time. And there are several ways to do this.

Meditation can help you slow down and focus (and has tons of other evidence-based benefits ). And you don’t have to be deeply spiritual or religious to meditate. It’s as easy as finding a quiet place, counting to ten, and focusing on your breathing. I “meditate” while washing the dishes.

Focusing on the present means being more mindful . Mindfulness is a buzzword you’ve probably heard a lot lately, but it’s a pretty cool idea that involves being more present in the moment and being aware of your thoughts, feelings and actions. Besides meditation, here are some of the ways to curb mindfulness suggested by our very own Melanie Pinola:

An easy way to get started is to set up triggers or signals that will bring you back to the present when your mind inevitably begins to wander during the day. For example, while eating, remember to enjoy every bite every time you put your fork down. At work, you can set an hourly call or other reminder to pause at the moment. Taking a break before responding to children or adults can also help you become more considerate in your relationship. Other (deceptively simple) practices include appreciating and letting go of control.

Like many people, I tend to be more “present” when I’m on vacation. The very idea of ​​a vacation is presence: you put your stress and worries behind you and just focus on relaxation, exploration, and enjoying life. I try to practice a few practical habits to make my daily life more like a vacation :

  • Free up your schedule : Over the years, I’ve had the habit of booking too much and stretching too much. I tried to put an end to this and give myself more freedom in my schedule. It prevents stress and gives me time to focus instead of rushing.
  • Develop a morning routine : This is another way I’ve tried to remember to stay focused and present. Instead of jumping right into the day to end it, I try to give myself at least a few minutes in the morning to slow down and dive into the day. Yes, the idea of ​​a routine seems to go against the idea of ​​living in the present moment, but it is a deliberate routine aimed at being present.
  • Schedule an activity at the end of the day: It’s so easy to squeeze out “five more minutes” of work at the end of the day. This can quickly turn into an hour, and before you notice, you are doing well until the evening. When I plan something with a friend after work, it makes me move away from the computer and slow down a little.

The presence helps during all this time in percentage terms. You are more focused on the absolute value of time in the here and now.

Embrace new experiences

Giving up your comfort zone can make a big difference, too. If James is right and time flies by because we have fewer “firsts”, the best way to deal with this is to add a little newness to your life: meet new people, visit new places and try something new .

If you are too used to life, try saying yes more often . As our very own Thorin Klosovski said, “It’s amazing how many new experiences you get during the day when you start paying attention.”

It can be as simple as visiting a new restaurant or taking a weekend break in a part of your city you’ve never been to. Part of my decision this year was to do one thing every week that takes me out of my comfort zone. As a result, I went to my very first conference, spoke at an event, and wrote about topics I was afraid to write about. These were challenging tasks, but they were new, and when I think about them, the last 10 months seem like a long and fulfilling year.

Typically, the idea is to give yourself new memories and new experiences so you can get off autopilot and change your perception of time. Based on my own experience, I can confirm that this works very well.

Keep learning

When you accept a new experience, you learn a lot about yourself and the world around you and, naturally, you evolve. Changes can have a profound effect on the way you perceive time. Think back to when you were five, ten, or twenty-one. Depending on your age, this may seem like a lifetime ago. You have grown up and learned so much since then, and this is probably one of the reasons why it feels like a past life.

When you are constantly learning – reading about new subjects, trying new skills, practicing new languages ​​- you are kind of experiencing new things. And this novelty should help you get more out of time, thereby suppressing the feeling that it is passing you by.

Our perception of time is a funny thing. While it’s probably impossible to slow it down to the point where we get through time in the same way that a 5-year-old child does, there are a few things we can do to at least prevent him from feeling like it’s going so damn good. fast.


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