Time Flies: Here's How to Slow It Down
Remember when you were a kid and summer vacation crawled by and an afternoon could seem endless. It’s the opposite now, right?
As a busy adult and business owner your days probably pass by in a whirl of activity -- so much so that whole weeks or months can feel like they’re racing past, like you just put your head down for a second and now half a year has gone.
It’s a familiar if frustrating feeling, but what’s behind it and is there anything you can do to get back the lazier pace of time from when you were younger? This is your life after all and you want to wring as much experience from it as you can.
The buffer blog recently offered a helping hand, pulling together the latest insights from neuroscience on why we perceive time as we do and how we can manipulate our lives to slow down our experience of time passing. Our sense of time, it turns out, isn’t even. It’s dictated by how much information we need to process -- more information spells more time, which is why our younger years, when we’re processing lots and lots of new stuff, seem to pass so slowly.
The basic idea was laid out neatly in a fantastic profile of neuroscientist David Eagleman in the New Yorker:
The more detailed the memory, the longer the moment seems to last. "This explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older," Eagleman said - why childhood summers seem to go on forever, while old age slips by while we’re dozing. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.
The details of this are upacked in greater detail in the buffer post so check it out if you’re interested in the finer points of your brain’s inner workings. But understanding why time flies is one thing, being able to do something about it is another. Can we voluntarily do anything to recapture the slower passage of time in order to savor our hours?
Buffer offers five suggestions all of which revolve around one central idea -- to slow down time, feed your brain more new stimulus to chew over. This might seem counter-intuitive. Our first impulse to slow down would most likely be to stop doing as much and minimize stimuli by kicking back in a hammock or on a beach somewhere. That sort of slacking has it’s advantages obviously, but these tricks are actually more likely to make your days feel rich and long:
Keep learning. If you’re constantly reading, trying new activities or taking courses to learn new skills, you’ll have a wealth of ‘newness’ at your fingertips to help you slow down time.
Visit new places. A new environment can send a mass of information rushing to your brain - smells, sounds, people, colors, textures. Your brain has to interpret all of this. Exposing your brain to new environments regularly will give it plenty of work to do, letting you enjoy longer-seeming days. This doesn’t necessarily mean world travels, though. Working from a cafe or a new office could do the trick.
Meet new people. We all know how much energy we put into interactions with other people. Unlike objects, people are complex and take more effort to ‘process’ and understand. Meeting new people, then, is a good workout for our brains.
Try new activities. Doing new stuff means you have to pay attention. Your brain is on high alert and your senses are heightened, because you’re taking in new sensations and feelings at a rapid rate.
Be spontaneous. Surprises are like new activities: they make us pay attention and heighten our senses.
Is your love of routine making your life fly by?
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.