Clocks, we all learn as we grow older, lie. The minutes and hours reliably tick along at the same pace day after day and year after year, but for human beings time does not hold steady. The older you get the more the days seem to fly by. Why is that?
Science is not short of explanations. "The more detailed the memory, the longer the moment seems to last," the New Yorker's Burkhard Bilger writes. "This explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older," neuroscientist David Eagleman tells him. Less is new and noteworthy for adults, so we remember less and time goes faster.
But it seems our increasing familiarity of the world isn't the only reason time flies as we get older. New research may have uncovered another cause of this sometimes terrifying phenomenon - and helpfully the findings also suggest ways to slow it back down.
Part of the reason your 30s seem half as long as your 20s (I'm terrified of how long my 40s will seem), according to a new study out of the University of Kansas, is 'chunking.' It might sound like a retro dance move or something you'd do after overindulging at a frat party, but in this context chunking is just what it sounds like: dividing your experiences into larger categories or "chunks."
"For example, for a child, a walk in the park can involve so many new experiences - their first sighting of flowers covered in snow, perhaps, or of a scary dog - that each are remembered as distinct individual events. For the adult accompanying that child, if nothing novel happens, all the varied sensations and impressions associated with that walk may be collapsed - or "chunked" - into a single memory of 'a walk in the park,'" explains the British Psychological Society write-up of the findings.
When the researchers conducted a series of lab experiments that encouraged subjects to think of their lives in chunks - asking them to draw pie charts of their activities in the current day or year, for example - they reported that time seemed to be passing more quickly.
How to "unchunk" your life
This meshes well with earlier studies showing that more detailed memories extend our experience of time. After all, when we throw a bunch of memories into the mental "work" box, we're unlikely to bother retaining tons of details about each specific day at the office. It also suggests a way to slow your life back down - simply unchunk it.
Instead of thinking and remembering in broad categories, try to focus on the specific details of each memory. Mindfulness can help, the researchers suggest.
"People who try to live 'in the moment' may better appreciate the uniqueness of those moments once they have passed, making it less likely that they'll be swallowed up into a 'chunk,'" notes BPS. Art too might help you get back in touch with your sensory impressions of the present, and help you notice the small things that distinguish one day from another.
These aren't the only techniques that might help you press the brakes on your speeding life though. Other experts have suggested finding more opportunities to break out of your routine, nurturing your curiosity, and setting specific goals can all help slow time down.
Hopefully, these ideas together can help make 2018 pass in less of a flash.