Since I was a little kid, I've been fascinated with the passage of time. Time is always such a paradox, especially in the way we use it. While none of us have control over it, we still use phrases like "time stopped," or "time slowed down," or "time sped up." But what if we use those phrases because they're actually true? What if we could control time?
According to an Olympic Silver Medalist in speed skating named John Coyle, it's not only possible to control time -- there's a formula to help you do it.
John now speaks about time to audiences around the world. The formal name for his topic is chronoception, which is the field of study that concerns how we humans perceive time.
According to John, we don't actually have an internal, central clock in our brains. So, with no internal clock, we don't -- and in fact, we can't -- experience time in a linear way.
That means the last time you said, "Wow, time flew by today," you were absolutely right. Although your watch kept a constant pace, your brain didn't. And that opens up a whole host of possibilities when it comes to controlling time.
John told me that the way we feel the passage of time is in fact related to our experiences and our emotional intensity during them. When time seems to be speeding up or slowing down, that's because our brains are assigning different values to increments of time, depending on our experiences and how we're feeling in those moments.
The shocking but good news is that if we can control both the type of experiences we have and our emotional state, we can control time.
In his talk on chronoception, John points out that there are 3 laws governing time. If we can master these laws, we can maximize time, achieve more and enjoy life more fully. Here's how:
1. The Law of Unique Experience
Remember being a little kid, when a day seemed to last forever? That's because what you were experiencing at the time was more unique, relative to your overall life experiences. Making new, emotionally-charged connections in your brain allowed time to slow down. The rule here is that a greater breadth and depth of experience slows time down, which means more quantity and higher quality of new experiences has the ability to make you live longer and more fully.
So, the next time you have a choice in how you spend your day, choose the one that gives you the best new story to tell, and get out of your routine.
2. The Law of Inversion
John's law of inversion states that how you experience time in the present state is often inversely proportional to how you remember it. In other words, the faster the time flies in the present, the more impactful it will be on your memory and the more you will remember it as time goes on.
Think about memories you have of your childhood. Typically, these are emotionally-impactful events, and at the time, it most likely seemed like the event rushed by in an instant. This is what athletes commonly refer to as "flow state," where they focus so intently, they find themselves at the end of the race almost as quickly as they started it.
What's actually happening in a flow state is that you take in data much faster than when you're in a routine daily task; therefore, your memory is storing far more information, which ultimately gives you a broader memory of the event later on. So, getting in the flow isn't only good for focus, it's also good for helping you live "longer" and more fully.
3. The Law of Time-Value
The law of time value is that the value of an increment of time has no relation whatsoever to its duration. In other words, ten minutes spent in an incredibly rewarding experience can have the same value as ten years spent in a monotonous routine.
For instance, if you could trade one week of your routine for one day of accomplishing a bucket-list item, would you do it? Most people would say "yes," because that meaningful, memorable day would allow them to live more fully and give them a vivid memory to expand their life.
But what if you could design moments like that every week? What if you could design one moment per week or even per month, each of which would be "worth" the time of several routine months, according to your memory? In that case, you would end up living years, decades and even centuries longer, in your mind, than if you stayed in your routine by comparison.
Certainly, not all of us can cut loose and check off our bucket lists every day. But John's laws re-frame how we can use time to our advantage. As John explained to me, "there is investment time -- time to pay the bills and let time race by." And, that's OK. But he also explained, "our entire lives can change on the outcomes of moments that are important."
If we can create more of those moments, we will slow time down and essentially live longer, more fulfilling lives.
John's inspirational message is simple: "You can create those moments every day. You can create a scale in your head that makes our lives longer. The enemy of that is routine."
So, go out there and make some new experiences. Then, toast to a life well lived.