Feel like time is flying? Here's how to slow it down

time flying
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Sometimes it seems as if life is passing us by. When we are children, time ambles by, with endless car journeys and summer holidays which seem to last forever. But as adults, time seems to speed up at a frightening rate, with Christmas and birthdays arriving more quickly every year.

But perhaps it doesn't need to feel this way. Our experience of time is flexible, speeding up in some situations and slowing down in others. There are even some altered states of consciousness (such as under the influence of psychedelic drugs, in traumatic situations, or when athletes are "in the zone") in which time seems to slow down to an extraordinary degree.

So maybe by understanding the behind our different experiences of time, we might be able to slow things down a little.

In my book Making Time, I suggest a number of basic "laws" of psychological time, as experienced by most people. One of these is that time seems to speed up as we get older. Another is that time seems to slow down when we're exposed to new environments and experiences.

These two laws are caused by the same underlying factor: the relationship between our experience of time and the amount of (including perceptions, sensations and thoughts) our minds process. The more information our minds take in, the slower time seems to pass.

This partly explains why time passes so slowly for children and seems to speed up as we get older. For children, the world is a fascinating place, full of and fresh sensations. As we get older, we have fewer new experiences and the world around us becomes more and more familiar.

We become desensitised to our experience, which means that we process less information, and time seems to speed up. (Another factor may be the "proportional" aspect, which is that as we get older each period of time constitutes a smaller proportion of our life as a whole.)

It follows, then, that our experience of time should expand in unfamiliar surroundings, because this is where our minds process more information than normal. When you go away to a foreign country you are much more sensitive to your surroundings. Everything is unfamiliar and new, so you pay much more attention and take in much more information.

It's the same when you spend a day on a training course, learning new things with a group of unfamiliar people. It feels like more time has passed than would have done if you had stayed at home following your normal routine.

All of this leads to two simple suggestions about how we can expand our experience of time.

Firstly, since we know that familiarity makes time pass faster, we can slow down time by exposing ourselves to as much new experience as possible. By travelling to new places, giving ourselves new challenges, meeting new people, exposing our minds to new information, hobbies and skills, and so on. This will increase the amount of information our minds process and stretch out our experience of time passing.

Secondly, and perhaps most effectively, we can slow down time by making a conscious effort to be more "mindful" of our experiences. Mindfulness means giving our whole attention to an experience – to what we are seeing, feeling, tasting, smelling or hearing – rather than to our thoughts.

In the moment

It means living through our senses and our experience rather than through our minds. It's a different approach to avoiding familiarity – and happens not by seeking new experiences, but by changing our attitude to our experiences.

When you're having a shower in the morning, for example – instead of letting your chatter away about the things you've got to do today or the things you did last night, try to bring your attention to the here and now, to really be aware of the sensation of the water splashing against and running down your body and the sense of warmth and cleanness you feel.

Or on the way home from work on the bus or the train – instead of mulling over all the problems you've had to deal with at work, focus your attention outside of yourself. Look at the sky, at the houses and buildings you pass and be aware of yourself here, travelling among them.

When you do chores such as mowing the lawn or washing the dishes, don't listen to music on your headphones or let yourself daydream. Give your attention to the objects and phenomena around you and the physical sensations you are experiencing.

One thing you'll find is that these chores become more enjoyable. And you'll also discover that this open and alert attitude to your has a time-expanding effect, since mindfulness increases the amount of information we process.

From this point of view, we don't have to think of time as an enemy. To a certain extent, we can understand and control our experience of time passing.

Many of us try to make sure we can live for as long as possible by eating good food and exercising, which is sensible. But it's possible for us to increase the amount of time that we experience in our lives in another way – by expanding our experience of .


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Apr 26, 2019
Part 1] This article has made a fundamental error by confounding the moment to moment sensation of the passage of time with the scale of days, weeks and months.

The moment to moment sensation of time passing does not contribute to the longer term sensation of the rapidity of time passing.

If you intensified the experience of the passage of time for an older adult they will still report the larger scale passage of time, in the order of, say, months, as approximately the same.

On the moment-to-moment passage of time, this varies with the degree of attention paid and variables such as novelty, intensity of experience and available resources (that may fatigue quickly in the older individual) are variables.

Apr 26, 2019
Part 2] For younger people their experience of large scale time is extremely limited and they are physically changing so that last year seems like a very long time ago. For older people their world view spans decades and so their place in this larger time scale is more fluid giving the impression of larger scale time and quicker passage of time.

Time at the scale of minutes should not be confounded with time at the scale of days to years, subjectively they are fundamentally different phenomena.

Apr 27, 2019
Interesting article, but I tend to agree with the previous comments by RobertKarlStonjek, that there is more than one 'time sense,' and each works differently.

The author states that familiarity (with the world, etc) makes time speed up for older persons, while the opposite is true of children. Yet, what of the universal experience that the familiar is boring, and that time surely drags when one is bored? Conversely, time "flies" when having fun, which often involves novelty, which the author would say should slow time down.

The reason for the seeming contradiction is that more than one sense of time is involved. (In fairness to the author, perhaps he goes into this in his book, while this article had a length limit...?)

Indeed, as I am 'pushing' 70, yearly events do seem to come along quickly, while individual days, filled with the familiar, can drag by!

Apr 27, 2019
Everybody has experienced the disconnect between immediate time experience and the experience of time upon reflection which obviously use different systems of time evaluation.

An interesting and well known effect of cannabis intoxication is the distinct impression that time has very nearly stopped, but upon reflection the past few hours seem to have sped by very quickly.

This shows that there is more than one system in play and it is a false premiss to assume that our longer term time experience is a result of the accumulation of moment to moment experiences as they are not and it is not unusual for a reversal to occur as in the cannabis example.

When we reflect on the passage of time, which is usually on the scale of days to years, we are using an entirely different system to model the passage of time and it is this system that is most effected by aging.

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