We all heard it from our parents growing up and thought it sounded preposterous at the time: "What happened to last year? It flew by!" they would yell to each other at champagne-soaked New Year's Eve parties. That's because when you're a kid, time seemed to move incredibly slowly. My birthday is only a month from Christmas but I remember when I was 7 that those four weeks felt like eons — now it's all I can do to even bother celebrating my birthday, since it feels like I still have tinsel in my hair.
While we can't put our finger on an exact year when "time speeds up" it happens to most of us — and for real reasons. The first, and largest, is due to what psychologists call the Habituation Hypothesis. For very good reason, our brains want to conserve energy (compared to other animals, human brains use a lot of calories to run). So, once we have gotten used to something — a route to work, doing the dishes or getting dressed in the morning, for example — we start to do it on autopilot, and cease noticing many of the small things that make one day different from another. This makes time seem to pass much more quickly, since fewer unique moments are being recorded by your brain.
When you are a small child, everything is new, and most days are a learning experience, so your brain is rarely on "auto" and you notice much more, leading to time seeming much slower. The more attention that is paid to each moment, the slower time seems to pass (which makes sense, if you think about it).
There are physical reasons time perception changes too: Dopamine levels drop as we age, which affects our sense of time. And heart rate even has an impact. According to a 2013 research paper in the journal Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics, "...variations in prospective timing are caused by two factors: the pulse rate of an internal pacemaker and the amount of attention directed to the passage of time."
While you can't change much about the biological aspects of aging, you can force yourself out of your typical routine, and slow down time when you want to, using a few techniques.
Elevate Your Daily Experiences: Whatever it is that brings you into the moment (I favor time in nature and experiencing art), do more of those things. Playing with your kids without any distractions, cooking a meal from scratch or listening to a piece of music (not while reading, not while cleaning, just listening) are other ideas that will ground you in the now, create new memories and slow down time.
Do New Stuff: Remember those routines I wrote about above? Shake them up. Get up early one morning and take yourself to breakfast; go to a movie after work; take a long lunch and go window-shopping downtown; don't turn the TV on before bed and read or write instead. Changing up what you usually do will cause you to notice new things and see the world with a new perspective that's refreshing.
Quit Multitasking: Not focusing on the task at hand is the easiest way to lose time. If you are throwing together dinner while helping your kids with homework, while chatting to your friend, you probably won't remember doing any of those things. Try doing one thing at a time — this might require practice if you are used to doing many things at once — and see how you remember the day later.
Want to keep time from rushing by? It's at least partially up to you, and how you live your life.
Related on MNN:
- Tired? Take a coffee nap
- Can a Google search prove we've been visited by time travelers from the future?