Why time flies so fast as we age
Does it feel like the last 10 years flew by as if it were just one year? What happened?! Literally, what actually happened?
You’re probably familiar with the notion that time flies when you’re having fun, and even faster when you’re busy. Would that imply that, if you want to slow down the pace of years passing, you do nothing and have no fun? Well, if you don’t remember the activities, in a way, you didn’t really have fun, and you did nothing — nothing memorable. It’s like the fun and busyness throughout the years may have never even happened; at least not according to your memory of them. If the fun wasn’t remarkable, and the busy was routine, in retrospect it may seem that those years were voids.
“But as each passing year converts some of this experience into automatic routine which we hardly note at all, the days and weeks smooth themselves out in recollection to more contentless units, and the years grow hollow and collapse.”
James, William. “THE PERCEPTION OF TIME.” The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, vol. 12, vol. 20, 1886, p. 391. https://books.google.ki/books?id=3C5NAAAAMAAJ
Psychologist William James suggested that new memorable experiences may slow down the perceived speed in time as we age1.
If nothing’s really different, we barely remember the last few years or even decades. When all is same-old-same-old, when routines are unchanging, when we’re too comfortable…might as well be in a coma. What feels like a few months, can very well be a decade. We typically use decades as markers including our age; i.e. our 20s, 30s, 40s … etc. But if there weren’t many marked memories or new experiences in those decades, what’s to remember?
Major markers like school, work, marriage, births, are more memorable, in part, because they’re so different from what we experienced before; they were new to us. They’re also more memorable since we thought about them longer; even since our infancy. Ok, maybe not that young, but a long time in our minds. So these long-term milestones created definitive markers in our past. But once accomplished, then what?
Focus on creating both long and short-term markers. And the more short-term markers the better. If you only focus on long-term milestones, you may create voids in time until they’re completed. It’s easier to remember, not by the year or decade, but by markers.
Build Long and Short-Term Markers
|A new career path. I worked as a background performer for a year while I was looking for a ‘real’ job. Every set was extremely different. Worked on commercials, music videos, TV and Feature film productions. Never knew where I’d be in the city, who I’d meet, and even who I would be, in character. I played the part of a cop, a gang member, debutant, and so much more.
Master a new skill. Needs to be completely different, or you’re just in the same-old-same-old feeling. If you want to get into digital, try Lynda.com via LinkedIn. These training courses are my new obsession, you can learn up-to-date digital-everythings!
A major trip (nope, not just another 2 weeks at the beach). How about a year to travel in ways you haven’t done before — remember, not the same-old-same-old. I did this in a RV once. Quit a pretty awesome job and drove all over North America…and yes, the job was still there when I got back, even though that wasn’t part of the plan.
|Changing something that’s been the same forever — like cutting off all your hair! Ya, did that once…once. I seem to be a bit reliant on my hair, so never again. But I felt many changes throughout my life. Seriously: I got attention from totally different people, made new friends, and even had to change my entire wardrobe. Why? Because all my clothes were long and flowy (in the 80s), and with short hair I looked like a bell! But my short hair time is definitely memorable.
Attending an event that you may never have considered before. I went to a concert with a genre that I didn’t like at all. But listening to the music blasting me into existance, coupled with the super energetic (ok, rowdy) fans, and being offered a backstage pass (I declined, I’m a scaredy cat), made that concert one of the most memorable experiences, ever!
Join a club – I joined taekwondo believing that I didn’t have to spar. I was scared, of sparring, but it’s part of every class. When I was kicked in the face, I wanted to quit. But I was encouraged to continue. Sparring required being completely present in the moment, or you would get hit. This sport has many engaging experiences, and many milestone accomplishments as you move through the belts. I also didn’t expect how exhilarating it was to SMASH a board to pieces! What a rush!
In their research paper, “Mindfulness, Meditation, and the Experience of Time,” Marc Wittmann and Stefan Schmidt support to the tie between engaging in the present and the perception of time:
“Because the feeling of time is created through attending to the embodied self at the present moment, being exceptionally mindful slows down the passage of time. Moreover, subjective time slows down in retrospect because greater awareness of one’s experiences leads to enriched memory contents, which in turn expands subjective duration. An increased focus on an experienced self at the present moment slows down the subjective passage of time – now and in retrospect.”
The more we’re engaged in different experiences, the less time flies, in retrospect. Why? Because, in retrospect, you remember these experiences more. When you are mentally active in the moment, feels like things ‘actually happened’, so you remember those times. The last moment you remember, can be a marker — a clear point-in-time in your memory.
The more markers that are accomplished in one year, the more time seems to have passed. And yet, it was only one year! And it’s as if you added more than just one year to your life. Congratulations, you just anti-aged your time!
- James, William. “THE PERCEPTION OF TIME.”The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, vol. 12, vol. 20, 1886, p. 391. https://books.google.ki/books?id=3C5NAAAAMAA
- Wittmann, Marc, and Stefan Schmidt. “Mindfulness Meditation and the Experience of Time.” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/260615144_Mindfulness_Meditation_and_the_Experience_of_Time