A Matter of Time
“It is familiarity with life that makes time speed quickly.
When every day is a step intro the unknown, as for children
the days are long with the gathering of experience.”
-George Robert Gissing, English novelist
How many times have you either said or heard one of your contemporaries exclaim, “Time just moves too fast.” “Doesn’t it seem like just yesterday when she was a little girl?” “It doesn’t seem possible that this is our 30th wedding anniversary.” “Time flies when you are having fun.” “Time heals all wounds.” Or, my favorite: “Time wounds all heels.” And the songs: “Time in a Bottle” by Jim Croce, “Time” by Pink Floyd, Judy Collins’ “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” and “As Time Goes By” from “Casablanca.”
If you are over 30 years old, you probably perceive time fleeting by at the speed of light, or if you are very young, you most likely feel that time often moves at a snail’s pace.
I’ve been pondering the nature of time a lot lately because I have become very aware of how fast time seems to be speeding along. More precisely, I wonder if it is possible to make my precious moments last longer. One fact I’ve learned over the years is that how we experience time is ruled by our perceptions. So, the obvious question is: How can I shift my perception of time and somehow, like pulling a rubber band, stretch it out, enjoy my moments even more and, therefore, enhance my life experience?
Is this just wishful thinking, or is it time for an investigation of – time?
My brother Dave lives a much slower pace than I. He has suggested that perhaps, if I wanted to experience life at an equally slower pace, I should spend more of it at our fishing camp in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. I considered trying this as an experiment but, alas, it’s not in my DNA to live out my life tucked away in a small cabin in the middle of nowhere. In addition, my wife, without her hairdresser, would not be a happy camper. No, I don’t think that would work for either one of us.
I recall myself as a child, perceiving time moving at the pace of the proverbial snail. A few events come immediately to mind, like when I was pushed by my mother into doing something I really did not want to do, such as spending an ‘eternity’ riding in the backseat of our car as we ponderously drove 150 miles to our aunt’s house on a two-lane highway. Then there was that interminable, 600-mile drive to Wisconsin for our summer vacation or – worst of all – studying. Why was it always such a tedious wait for Christmas to roll around or for summer vacation to begin?
Even as an adult, I find that time flows by like molasses when I’m waiting expectantly for some future event to happen. But, when I’m completely absorbed in a creative project, time flies by very quickly. As a six year-old, it seemed forever until my next birthday but, as a mature adult, my 60th birthday was just yesterday, wasn’t it?
Of course, as a young boy there were moments when I felt time stretching and lasting longer in a good way. That was when I was having a new adventure, which, as a child, was most of the time. Wait! Perhaps there is a clue hidden here. After all, I’ve never heard a young person say, “Time just moves too fast.” We might also find another clue by examining how the mind collects memories.
Here is the Mapes’ theory of how and why we perceive time differently when we are young, as opposed to when we are older.
– As children, each new and delightful and not-so-delightful experience makes connections in our brain – a wiring of sorts. Children see things with new eyes because most of what they experience is, in fact, new and amazing. These often emotionally powerful first-time experiences form new memories and are stored away forever, structuring a unique filter through which the future is seen. These memories are then used for comparison and pattern recognition of future events. But, because the young brain is still processing, time is perceived as – slow.
Therefore, the way we perceive time is really a function of how we remember what happens – the events of life.
Now – a look at ‘mature’ people. As we age, our experiences become repetitive. We take fewer risks than when we were young. Older people have the tendency to do the same thing day after day, week in and week out: parents raising children, going to the same job, riding the same train ride, entering the same cubicle, playing the same sport, taking the same vacation, and visiting the same friends. Our patterns of thinking become familiar and safe. As we age, we unconsciously resist most significant change and we discard new pieces of information that don’t fit within our established comfort zone.
For the majority of individuals, it’s easier to be comfortable than rewire the brain and adjust to new information. This leads to very few new memories being formed and, as a result, we perceive time as passing rapidly. .
“Time changes everything except something
within us which is always surprised by change.”
-Thomas Hardy, English novelist and poet
I regret to say that, from my observation, most people are just too complacent to take the risks necessary to rewire their brains. That’s all right IF you are content to have your life perceptually pass you by at the speed of light. “Sameness” equals comfort and, when the brain goes on autopilot, time speeds up. “Newness” equals the slowing down and savoring what we experience.
So we all need to have new experiences – to be a little uncomfortable, to learn something new, to visit different places and, maybe, to do some form of meditation. Once you do that, you will see fresh possibilities and develop innovative ideas, which, in turn, will change your perception of – everything. How powerful and life-altering your experience is will determine how much of a “mind shift” you have. If the shift is big and bold, you will see every experience you have ever had, every memory you’ve ever stored – in a new light with a different mindset.
I believe you can learn to stretch time, live a more engaging life and have fewer problems. Yes, you will have to put in some work and challenge your resistance to change and get out of your comfort zone. That’s what you did as a child and that’s what you can choose to do as an adult.
Here are a few strategies to do just that:
1. Mentally rewind and review the day before you fall asleep. You will discover that there was a lot more to it than you thought.
2. Learn a simple meditation technique or just stop and be quiet for a few minutes. All you need is to have some reflection time, every now and then. That will, perceptually, slow down time.
3. Do something new. Create a “discovery” process. If you do new things, the day will seem much longer than if you are simply repeating past acts.
4. Take an afternoon off from your usual routine. Look at this time as a mini-vacation. Let the day unfold with no agenda or do something frivolous, fun, silly or just plain outrageous – like you did as a child, and you will experience time as a child.
5. Take a day trip to a new place. Visit a botanical garden, take a child to the zoo or hike a new and unfamiliar trail in the woods.
When you’re more fully engaged in life, you still may feel that there are not enough hours in the day, but the hours you experience will be far more fulfilling, creative and meaningful. Personally, I’m starting to suspect that your life can seem longer and feel more exceptional by learning and doing as much new stuff as possible, as often as possible.
James Mapes is the founder of Quantum Leap Thinking™, creator of The Transformational Coach™, expert on the psychology of “applied imagination,” best-selling author, highly acclaimed business speaker, consultant, seminar leader and personal excellence coach.