Cutting-Edge Leadership

The best in current leadership research and theory, from cultivating charisma to transforming your organization

Why Time Goes Faster as You Get Older

Have you ever wondered why life seems to pass more quickly as you get older? Each year seems to go by faster and faster. Find out why, and how to slow it down. Read More

Wise use of time

Ronald ~ it is so true that we can slow down our time perception when we savor things. One trick is to practice "presencing", that is being present to your surroundings. Sometimes I just stop to listen to what is going on around me. I am struck by the sound of the birds (or the screeches of the kids!). When we dazzle our five senses, we feel more alive and, yes, we get more life out of the time we have! Thanks for the great post!

Warm regards,
Christine Louise Hohlbaum

Thanks Christine

Yes, you are right on target. We need to slow down and learn to appreciate. There is some evidence that some retirees are able to focus more clearly on the present and on new experiences once they have their work lives behind them. Does anyone else have anything to add?

Retired, relaxed, renewed

Dear Ronald: I appreciate this post and the links to the two books. I'll add them to my list.

I am far from retired, but some of the writers with whom I work are retired and more creative than ever. One of them - 81 years old - is performing in a play she's co-written. She wrote me recently to tell me about her "fresh eyes" - how since retirement AND since an injury, the world of small things has availed themselves to her eyes.

Neuroscientist Gregory Berns (author of Satisfaction) also explores the challenge of how to keep satisfied with things - food, lovers, work - after the novelty wears off. I'm very interested in just this creative challenge.

Let's keep the dialogue going.

Warm regards,
Jeffrey Davis

potential energy of the mass energy of the 3rd diminsion times t

the potential energy of the 3rd dimension times time plus the fifth
dimension equals the kenetic energy of mass times the 3rd dimension=mass energy times work equals velocity times 4th dimension plus the fifth dimension equals the ratio of the third dimension plus the fifth dimension=kenetic energy mass times the velocity mass times third dimension =division mass energy times kenetic eregy third plus the fifth dimensions=mass times velocity

I think this article is

I think this article is correct but I suspect there's more to it that this alone. I think there really are changes in the brain, not just the perceptions of consciousness or the experience of reality.

A perhaps related aspect of it must surely be diminishing brain power. When we are younger the brain is taking in more information and forming neural pathways quite rapidly. That brain activity and the young brain's alertness must make time go more slowly because more is actually happening moment by moment. We know from physics that time is ultimately a component of matter. With the brain itself composed of matter and synaptic activity a material process, the frenetic brain activity of a young person in effect distends time.

In later years when the neural pathways have hardened more and brain power is more strained, there is literally less happening in the experience of reality moment by moment - so time contracts. Not just the perception of time but the actual experience of time.

Good points

This makes a lot of sense. Is there any research to support these ideas? If not, it's a great line for a neuroscientist to explore!

If you studied biology you

If you studied biology you would know the answer. It's because of the (thermo) dynamics in human physiology. Metabolism dictates the speed of processes in your body by maintaining temperature, and thus the perception of time. Since time is not a constant but relative to the observer. If you get older, metabolism slows down and it is more difficult to maintain a steady temperature. When this happens, all processes in your body are slowing down. Because of that, time seems to go faster. (it's relative)

The reverse is true too: if you have a fever (and thus a a higher body temperature) processes speed up giving the impression that time goes slower by a great fraction.



You were stating in this blog that we tend to make lasting memories of first time events such as, first date, first this and first that when we are young. That may be true, but when I am interested in something or paying close attention to a major event in my life. Time goes by faster, not slower. When I go to a real good movie (in my opinion) time goes by faster. I might be making memories because of the high interest in the movie, but time goes by much faster as my mind is engaged intensely. So by your interpretation time should go by faster because new and exciting things are happening when we are young. The fact remains that this is exactly what older people are not saying. It has been my experience that time creates an high speed illusion by the high volume of interest we create as we get older. In other words, when we are young we are unaware of the millions of kinds of things we can be engaged in and time seems slow as nothing seems to strike much interest, but as time goes on we are turned on to many different types of interest and as we look forward to these interest or engage these interests, we are consumed by the intense interest and just like any good thing, does not seem to last. There is also a mind set that is trained (for lack of a better word) that is acquired over time to help accommodate some. Older people have developed patients over time by entertaining the mind while waiting. This is a developed skill that older people have acquired over time to get through things like, waiting in line, doctor visits, setting on the porch. They have more memories to help entertain them as they wait. Younger people do not have as many memories to pull up in order to keep themselves occupied while waiting. This is trained and you must have a viable memory bank to have access to. You will see impatients (getting into things, running around, acting bored) in young people and those with Alzheimer’s. Lots of toys are put into doctors office to keep children entertained, because they do not have the mental training to pull up memories to keep them entertained or do not have many memories to pull up or both. These are two of the main reasons, in my opinion, that create an illusion of time haste. The bottom line is as we get older we have the mental capabilities to keep ourselves entertained with more interest, more responsibilities and can improvise through the boring parts easier through memory recall.
I Am Marking Renewal In Giving Help To all those who need it.Thank you for your time.

I've always thought of it this way...

I have always thought of it like an old hand-cranked movie camera. When you are young, your brain is active, growing and excitied and is therefore capturing & processing many, many frames per second more than "usual". When this happens, like in a video where you watching a video where double capture the amount of frames per second than you can display, the evens will be shown in relatively slow motion. As you get older, the frames per second slows to where you are capturing less frames and therefore looks like life is going twice as fast.

Make any sense? Or did I botch my explanation?

I wonder if it has to do with

I wonder if it has to do with the relative length of time of events in proportion to the amount of time you have spent alive at the point the memory is formed, since your brain must use other experience durations as benchmarks for memory formation.

So when you've only been alive for 7 years, a summer vacation of 4 months is a full 5% of your life thus far (7 yrs = 84 months; 4/84=~5%), which is a fair chunk of your life. While a summer vacation of 4 months when you're 47 years old is only 0.7% of your life... barely registers, you know?


Anonymous wrote:
I wonder if it has to do with the relative length of time of events in proportion to the amount of time you have spent alive at the point the memory is formed, since your brain must use other experience durations as benchmarks for memory formation.

So when you've only been alive for 7 years, a summer vacation of 4 months is a full 5% of your life thus far (7 yrs = 84 months; 4/84=~5%), which is a fair chunk of your life. While a summer vacation of 4 months when you're 47 years old is only 0.7% of your life... barely registers, you know?

I agree with you - I came up with the identical theory years ago. When you're 5, Christmas seems to take forever (1 year is 1/5 of your life!) But when you're 50, you're thinking, it's Christmas again already? (1 year is only 1/50 of your life.)

Re-inventing the wheel

T.L. Freeman worked out the simple mathematics of the approach people are talking about here long ago in a short paper in The Journal of Irreproducible Results called "Why It's Later Than You Think".

He developed a concept of effective age: "life is half over at age ten, three quarters over at age thirty, and nine-tenths complete at sixty" (assuming one lives to ninety).

He discusses at least half a dozen implications, including the summer vacation effect.

The problem is...

There is no research evidence to support this. Some others have suggested similar "mathematical" formulas, but that doesn't hold up given the short-term experiences that I mention. You should read the two books that are referenced and see if you still believe that it's as logical as some sort of math formula. I think the fallacy there is that people think this is a "logical" process, and it's probably not.

Exponential Time

Agreed! It's like a half-life concept.


I came up with the same idea as well. I remember as a child getting excited when told of a pending family trip, only to become anguished by the immense amount of time in the future it was - two weeks. Now, two weeks is a trifle.

I noticed someone else put forward this same idea further down the page. It seems it's a popular theory.


Came here to say this as well.. glad you all are on it.

Time Unit Perceptions As A Percentage Of Your Life

This, I believe, is the most correct explanation.

You are repeating something I

You are repeating something I heard about a few years ago. They called it transcendental something-or-other and I can't remember what the something or other was. I'm pretty sure it wasn't transcendental meditation.


Why does boredom take forever yet good times travel swiftly?
This is the opposite of your theory.

IIt's a matter of percentage of memory

This is simple. If you can manage it, think back to your 5th birthday. Your sixth birthday seems so long away because your personal collective memory is only five. One year is 20% of your entire lifetime when you're only five. So, if my logic isn't based on being as stupid as I surely am, when you're 50, one year is equal to 1/50th of your life's memory or just 2%.

Time Perception as a percentage

For years I have had this idea that time is proportional to the years one has lived. I too agree that it seems plausible that at 1 a year takes 100% of the lifetime "experience" for a year. But at 100 a year is only 1% of the total lifetime experience. So as the years add up the intervals are shorter and are experienced as passing faster. Anyway that's an idea. Who really knows????


No one seemed to mention this specifically, but maybe people were touching on it . . . as you age, you can approximate the amount of time you have left - 20 yrs, 10 yrs, 5 yrs, whatever. Of that time, any moment is so precious. Sure, many people believe in an afterlife, but all we know and have experienced is being alive here on Earth and we know the joys that has and can bring. So the thought of not being alive on Earth gives us the feeling of the grains of time slipping through our fingers. When you have a sandbox as a youngster, it's ok to let some grains get out. Look at all you've got! But when you're down to a handful, it's amazing how quickly those last precious few slip away.

Interesting article

A very interesting article. One thing I'm not clear about is a slight discrepancy in the way time affects teenagers. Despite the observation that time goes faster in your later age it seem not to affect teenagers at all as for them, time seems to slow down to almost a complete halt. That's probably the very reason why when asked to do anything it seems to take them for ever to a: get to it, and b: actually do it. Interesting!

Time flies

From my observation, it seems that time goes faster as we age because the older we are, the smaller 'percentage' of our lives a given slice of time seems to be. High school took practically forever, my four years in the military just a bit shorter, and college following that a little shorter yet, though all periods were identical in terms of length of time.

Again, a perception thing, but that's how it struck me as I pondered it, so I agree with others that have posted this same hypothesis.

Scientists now found that the

Scientists now found that the earth is exccelerating faster than expected, and not slow down as they once thought. If this is so, I wondered there is a correction between time and space here on earth,that is why time seems to goes faster as we get older?.

Logarithmic time

This reminds me of the concept of 'logarithmic time' that I once read about. It works like this...

The first day of your life is your entire life up to that point, the 2nd day is only half your life, the 3rd day only a third etc. Scale that up to years & the first year is your whole life up to that point, the 2nd year of your life is half of your life, the 3rd year 1/3 of your life & the 30th year is only 1/30 of your life to that point.

In effect for you life any unit of time is a smaller part of your life up to that point than the same unit of time that preceded it & is thus percieved to have passed more quickly.

The same principle can apply to long term events in your life so the first week of a new romance is the entire duration but the 2nd week is only half of it & so it goes on.

The percentage a year amounts

The percentage a year amounts to of one's total years is the obvious theory, one which I think everyone thinks of.
However I believe a child has their life living in the absolute present. They have little memory to draw on, as mentioned above, and also they have no responsibility in planning their lives. Where past and future are important factors in decision making for adults, it takes them out of the present moment. A child can play with toys and ride bikes in the moment without the worry of say meal times.
For this three times a day activity for an adult you think of what is there in the house, do I need to shop, who likes what, can't cook this, can cook that, you prepare, you cook, you serve, eat, clear, wash-up, put away, with all the other aspects of life utilising this past and future thought process.
So past and future are such an intrinsic part of an adults mind that the present moment doesn't exist.
When I stumbled upon the book The Power of Now by Eckhardt Tolle I had no knowledge of spirituality/ enlightenment/ present moment awareness... whatever words suits you best, and was blown away.
Where as all religions talk of this, especially Buddhism (not that it needs to be a religious at all) this present moment which many try to attain through meditation etc, I believe children are constantly experiencing this before the negative mind patters and chatter are created as we become adults as it serves as a tool, though an entirely unnecessary one, to manage our live physically and emotionally.
A child doesn't internalise when placed in an environment, as adults do to consider and decide on action, they merely respond to it.
The energy one experiences to be in the present moment is not continuous and takes time and practice but time does slow.

My explanation

At least one of the explanations. I didn't read all the comments so maybe it has been said already, but here it is.

As we grow older, a fraction of the time we live (1 second, 1 hour, 1 day) is getting shorter and shorter relative to the rest of our life. So it seems smaller by exprience and feelings. A year for a 4 years old is the fourth of its life compared to a decade for someone in its forties.

I'm 105 years old, i think i

I'm 105 years old, i think i read this page in 1/2 second.

Its all relative

A persons perception of time changes with age as a day, for example, is a smaller proportion of your life. This in turn makes this hour seem to go faster.

Also a younger person has better reaction times, this in turn makes time seem slower too, because every detail is taken in under more scrutiny due to more active brains. In other words as you get older and your brain starts dying, you take in less and effectively forget time.

I know, Im amazing!
Many thanks and I hope this helps!

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • You may quote other posts using [quote] tags.

More information about formatting options

Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., is the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College.


Subscribe to Cutting-Edge Leadership

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.