Cutting-Edge Leadership

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Groundhog Day Syndrome: Why Time Goes Faster as We Age

Does time fly by too quickly? Why?

In the movie, Groundhog Day, Bill Murray's character keeps reliving the same day over and over. As we age, time seems to pass more quickly. We find ourselves amazed that it's Groundhog Day again? Christmas already? And, of course, our birthdays seem to fly by.

According to experts on time perception, the reason that time seems to go more quickly is that we repeat the same routines and experience the same events over and over. Doing things for the first time typically leaves a lasting impression (remember your first day of school or a new job?), but as we repeat those events over and over they essentially leave little or no vivid memory, and time seems to fly by.

This "Groundhog Day Syndrome," as I like to call it, can be slowed down by changing your routines and trying new things. Each of those new experiences will leave a more vivid memory than doing the same thing over and over. For example, eating at the same fancy restaurant for every celebration leads to Groundhog Day Syndrome, try a new restaurant each time, and your celebrations will seem to last longer, and you will have a greater variety of memories.

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I've written about this perception that time passes more quickly as you age, and other theories have been suggested. A common one is a sort of mathematical formula that focuses on the time we have lived - a sort of life "half-life." This theory suggests that when you are 10, the last five years seems long, because it is half of your life; and so on. But that theory doesn't explain why even shorter periods go faster as time moves on. For example, the first few days of your tropical vacation seem to go slowly (you are experiencing new things), but before you know it, the two weeks are up (same hotel, same beaches, another luau, etc.).

So, to combat Groundhog Day Syndrome, you need to break out of ruts, get out of the same routine (although we have to realize that there is some comfort in routines), and focus on the moment - make new, and lasting memories. Although routines may be familiar and comforting, they also lead to a perception that time is passing more quickly, and the world is passing us by.

Previous post on aging and time perception (and reader comments) here.

References

Draaisma, Douwe (2006). Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older: How Memory Shapes our Past. Cambridge University Press.

Zimbardo, Philip & Boyd, John (2009) The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life. New York: Free Press.

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http://twitter.com/#!/ronriggio

 

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

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