Out of the Darkness

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How to Make Next Year the Longest of Your Life

Has this year passed too quickly? 5 strategies to expand your experience of time

Now that it’s close to the end of this year, and the beginning of a new one, some of you may be wondering about time. Is it really the end of the year already? Did it really pass by so quickly? To feel that time is speeding up is part of our common human experience. Time seems to move slowest for young children, and then to gradually—almost geometrically—increase its speed as we get older. Young children are forever asking ‘Are we there yet?’ while an old person might ask instead, ‘Are we here already?’

I’m not going to explain the different theories about why time seems to speed up—that was the topic of an earlier post. Here I would like offer you some advice on how to slow down time, so that the coming year doesn't pass as quickly as the last. 

1. Fill this Year with New Experience. The main factor in our perception of time is information—that is, how much information our minds absorb. And this primarily means perceptual information –the impressions we take in from our experiences and our surroundings. This is the reason why new experiences or new surroundings (such as a trip to an unfamiliar foreign country) seem to slow down time. It’s also the main reason why time goes so slowly for children - because the world is unfamiliar to them, and because their perception is very fresh and intense. As a result, they take in a massive amount of perceptual information.

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And this means that it’s possible for you to slow down time perception by exposing yourself to as much unfamiliarity and newness as possible. Travel to new places, give yourself new challenges, meet new people, learn a new hobby. Think about changing your job, or your husband or wife. (Okay, that might be going a little too far.) When you go on holiday, go somewhere adventurous rather than to a tourist complex.

2. Live in the Present: Be Mindful. Another way of increasing the number of impressions your mind absorbs is to live fully in the present. Even though we’re always physically in the present, many of us spend a great deal of time with our minds on the future and the past. We don’t fully perceive the reality of the experiences we have in the present. But if we make a conscious effort to be mindful—that is, to give our full attention to our experiences—the present opens up. We perceive more of our surroundings, our experiences become more powerful and real. As a result, time seems to slow down. For example, when you’re walking to the local stores or the subway station, instead of thinking about what you've got to do today or what you did last night, focus your attention outside you. Look at the sky, at the houses and buildings you pass, and be aware of yourself here, walking amongst them. Or when you're eating a meal: rather than reading the newspaper or thinking or daydreaming, pay real attention to the taste of the food, and the sensations of chewing and swallowing. 

The above two methods are the two most obvious and effective ways of slowing down time, but there are a few other more minor methods too.

3. Don’t spend too much time in states of absorption. Although absorption is necessary, and can have beneficial psychological effects (especially the state of ‘flow’), it also makes time pass very quickly. (The reason for this is that, in absorption, perceptual information decreases, as our attention narrows down to one particular object.) Try to reduce the time you spend in states of ‘passive absorption’, such as watching TV, playing computer games, and surfing the Internet. Try to spend more time ‘in the present’ instead.

4. Cultivate States of ‘Super-Absorption.’ Although normal states of absorption make time speed up, states of very intense absorption can have the opposite effect. At a certain point, you may slip into a kind of mental ‘wormhole’, in which time suddenly opens out and expands, so that it becomes possible to accomplish much more. This is what happens when athletes enter into the ‘zone.’ During periods of intense concentration, they enter a state of consciousness in which time slows down radically, so that they have ample time to position themselves, to respond to their opponents’ actions, and to make their own moves. This may also happen in meditation, when focussing our attention on a specific point for a long period may also bring a ‘slip’ into a new state of consciousness, in which time passes slowly.

5. Don’t Rush - Live Slowly. This sounds like a contradiction, but doing things slowly creates more time, because it allows us to relax into the present. Living slowly allows us to live mindfully. On the other hand, rushing pushes us out of the present. When we rush, we turn away from our present experience and literally rush into the future. Get up 15 minutes earlier so you don't have to rush to work; give yourself a couple of free evenings each week—or a free day at the weekend —when you don't feel pressurized by activities.

These strategies will certainly expand and slow down your sense of time passing, so that, at the end of next year, you hopefully won't feel short-changed. And perhaps even more importantly, you may feel a strong sense of fulfillment and contentment too.  

Steve Taylor PhD is a senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Metropolitan University, UK. He is the author of Back to Sanity: Healing the Madness of the Human Mindstevenmtaylor.com

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Steve Taylor Ph.D., is a senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Metropolitan University and a researcher in transpersonal psychology at Liverpool John Moores University.

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