My father, who was a Holocaust survivor and died in 1991 at the age of 71, always told me that as we get older, time goes faster. For years, his statement never made much sense to me, but now that I approach the age he was when he passed away, his words now have deep resonance. Time simply moves too quickly. The endless summers of childhood no longer exist.
There are various theories as to why time seems to move briskly as we age. The one that makes the most sense is that when we’re young, we encounter a lot of “firsts,” such as our first sleepover, our first kiss, our first love, our first day of college, or getting our first car. Each “first” is fascinating because we pay attention to each unique detail of the event. The more detailed our recollections, the better we remember them. When we’ve lived similar experiences over and over again, time tends to go more quickly.
Similarly, when we’re on vacation, the first few days seem to fly by. Then, all of a sudden, it feels as if the vacation takes a huge leap in time and starts moving much more swiftly. Before we know it, it’s time to return home. This is because things become more familiar during the latter part of the trip.
Neuropsychologist David Eagelman, who studies time perception, calls time “a rubbery thing” that changes based upon where we are and our mental engagement with our experience. The more engaged we are with our experience, the longer it lasts. In other words, time slows down if we pay attention, because we tend to notice more.
This is particularly common during emergencies or traumatic events, because we’re more inclined to focus on the details of the situation. If you’ve ever been in a car accident, as I was years ago, it seems as if it took forever for the ambulance to arrive. It was my first accident, and as I waited, every aspect of what happened repeated over and over in my mind.
Acknowledging that time seems to be moving quickly is a reminder that there are also things we can do to slow it down. A good way to start is to remain positive and mindful of the present moment. Being mindful means paying attention to the details of an experience, and incorporating all our senses into the remembering process. In other words... stopping to smell the roses.
We can practice mindfulness during meals by savoring each piece of food, and chewing and eating slowly. In Buddhist practice, this is called “mindful eating.” Years ago, I took a writing seminar given by a Buddhist, and she passed around a box of raisins to the participants. She told us each to take one. Before we wrote, she had us chew the one raisin at least 20 times before swallowing. While it was a painful exercise at first, the message to slow down was loud and clear.
Another way to slow down time is to go outside into nature, observe the trees, listen to the birds sing, and watch the waves on the sea. Not only is this calming, but it magically slows time down.
You can achieve this by recalling the details of experiences by sharing them with others—verbally, in writing, or through photographs. As a writer, I find that documenting my experiences either in articles or in my journal is the best way for me to slow things down.
Here are some writing prompts to slow down time:
- Write about special highlights of the past year.
- Write about any recent births or deaths that impacted you.
- Write about some accomplishments that you’re proud of.
- Write a letter of gratitude to someone who did something kind.
- Write about a new passion.
- Write about any positive transitions or transformations.
Eagleman, D. M. (2009). “Brain Time.” In What's Next? Dispatches on the Future of Science. Ed. M. Brockman. New York, NY: Vintage