We’ve all experienced the bending of time. Sometimes it feels like time is going incredibly fast, whilst at other times it feels like it’s dragging. The speeding up of time often seems to happen when we’re having fun and the slowing down seems to happen when we’re bored.
I’ve recently been reading up on memorisation and along the way I’ve discovered the reasons behind the bending of time and some things you can do to affect it.
Why time bends
As mentioned above, our perception of time varies a lot. It’s subjective – one person’s perception of a period of time may differ drastically from someone else’s.
Our perception of a period of time is determined by our memories of it. We remember the start, the end and anything memorable in between. The fewer memorable events in between, the quicker the time period will have seemed to have passed.
If you’re doubtful, there’s a pretty compelling example in Josh Foer’s book Moonwalking with Einstein.
In 1962, French scientist Michel Siffre spent two months living in total isolation in a cave. He had no access to a clock, calendar or the sun – he had no external time reference.
Siffre found that without anyone to talk to and nothing to do, life seemed to slow down. He lacked memorable events to pack in between the start and the finish.
Siffre estimated the date in his journal and on September 14th, the day the two-month experiment was due to finish, he had only reached August 20th in his journal. His perception of time had lost an entire month.
Children are observed to perceive time as moving far more slowly than adults. Although we’re never going to have as extreme an experience as Siffre, we’re all likely to experience a speeding up of time as we get older.
The reason for this speeding up is a process called neural adaptation – the process by which our brain adapts to familiar stimuli.
Think of how something new quickly becomes familiar. You might, for instance, be surprised by many new things that you see on the commute to a new job. Soon these new things become familiar and your brain has little or no response to seeing them. You just pass them by.
This process happens as our neurons (the cells in our brains) adapt their response to the stimuli (the new sights on your commute). Over time, the response may reduce to nothing at all.
To create memories, we need to experience new things – we need novelty.
As we become older, it’s common to form habits and routines. These habits and routines often make life feel easier – tasks become easier as we become more familiar with them, so repeating habits takes relatively little effort.
The downside of this is the effect of neural adaptation. Because our habits and routines are so familiar, our neurological response to them is likely to have disappeared. Our brains barely respond to them, so our brains don’t create new memories of them.
If we spend all of our time on familiar habits and routines, our brain won’t be creating new memories. Without memories, our perception of time speeds up.
Slowing down time
The speeding up of our perception of time isn’t inevitable. With relatively little effort and a little practice, we can slow down time.
The first step is to make our lives more densely filled with memories. As explained above, memory creation happens when we experience new things. To fill your life with memories, look to experience new things.
This doesn’t require any kind of drastic change – although moving to the other side of the world would certainly be memorable, it’s not necessary for slowing down time.
Small changes, such as changing routines, can be enough. Your new experiences don’t have to be entirely alien to you – just new enough to engage and interest you. You could simply try taking a slightly different route to work – the new surroundings will keep your brain engaged, creating new memories.
You don’t even have to change your routines if you’re able to keep yourself engaged with your existing routines. You can actively look to make your existing routine interesting, perhaps by paying extra attention to the sights that you pass on your existing route to work.
Mindfulness plays a big part here – if you’re being mindful, you’re far more likely to create new memories. Mindfulness can slow down time!
Give it a go and let me know your findings in the comments below!