Have you ever thought to yourself, “Where did the time go?” Time can be our greatest asset and also our biggest enemy. It can simultaneously feel as though it is slower than molasses yet somehow it manages to slip through our fingers like grains of sand. Have you ever stopped to wonder how or why this happens? Seeing as we’re in a leap year, and this blog will be posted on February 29 (“leap day”), I thought it fitting to explore time and how we experience it.
As a kid I always had mixed feelings about leap years. Maybe this isn’t something normal kids have an opinion about (or even think about), but my little mind struggled with the idea that some people are born on February 29, a day that only comes around every four years. On the one hand I thought of this group of people as elite because their birthday was rather uncommon. I was happy for them because they were “special”. On the other hand, however, I felt sorry for those people because they only had a “real birthday” every four years. How terrible! As an adult my thoughts and opinions about leap day have lessened significantly, however, I do find myself pondering how (potentially) confusing the passing of time might be for someone who only celebrates a “real birthday” every four years. For a person born on leap day, I imagine it’s a combination of waiting a long time to celebrate your birthday again, and then when it finally arrives having disbelief that “it’s already been four years!” I was not born on February 29, so this guess could be way off base, but whether you were born on leap day or not (which if you were, Happy Birthday!), we have all had those experiences where time seems to fool us. It either passes too slowly or too quickly, leaving us frustrated that we can never seem to keep up.
The science behind why this happens is actually pretty simple and makes a lot of sense. It’s our perception of time that gives it the different attributes of passing slowly or quickly. Have you noticed that the older you get the faster time goes? As children we are constantly ingesting new information and experiences; the world is new, exciting, and full of firsts; first steps, first day of school, first kiss, and so on. New imprints are created in our brains with each new experience but, as life progresses, our world becomes increasingly more familiar and our brain processes it differently. Neuroscientist David Eagleman says it this way,
“The more detailed the memory, the longer the moment seems to last. This explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older, why childhood summers seem to go on forever, while old age slips by while we’re dozing. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly it seems to pass.”
For more information about chronoception (our perception of time) watch this short video for a more scientific explanation. So is there a solution to the time warp we often find ourselves in? If the problem is slowing down time, or rather our perception of time, there are several ways to practice this.
- Keep Learning.
- Be spontaneous.
- Try new activities.
- Travel to new places.
- Meet new people.
The key for all of these suggestions is to consistently expose yourself to new information and experiences. By doing this you can experience the same effect as when you were younger because new experiences mean new mental imprints are being formed. While new experiences are important, and the above suggestions helpful, it is also important not just do more but rather notice more. One way to do this is through the practice of mindfulness. Clinical psychologist Dr. Steven Myers explains,
“Mindfulness allows people to appreciate their surroundings and can lead to the feeling that time is passing more slowly. Paying attention to events that are pleasant or interesting certainly can enhance our mood and allows us to savor positive experiences.”
Here are a few ways to begin introducing mindfulness exercises into your daily routine.
- Mindful breathing. Sit alone in a quiet place. Keep yourself relaxed but with good posture (back straight). Pay attention to how your breath moves in and out of your body. Notice the way your abdomen expands and collapses with each breath, as you let everything else fall away. Continue this exercise as you become aware of your body and what each breath feels like.
- Stop and smell the roses. Take a few minutes to slow down enough to appreciate the things around you. Watch a bird as it alights on a branch, watch the sunrise/set without hurry, noticing the changing colors and patterns in the cloud, or stop and smell a rose, breathing in the sweet fragrance as it enlightens your sense.
- Awaken your senses. Grab a cold (or warm) beverage and slowly sip it as you notice the temperature change on your lips or as it moves down your throat. Breathe in the smell of the drink and pay attention to the taste as it hits your taste buds.
- Body scan. (see link for guided instruction).
By practicing these exercises daily, you can begin to change your perception of time and slow down enough to find greater enjoyment even in day to day activities. Give these things a try and see if you notice a difference! Check out some other resources below for further information. Happy Leap Day!