By Ethan Maurice | April 20, 2016
The older we get, the faster time seems to go. Like driving at a cliff with the pedal stuck to the floor, time feels like it's constantly accelerating. As we continue to age, this feeling of time speeding up can be quite unsettling, to say the least.
Recently, I decided to dig deeper into our perception of time and read Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception. The book is a review of time-based scientific research, drawing conclusions on how to "warp" time in your favor. It was all quite fascinating, but what interested me most was this phenomenon of time speeding up as we age.
Here's how it works:
Our perception of the passage of time is rooted in memory. In the most basic sense, we can't even notice the passage of time without memory, for we have to compare two points in time (remembering one of them) to attempt to gauge how much time has passed.
Memory is the key to slowing down or speeding up our long term perception of time.
Essentially, the more memories you have in a period of time, the longer that period of time will seem. If you made 100 memories in the past year, time would seem to have gone by much faster than if you'd made 100,000 memories in that same year.
As we age, the frequency of memories we make tends to decline. As a child, most experiences were novel, nerve-wracking, or memory-worthy as we experimented our way through the many unknowns of life. When things are new or we're learning, memories are made constantly.
Think back to any of your firsts—your first time driving a car, first kiss, first day on the job, or first day of school... You can probably remember each vividly. Now try to remember the hundredth time you did any of those things. You probably can't right? Not that you were counting, but by the hundredth time you do something, it's become routine. Your brain doesn't bother intimately recording the same experience you've already had many times.
As we age, we continually encounter fewer new experiences. We become more habitual and develop routines. In those routines, we become accustomed to what we're doing and there's no need to record new memories of the same old activity.
And so, with fewer memories as points of reference in a given period of time, time seems to have gone by faster. We experienced it all, but it was almost as if we were on autopilot. Our minds didn't bother recording the experience.
So, how do we stop time from accelerating?
Do things differently.
Have novel experiences.
And keep learning.
In the past year, I've worked as a deckhand on a cruise ship, WWOOFed on the Big Island of Hawaii, worked in a brewery back home, and moved to Playa del Carmen, Mexico. By the time I become fully comfortable somewhere and start to settle into a routine, I'm on to the next remarkably new experience. I've learned so much and had so many novel experiences in the past year, I'd venture to say it almost feels as if I've lived multiple lives.
The older we get the more we have to work to have new experiences. Growing up was a series of one new experience after another. Novelty was practically fed to us. As adults, novelty is no longer a given. We must actively seek our own new experiences, otherwise, we'll live out the majority of our lives habit and routine, in what feels like the blink of an eye, or a push of the pedal to the floor.
I leave you with a National Geographic short on Jedidiah Jenkins. A man who pedaled his bicycle from Oregon to the southern tip of South America, seeking novelty to slow down his own perception of the passage of time.
Asked why he undertook such an audacious journey, his ultimate response hit the nail on the head, "in a sense, it turns your hundred years on this planet into a thousand."