The older we get, the shorter everything feels, and that can really be quite distressing. Last year’s holiday season feels like yesterday, as does the futuristic-sounding year 2000, and that was almost 22 years ago. Even summer isn’t as long and relaxing as it was when we were young.
As much as we may want to escape time, we can’t, and more and more research suggests that time is somehow intrinsic to our bodies. There is, of course, our circadian rhythm—a natural internal clock that can maintain a 24-hour cycle even while stuck in a dark, empty room for months at a time. And every one of our cells can also tell its own time, so much so that some scientists even assembled a biological clock in a test tube to study how it works.
But even if you’re not on an intellectual quest to determine the nature of time itself, your perception of time dictates a lot of how you experience your past, present, and future. And understanding how you perceive time can help you make the most of it.
Be mindful in the present
When it comes to taking control of time, this tip might just be the most important one. Paying attention to the moment you’re currently living is key to not letting time pass you by.
“Whether its listening to someone else share their experiences, or simply walking from point A to point B, if your mind is racing to the past or the future—like what it will be like when you reach point B, or what that person told you last time—you are not fully present to the richness of the experiences that are occurring that moment, in real time,” says Fuschia Sirois, a psychology professor at The University of Sheffield who specializes in the art of procrastination.
[Related: Procrastination is hurting Future You. Present You can help.]
Being fully present, both cognitively and emotionally, could mean anything from observing every nuance in your friend’s words, to the environmental details around you. One study showed that meditation experts had a better perception of time, and others showed those who practiced meditation felt like time lasted longer than people who do not meditate.
“In being more mindful in our experiences, we may recognize how they may be meaningful to us,” says Sirois. “Meaningfulness can foster positive feelings. These positive feelings support expansive mindsets that can merge our perceptions of the past, present, and future and make the present feel fuller and less fleeting.”
Seek novelty and new experiences
“In my mind there is only one way to slow time: seek novelty,” says David Eagleman, neuroscientist at Stanford University. “The reason this works is because new experiences cause the brain to write down more memory, and then when you read that back out retrospectively, the event seems to have lasted longer.”
That’s essentially why when you travel somewhere for the first time, it feels so much longer than when you’re on your way back. So to make time last longer, you should push yourself to learn new things as often as possible, or at least trick yourself into thinking something is new, like rearranging your office just to make it feel like a new experience. Researchers in the Netherlands found, for example, that novelty enhances our perception of those experiences, and therefore time. The opposite can also be true, and that’s why time felt like it was going faster during COVID-19 lockdown, because we weren’t having new experiences and everything just seems like one big blob of a memory.
Challenge yourself and engage your brain
For Selmer Bringsjord, a professor of logic and philosophy, as well as director of the Rensselaer Artificial Intelligence and Reasoning Laboratory, the longest days often involve spending time tackling problems known in mathematical computer science to be lengthy, difficult solves.
“For example, there are problems known to demand exponential time relative to the size of their inputs; these are known as EXPTIME problems, if you want the fancy label.” Bringsjord, for one, loves American football, and he says that when you closely study NFL games, stats, and make predictions, you are playing an EXPTIME game. “My longest days are often Mondays, because I study what happened the previous day in the NFL, then watch Monday Night Football, and then analyze further—and make some detailed predictions.”
You don’t have to dive as deeply into numbers and complicated problems as he does, but if you try playing chess, checkers, or Go—all EXPTIME games—you just might feel like time is moving a bit slower.
Stop multitasking and focus on one thing at a time
Multitasking is a myth: you’re not juggling many tasks at once, you’re quickly switching between tasks. And if you quickly change tasks, you’re not really focusing on any of them in a meaningful way, a practice that’s bad for your focus and productivity, as well as your understanding of time.
“We need to stop consciously multitasking,” says Caroline Leaf, a cognitive neuroscientist. “This mixes up the energy waves in the brain and creates a sort of tsunami energy effect in the brain and mind and body which will distort our perception of time.” So it’s no surprise that in a 2015 study, researchers from University of Illinois and University of Wisconsin showed that when participants carried out other tasks while watching commercials they felt time was going by more quickly than if they just focused on the commercials. This is, of course, great for killing time while you wait for your favorite movie to return, but it’s detrimental if you’re working on slowing your pace.
Say no, or at least, don’t always say yes
If you are able to protect your time and are intentional about how you spend it, you will feel like you have more control, and you can perceive time more slowly. “Don’t say yes to everything and try to adopt a rule of only so many appointments or social events each week,” says Carol Kaufman-Scarborough, a business professor at Rutgers University who researches consumer time perception.
In fact, stress from having too much on your plate distorts your perception of time, especially when it comes to work and burnout, according to research by the University of Pennsylvania. But the distortion isn’t consistent—stress can make time appear to speed up or slow down, depending on the situation. So please, remove this variable entirely and say no to some more things (just not this tip).
Hold your breath, rest, and let your mind wander
“When we live in reaction mode, time feels like something that is passing by or we are chasing, a fleeting quality that we are not part of constructing, a cosmic conveyer belt taking us somewhere ahead, forward, toward,” says Catherine Cook-Cottone, a mindfulness researcher at the State University of New York at Buffalo. “Time, when slowed, is spacious. Time when contracted or ignored is not… we become ‘pressed for time.’”
[Related: Time isn’t real. Here’s how people capitalized on that.]
This can also mean practicing some moments of daydreaming or reflection, such as five to 10 minutes of mind-wandering to really stimulate the default mode network in the brain, which is the state your brain enters when it’s not stimulated. This basically resets the brain and helps bring more perspective to how you are feeling, as well as how we see time. Thinker moments can also just be moments of daydreaming or boredom.
One of the most extreme examples of this was a “one month of boredom” challenge by Chris Bailey, author of Hyperfocus. To rest his brain from overstimulation, he did something extremely bland for an hour every day, from waiting on hold with an airline company to reading terms and conditions. You don’t have to go that far, but simple rest and boredom will bring your brain back to that default mode and restore your power to slow down time.
Travel very fast
And by very fast, we mean travel-into-space-kind-of-fast. Odds are you won’t get a chance to travel at these speeds, but this is worth knowing anyway.
“This will not affect your perception of time’s passing, except that when you reconvene with others who have not been traveling at a significant fraction of the speed of light you will find that they are actually older: more years will for them have passed, and the trees will have more rings,” says Richard Arthur, a philosophy professor at McMaster University.
In fact, studies have shown that time goes by differently in space. Astronauts age more slowly during space travel than they do, or would have, on Earth. In fact, to get a glimpse into how radiation, microgravity, and confinement during a spaceflight affect the passing of time for the human body, NASA studied twin astronauts, Scott and Mark Kelly. Scott went to space for 340 days and Mark stayed at the terrestrial control base. At the end—you guessed it—the one who was in space aged just a little more slowly.
Last but not least: Make good memories
Intentionally capturing details is crucial for ensuring you can savor your experiences, and that time passes more slowly. But part of that is up to how you create memories of those moments, especially after the fact. Developing the right type of mental snapshots can stretch a 10-minute experience to 10 years, or even a lifetime.
Actually doing so can take practice, but you can consider not taking photos. Snapping a pic to remember a ridiculous moment or picturesque view could make our memory of that time worse, according to studies by researchers at the University of California and elsewhere. If that’s a big ask, you should still try to build mental images when you can. After all, your brain can store up to 2.5 petabytes of data, according to researchers at Northwestern University. That’s more than 300 years of Netflix, and if you’re lucky you’ll feel like you enjoyed life for that long.
So, why does time go so fast as you age? Put in the simplest terms, one of the most prevalent explanations is that our perception of time is inherently linked to how much time we have already lived – ie the older you get the more memories and experiences you have to draw on.How do you slow down time as we age? ›
- Fill Your Time with New Experiences to Counteract Routine. ...
- Make Meaningful Progress. ...
- Practice mindfulness. ...
- Start journaling to practice reflection.
- Fill your time with new activities. Modern research supports the 1885 advice of philosopher Jean-Marie Guyau. ...
- Don't watch so much TV. ...
- Take an unfamiliar route to work. ...
- Avoid routine to stop the years flashing by. ...
- But think about whether you really want to slow time down.
So, why does time go so fast as you age? Put in the simplest terms, one of the most prevalent explanations is that our perception of time is inherently linked to how much time we have already lived – ie the older you get the more memories and experiences you have to draw on.How to make time last longer? ›
- Keep learning. Learning new things is a pretty obvious way to pass your brain new information on a regular basis. ...
- Visit new places. ...
- Meet new people. ...
- Try new activities. ...
- Be spontaneous.
Practice meditation and mindfulness.
And one of the simplest benefits could be one of the most powerful: slowing down. Focused attention meditation and other types of meditation with a single focus, can help slow your breathing and bring you into the present moment where you can think and act more clearly.
Children perceive and lay down more memory frames or mental images per unit of time than adults, so when they remember events—that is, the passage of time—they recall more visual data. This is what causes the perception of time passing more rapidly as we age.Why does time go so fast as we age? ›
That is because our brain encodes new experiences differently than familiar ones and our subjective experience of time is tied to the number of new memories we create. The more new experiences we have, the more memories that are stored, and the faster time will seem to pass during the event.Does time pass faster for ADHD? ›
The inner clock of people with ADHD seems to run faster than in normal individuals, and this can be useful in diagnostics and can be integrated into treatment. Furthermore, tasks that for individuals without ADHD are perceived as repetitive or uninteresting are perceived as dragging on much longer for those with ADHD.Do 20 years go by fast? ›
There's biochemical research that shows the release of dopamine when we perceive novel stimuli starts to drop past the age of 20, which makes time appear to go by more quickly.
They then tested their perception of time. The researchers found that when people feel anxious, they underestimate how much time passes. In other words, anxiety makes time pass quicker. On the other hand, some people tend to slightly overestimate it when they feel afraid.At what age does time go faster? ›
If you're 33, a year is 3% of your life so far, so time passes almost seven times faster than it did when you were five. Time for an 80-year-old passes almost in the blink of an eye, sixteen times faster than it does for a 5-year-old.Does time go faster as we age? ›
As adults, “the brain receives fewer images than it was trained to receive when young,” Bejan said. Therefore, we feel like time went by more quickly. In other words, there are physiological factors at play that influence our perception of time ― namely, the older we get, the faster it feels.Why does time go so fast when you're having fun? ›
Unexpectedly pleasurable events boost dopamine release, which should cause your internal clock to run faster. Your subjective sense of time in that case grows faster than time itself, so that short intervals seem longer than they are.Why does my day go by so fast? ›
Stress and “Time Pressure” Speed Up the Day
Long story short, they found that most subjects reported that time passes by so fast because we have so much to do and not enough time in which to do everything. Researchers called this “time pressure,” and it goes hand in hand with stress.
We can't slow time itself down, but we can do things to pace ourselves and create more lasting impressions of times past. The expression “time flies,” originating from the Latin phrase "tempus fugit," is one we all find ourselves saying or thinking, even when we aren't having fun (as the extended expression goes).How can I change my perception of time? ›
- Stop thinking of time as money (even if it is). Increasing value breeds scarcity, even if it's just the perception of scarcity. ...
- Embrace novelty. ...
- Work smarter. ...
- Move. ...
- Disconnect. ...
- Plan trips. ...
- Go into nature.
- Stop. Yes, that's it. ...
- Listen. Try this one for more than a few seconds. ...
- Look. I know, this is train-crossing advice — stop, look, listen. ...
- Touch. ...
- Smell. ...
- Turn it off. ...
- Meditate. ...
- Build down-time into your day.
Keeping busy can stem from the desire to be seen by others as competent, capable and even perfect—and slowing down may spark feelings of inadequacy and shame, Taylor said. Slowing down may spark other unpleasant emotions, such as boredom, loneliness and guilt, Taylor said.Do you age slower the faster you go? ›
That depends on how fast you're traveling. Thanks to Einstein, we know that the faster you go, the slower time passes--so a very fast spaceship is a time machine to the future. Five years on a ship traveling at 99 percent the speed of light (2.5 years out and 2.5 years back) corresponds to roughly 36 years on Earth.
"Gravity makes us age slower, in a relative term," Chou said. "Compared to someone not near any massive object, we are aging more slowly by a very tiny amount. In fact, for that someone, the whole world around us evolves more slowly under the effect of gravity."What does an ADHD shutdown look like? ›
This means people with ADHD can struggle to complete a task or make, organize or start a plan. Often they find themselves shifting their attention to something else before completing the task at hand. Ultimately, we are nearly always overstimulated and can't sort through the chaos in our brains.Is deja vu a symptom of ADHD? ›
People with Temporal Lobe ADD may have difficulties controlling negative thoughts. Some people with Type 4 ADD experience déjà vu, see shadows or objects changing shape, and may hear sounds that nobody else hears.At what age does ADHD slow down? ›
The brain's frontal lobes, which are involved in ADHD, continue to mature until we reach age 35. In practical terms, this means that people with ADHD can expect some lessening of their symptoms over time. Many will not match the emotional maturity of a 21-year-old until their late 30's.Why do some people age slower? ›
As for what determines a person's rate of biological aging, Milman said genes play a role. There are certain "longevity genes" that can help shield people from environmental stressors, to a degree.Why am I so obsessed with time? ›
Chronophobia is the extreme fear of time or time passing. It can cause severe anxiety, feelings of dread, obsessive behaviors and depression. People who are elderly, ill or imprisoned are more likely to develop this anxiety disorder.At what time is anxiety the worst? ›
Similarly, among those with panic attacks, general anxiety and panic symptoms are highest in the afternoon; however, sense of threat is highest in the morning (Kenardy, Fried, Kraemer, & Taylor, 1992).Why do I feel like I have no time? ›
This is called time anxiety. Similar to productivity shame–the feeling that you've never done enough–time anxiety is when you feel you never have enough time to meet your goals or that you're not maximizing the time you do have. Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.What age is the hardest time in life? ›
The 20s...it's the phase where so many things change in our lives and it all happens so fast. There's angst, discovery, unpredictability and a sense of self-realization. It's the time we truly leave childhood behind and enter a whole new world of responsibility.What ages your face fastest? ›
Ultraviolet (UV) light and exposure to sunlight age your skin more quickly than it would age naturally. The result is called photoaging, and it's responsible for 90% of visible changes to your skin. UV light damages skin cells, contributing to premature changes like age spots.
Americans agree that mid-30s are best years of life - Study Finds.Why do humans age? ›
We are constantly under attack from our environment, and our bodies accumulate damage over time. Damage affects the DNA, proteins and fats in our body which break down and weaken various components that we need to survive.Why does time go by fast for ADHD? ›
Research suggests that those with ADHD are deficient in temporal processing abilities, which affect executive functioning. This interferes with our ability to perceive time accurately when tasks require our attention or present an opportunity for impulsive responses.Does boredom slow down time? ›
Although we feel sluggish and tired when we're bored, at a physiological level it's actually a 'high arousal' state (as measured by a faster heart rate). In turn, it's well-established that greater arousal speeds up our brain's 'internal clock', so that we feel that more time has passed than actually has.Does boredom make time go slower? ›
In a state of boredom the felt pace of the flow of time is slowed down.Why do I do everything fast? ›
Hurry sickness, coined in their 1985 book “Type A Behavior and Your Heart” isn't an actual medical condition, but it's known as a sense of excessive time urgency. You may constantly feel rushed or anxious and have a feeling of urgency to get things done when there's no need.Why is everything fast at night? ›
You may be experiencing this feeling because your brain is more alert at night. This is especially true for those who consider themselves to be night owls. When you're first waking up in the morning, your brain moves slowly and processes things like music at a slightly slower pace.
When experiencing that feeling of shear terror, time appears to slow down – meaning 1 minute feels like many. This is believed to be because the brain goes into a survival mode – trying to look for any opportunity to get you out of the threading situation.Why is my brain moving so fast? ›
Research has found that stress hormones cause an increase in activity in certain parts of the brain. This increased activity can cause an increase in thought generation. Increased thought generation is typically experienced as racing thoughts.What mental illness affects time perception? ›
Previous studies have also found that there are abnormalities in the time perception and time experience due to psychiatric disorders (e.g., depression, ADHD, substance use disorders, schizophrenia).
In the rare condition known as tachysensia, a person experiences a temporary distortion of time and sound, during which they get the “fast feeling” that everything is moving more rapidly than it actually is.What activities slow brain down? ›
Researchers theorize that a less active brain uses less of the body's energy. Experts say there are a number of ways to calm your brain, including meditation, active listening, and mindful eating.How do I force myself to slow down? ›
- Pay attention to what gets your attention. ...
- Be present. ...
- Put the cell phone away. ...
- Focus on the people in front of you. ...
- Drive the speed limit. ...
- Accept your limitations. ...
- Make time to have fun. ...
- Practice silence.
- Turn off your phone. ...
- Delete your social media accounts, or use them sparingly. ...
- Create a meaningful morning routine. ...
- Savor your coffee and tea. ...
- Stop multitasking. ...
- Simplify your to-do list. ...
- Read a book. ...
- Take a walk.
While speeding up can be the first and most natural response to stress, slowing down is often a much better way to manage anxiety. By recognizing your immediate reaction to speed up and deliberately making the decision to slow down instead, you can manage your anxiety effectively and foster an internal feeling of calm.Why do I feel that time is going too fast? ›
In the rare condition known as tachysensia, a person experiences a temporary distortion of time and sound, during which they get the “fast feeling” that everything is moving more rapidly than it actually is.What is the anxiety of time passing? ›
What is chronophobia? Chronophobia is an extreme fear of time or the passage of time. People with this anxiety disorder feel intense discomfort or dread when they think about time passing them by. They may be concerned about their own mortality or worry about getting older.Why does time go by so fast when you have fun? ›
Unexpectedly pleasurable events boost dopamine release, which should cause your internal clock to run faster. Your subjective sense of time in that case grows faster than time itself, so that short intervals seem longer than they are.How do I stop thinking about how fast time is going? ›
Work on mindfulness
All you need to do is focus on what you're doing right now instead of worrying about what's going to happen later. Mindfulness may sound simple, but it takes practice for most people. It's normal to think about the future, especially when upcoming possibilities can affect life outcomes.
- Take a walk, go for a swim, or try another type of physical activity.
- Do some breathing exercises.
- Listen to music.
- Watch television.
- Read a book.
- Take an exercise class such as yoga or pilates or try doing it yourself at home.
- Take a relaxing bath or pamper yourself for an hour.
Chronophobia and other phobias are caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Chronophobia can develop as a result of being imprisoned, having a fatal illness, or surviving a traumatic experience. People who suffer from anxiety or suffer from mental illness are more likely to develop phobias.Is Chronophobia rare? ›
Chronophobia is a less common phobia that involves a specific and debilitating fear of time passing. It is associated with certain risk factors like having a terminal illness or being incarcerated.Why does time feel longer when bored? ›
Although we feel sluggish and tired when we're bored, at a physiological level it's actually a 'high arousal' state (as measured by a faster heart rate). In turn, it's well-established that greater arousal speeds up our brain's 'internal clock', so that we feel that more time has passed than actually has.