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Time Doesn’t Fly When You’re Enjoying Yourself

We're pleased to share with you another guest blog from Rich Hadley, MSc qualified business psychologist.

Isn't it strange how time speeds up as you get older? My school holidays, just six weeks long, used to last an eternity. Wednesdays were worst because this was early closing day in our village, and in the heat of the August afternoon, time itself seemed to come to halt, just the buzzing of flies and the occasional passing train in the distance to punctuate the still emptiness. Now, as I turn 50, I'm just as unsettled at the rapidity of time, how ever more quickly arrives each birthday, how brief is the summer warmth, how soon it's time to pay the next tax bill.

Time used to be a quiet stopping place, somewhere to sit and think and watch the world go by. Now it's a station platform, all arrivals and departures, rushing to meet a deadline, going with the flow of the crowd. Things used to be In Time. Now they have to be On Time.

It's not just a fancy. The perception of time's passing really does change according to your age, your mental state and what's going on around you.

There are two types of time: Real Time, cosmic time, the turning of the earth from darkness to light, day to night, and the passing of the seasons as the earth tilts back and forth, the revolution of the moon each month. And there is the time we create, time relative to our perception, Perceived Time.

In his article Why Time Seems to Speed Up as We Get Older, Steve Taylor explains that there are psychological laws which affect the way our brains interpret the duration of time. That means you really can make time speed up or slow down.

The more your brain processes ('cognitive activity'), the more slowly time passes. New experiences, visiting places for the first time, meeting people, trying out unfamiliar activities and varying your standard routine stimulates cognitive activity and this lengthens your perception of time, making it pass more slowly. It's the reason time passes so slowly for children since so much of what they experience is new.

Concentrated absorption in a single task reverses the process and causes time to speed up. That can be a good thing – reading a book, completing a crossword, or planting out seedlings at the allotment are activities guaranteed to make a couple of hours fly by in an instant. It is the narrowing of one's attention to a single focus that causes us to detach from our surroundings, quieting the normal 'thought chatter' of the mind.

That being so, it's an odd thing that waiting your turn in a queue or enduring other tedious activities slows down time. The reason is that your attention isn't adequately occupied so your brain is stimulated into increased thought-chatter. Annoyingly, when you're bored your brain goes into overload. In this situation, the best plan is to concentrate on a single absorbing task or to enter a calm meditative state, breathing deeply. It is in the inner stillness, that the moments pass most swiftly.

These principles are the clue to time speeding up as we age, as things become more familiar, more governed by routine and ritual and 'the intensity of perception' is gradually lost.

But it needn't be like that. You really can slow down time by taking the time to notice things around you, consciously setting out to experience new things, and giving yourself variety, to provide the sense that lots of things are happening around you. Don't stay in the same job. Move house often. Try your hand at new things. Explore new ideas. Move around the furniture. Get out and meet new people. Rediscover the newness of being. You will live a longer life. Or at least it will seem that way.



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