We pass time. Kill time. Waste time. Fill time. Lose time. Time flies. Time stands still.
How do we perceive time? Time perception refers to our subjective experience of the passage of time, or our perceived duration of events. Unlike our senses – sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch – time cannot be perceived directly. Our brain must “reconstruct” time from what we experience through our senses. The more familiar the information, the less effort and time our brain puts into reconstructing or processing it. Consequently, the less new information the brain processes, the more quickly time seems to pass.
Our perception of time durations also relates to memory. Our memory of an event (or perhaps our memory of the beginning and end of the event) allows us to form a perception of, or a belief in, its duration.
In 1890 psychologist William James (1842-1910) explained our perception: time seems to speed up as we age because adulthood is accompanied by fewer and fewer memorable events. This lack of new experiences causes “the days and weeks [to] smooth themselves out…and the years grow hollow and collapse.” Whoa! What a dismal thought.
While it’s true we no longer explore the world the way we did when we were young, facing steep learning curves at most every turn, we can alter our perception of time. Embarking on a new venture makes time seem to pass quickly in the moment, yet later on we remember it lasting longer than familiar experiences. Our brain had to work in processing the new experience as a memory, and our retrospective judgment of time is based on how many new memories we create over a certain period. The more new memories we build on a weekend sojourn, for example, the longer that trip will seem in hindsight, a phenomenon psychologist Claudia Hammond dubbed the holiday paradox.
Generally we have more free or leisure time in our sunset years, but in reality we have less time — as the majority of our life lies in the past. We want to extend our lives, even just through perception, to get the maximum enjoyment from our remaining years. The best advice, put simply: continually challenge our brains. In doing so, we’ll gain an added benefit in helping to stave off Alzheimer’s and dementia.
WAYS TO SLOW TIME
- Turns out the idiom about variety in life conveys an important truth. (The phrase comes from William Cowper’s poem of 1785: “Variety is the very spice of life, That gives it all its flavour.”) On daily walks, for instance, take different routes. Try new recipes, go to new restaurants, and vary the time of eating a main meal. Put aside the crime thriller and read a good novel by Mordecai Richler.
- The more often we tackle a new subject or attempt to acquire new skills — through reading, taking a course, learning a new language, going on a tour — the better for our brain.
- Meeting new people can cause our brain to go into overdrive as we process copious information about them.
- Taking up a new sport (pickleball is the fastest growing sport in NA) or trying a new game or activity makes us pay close attention, so time seems to last longer.
- Surprise our brain through new experiences.
Please add your suggestions of measures we can take to prolong the passage of time. •