I have to credit this blog post to an article I read in The Times of London while I was there last August.
Columnist Jenni Russell had some wonderful insight on the ‘elasticity’ of time – how on some days time seems to fly by, while at other times, like when you’re bored out of your mind at a business meeting, time seems to crawl.
And why we all wish we had “more time.”
The answer to having more time in your life, according to Ms. Russell, is two-part: novelty and emotional intensity.
Like so much of the body, the brain is designed to minimize the effort it needs to get its job done. It does this by recognizing patterns. For instance, if everything your brain encounters is familiar – the same office, the same friends, the same wine bar – then the brain hums along on autopilot. There’s no danger to confront, nothing out of the ordinary going on. So your brain doesn’t bother to concentrate on what’s happening because it has seen all this before. And when the brain isn’t fully concentrating, it isn’t registering much, which means very little memory is being created. So you can feel like “time flies” because, at the end of the day, you barely remember what you did. The brain says, “Meh. Been there, done that. No memory-making needed here.” (This is especially true as you get older and the years seem to get shorter. As in, how can it be 2018 already???)
On the other hand, if you present your brain with a new situation – like a job interview, going hang gliding, or a blind date with someone who unexpectedly makes your heart skip – the brain switches on the neocortex and starts processing information rapidly. The more unusual or exciting the situation, the more ferociously the brain concentrates and forms a mental memory. This is what makes time seem to slow and makes you remember vividly what you are doing.
It also makes you feel like you have more time, because you are aware of every minute.
What this shows us is that we have a choice over how we live life. How “fast” or how “slow.” Routines and familiarity may make our lives manageable, but they also erode the time we feel we have because, well, time flies.
All we need to do to prevent this is to surprise our brain and keep it on alert. Some suggestions: take five 3-day vacations instead of a two-week one. Bike to work instead of taking the bus. Go to the concert of a performer you’ve never heard of. Drop into an art gallery after work. Learn a new language. Do anything that night give you a refreshing, memorable adrenaline shock.
The bottom line is: We can’t determine how long we’ll live, but we can choose how long our lives feel.
Some interesting thoughts!