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Does Time Go Faster as You Age? (4 Musings on Time)

Does Time Go Faster as You Age? (4 Musings on Time) November 3, 2021

time
Thomas Kelley via Unsplash

A few nights ago, I had a dream that I was at work. Only instead of the office building where I was normally located during pre-pandemic times, I was in an ornately decorated, sprawling space. It was more akin to the Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library.

Walking through the room, I stopped by the desk of a guy I used to work for, Shelly. He asked me what I was up to and when I would be rejoining him. The funny thing about the dream is this: Shelly had passed away two weeks previously. He had left his job a few years ago and was pursuing a career as a professional photographer. He had died suddenly, after a short illness, at the age of 52.

Musing #1. None of us knows how much time we have left.

We all get the same 24 hours each day. The sun rises. The sun sets. We go to sleep, wake up the next morning, and the process starts all over again. We choose how we are going to spend this time. If we are fortunate, we work at jobs we find rewarding. We live in a home and neighborhood we like. We spend time with people whose company we enjoy.

When I think of Shelly, I wonder if he even had an inkling that his time on Earth was running out—sooner than anyone, including himself, could have possibly anticipated. Maybe he knew in the final hours, but then what? It serves as another reminder that none of us really knows how much time we have left. I can hear the voice of Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding saying: “You can either get busy living or get busy dying.” I’m also reminded of these words about life from Sam Harris:

You are in a game and you can’t see the clock. What are you going to do with the time left?

Musing #2. Time really does go faster as you age.

For me, time seemed to speed up after my daughter was born. She is now a few months out of college, and like many others in my approximate age group, I often sit back and ponder “where did the time go?” But according to Lisa Broderick, in the new book All the Time in The World, there’s scientific proof behind the belief that time goes faster as we age.

The story goes like this: As we age, our brains aren’t quite as sharp as they were when we were younger. When we were young, we processed our experiences more quickly. We also did a better job of retaining the memories of each small event that happened to us. Time seemed longer because we actually remembered more.

But Broderick says that as time passes our brain’s ability to process our experiences degenerates. Hence, “we have fewer images to remember from our adult lives.” This deteriorating sense of memory means “we jump from one memory to another quickly” because we remember less. It gives us the impression that time has sped up, as we remember fewer details, forgetting some experiences and only the bare essence of others.

Musing #3: Sometimes you have to “steal” time from comfort.

This concept comes from the blogger Derek Sivers. It’s the idea that if we really want to accomplish our goals in life, we have to move away from our comfort zone—and into a place that’s, well, less comfortable. It’s like this with basically any creative endeavor in life, whether we’re looking to start a garden, write a book or create a piece of art. In Sivers words:

It takes many hours to make what you want to make. The hours don’t suddenly appear. You have to steal them from comfort. Whatever you were doing before was comfortable. This is not.

Sivers points out this isn’t easy, because it means turning off the TV or our phones, getting off the sofa and getting down to business. In his creative endeavors, he tells us that “I wasn’t smiling. I was annoyed and fighting it inside, but on the outside I did the work. And in the end, got the deeper satisfaction of finishing.”

Musing #4: We all may have the ability to “stretch” time.

 Lisa Broderick believes that “time is one part physical and one part perception.” I won’t go into the heady quantum physics behind this idea, but in All the Time in The World, she tells us that time is sometimes “stretchable like a rubber band.” We all have the ability to control time and even to “bend it enough to suit our personal needs.”

Broderick, who has an MBA from Duke and is an accomplished transcendental meditation teacher, writes about her seeming ability to “slow down time.” When traveling, she often finds she can “arrive at destinations seemingly too early to have physically walked or driven there.” She calls it “stretching time” and cites her own experience in this area, as well as the anecdotes of others.

According to Broderick, there’s a technique to use while driving when you need to be somewhere on time and it seems like you’re running late. It starts by not worrying that you’ll be late. You need to be in what she calls “a state of focused perception,” or what sounds like a flow state. You can glance at the clock, but in a disinterested way. She offers this additional guidance:

Keep your eyes on the road and think about the positive benefits to you or others if you arrive on time. Feel your positive desire to be on time, in order to benefit all parties involved. Then, let the desire go. Picture yourself arriving at your destination on time, seeing all the positive outcomes of doing so. Remind yourself that you have plenty of time. Play a movie in your mind of you arriving on time until you get there.

Yes, it sounds a little kooky. But the next time I’m running late, I suppose it won’t hurt to give it a try.

For another take on time, see these musings on Einstein thinking about time.

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