Why does time go faster the older we become? Is there a way to slow it down?

Updated: Dec 3, 2019

Time perception changes greatly as we age and before we know it, we stop noticing months go by and suddenly we realize that something we thought happened just recently actually happened a few years ago. However, research shows that there are ways to hack this and mindfulness can be the key.


There are several scientifically proven ways to slow down our time perception.

As we grow older, we tend to perceive time as going faster and faster. When we gaze back at our childhood days, and compare to how time feels now, we remember time going much slower than what it does today.


Here are a few possible reasons of why time goes faster as we age:


1. As we age, the number of new things we see and experience decreases. Since everything was new to us when we were children, we payed more attention to the things happening around us and therefore time was being experienced as going much slower.


2. The longer we have lived, the more memories we can relate to. This implies that the rest of our life keeps on getting shorter and the life that we have lived keeps getting longer relatively to each other. All in all it keeps on speeding up our perception of time.


3. From the biological perspective, a recent study found that our brain loses the image processing capacities as we become older. During our childhood, our brain could process more images that we see per certain time and thereby focus on more details as well as remember them. However, as we become older, our brain becomes less capable, thereby processing fewer images per same time frame. This makes it seem as though time is going faster and we also do not remember things in such great detail.


4. Our dopamine production in the substantia nigra and the basal ganglia (regions known to regulate the internal clock perception) decreases as we age (1).


5. As we become older, we tend to learn how to carry out more tasks on autopilot, making us notice fewer things around us. This also enables us to “live” in our thoughts constantly rather than actively observing the things we see every day anyway. We can easily do this while carrying out tasks such as commuting, eating or even having a conversation with a friend.



Sticking to our routines enables the brain to not “waste” its energy on tasks that we've already mastered and instead focus on the new more challenging situations in life.


Back in our childhood days, we lived in the moment most of the time, only sometimes wandering off in our thoughts.


Nowadays, it's the complete opposite- we are living in our thoughts much more than what we are living in the moment.


However, even in our fast-paced lives today, we can sometimes identify situations or time periods which felt like they lasted longer, compared to our usual every-day events.


That usually happens when we experience new things such as traveling, or as we are learning new skills or languages.


Have you ever noticed how a weekend trip feels much longer than two days when you come back to work on Monday? It can feel crazy to realize how two days are not at all equal two other days of your life.


Time perception is therefore quite subjective and there are several ways to hack your mind into slowing down time. Some ways even won't require you spending money on trips every weekend.


By bringing your awareness to things that are happening around you, focusing on the present moment, you can slow down time significantly.


Mindfulness is therefore the key to slowing down your life. And the great thing is that the way you practice mindfulness is up to you. Any mindful activity from just bringing your awareness to the present moment while carrying out your every day tasks such as commuting, to meditation and yoga will work spectacularly in slowing down your time.


This effect was proven by a study performed by Kramer et al. (2). Two groups of individuals were either listening to guided meditation or an audiobook before being asked how much time they thought has passed. The audiobook group did not alter in their time perception; whereas the meditation group experienced that time went slower than it actually did.


This way, you are introducing the same feeling you get while traveling to a new country and gaining new experiences into your everyday routines. The difference is that your new experiences are not as expensive and can be gained anywhere and anytime.


One effective and easy way to start slowing down your time is to bring your awareness to your breath several times a day, no matter what you do. In that way, you are not being in your thoughts but are focusing solely on observing your breath. You can then move on to observing your surroundings a few times a day, as well as the sensations in your body and mind. The more you practice these easy techniques, the more used you will get to living in the present moment, thereby significantly slowing down your overall perception of time.


Who wouldn't want to have more time, without changing the hours we already have?


Stay tuned for more science-backed evidence on meditation and some techniques that I will post in this blog.


I am very interested to hear your opinion and tips on what you'd like to read about in this blog. Therefore you are more than welcome to leave a comment here, or contact me on info@thegreatermindfulness.com


Cheers!

Laura | MSc in Medical Science, Creator of The Greater Mindfulness



Sources

1. Bob Holmes. Why time flies in old age. The New Scientist. 1996. https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg15220571.700-why-time-flies-in-old-age/

2. Kramer R.S.S. , Weger U. W., Sharmaa, D. The effect of mindfulness meditation on time perception. Consciousness and Cognition. Volume 22, Issue 3. 2013. Pages 846-852. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053810013000792

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