"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Live a fuller life by slowing down time

By on August 28, 2018 in Columnist with 1 Comment

Jim BrownBy Jim Brown, M.D.

Does time speed up as we age?

This might seem like a strange question to many of you. We generally are pretty certain that time does not change.

After all we measure time with our clocks and calendars. It just is. Right?

According to Einstein, however, time is relative and not absolute and that the dividing line between past, present and future is an illusion. According to him, reality is ultimately timeless.

Our perception of time, however, does change as we age.

How often have you heard someone say, “Where did the time go?” It only seemed like it was just yesterday that something happened rather than months or years ago.

The terrible events of 9/11 are so burned into our memories it is hard to believe it happened 17 years ago. I can’t believe it was 60 years go when I first saw Lynn at the University of Nebraska and felt somehow I had to find a way to get a date with her. Our 56 years of marriage and three kids have been filled with lasting memories.

When we were children, say at age 5, it seemed like an eternity for Christmas to arrive after Thanksgiving. For a 5-year-old one year is 20 percent of his or her life, but for a 50-year-old-one year is only 2 percent of his or her life. That makes it seem to go pretty fast doesn’t it?

British writer Claudia Hammond said, “The sensation that time speeds by as we get older is one of the biggest mysteries of the experience of time.”

A psychological survey of people ages 14-94 years of age in Munich, Germany asked about the pace of time moving from very slowly to very fast. For shorter periods, say a week, a month or even a year, time did not seem to go faster with age, but for longer durations such as a decade, older people perceived time as moving faster.

Humans tend to estimate time from two perspectives, as an event is occurring and retrospectively after it has ended. Our experience of time varies with whatever we are doing and how we feel about it.

Time does seem to fly by when we are having fun. Engaging in a fun or exciting activity makes time appear to pass more quickly in the moment. If we remember it later, it seems to have lasted longer than other more mundane or ordinary experiences.

It seems the more our brain remembers or encodes new experiences we build on a weekend getaway, the longer the trip will seem in hindsight. Hammond calls this the “holiday paradox.”

It presents clues as we look back as to why time seems to pass more quickly the older we get.

Twelve years ago I was recovering from cancer surgery, but now it seems like it was only a few years ago. The first few weeks of recovery seemed like the longest days of my life. I like being active, on the go, playing sports. Being confined in my home for even a few weeks seemed like an eternity. This is not the way that I want to slow down time.

There are some things we can do as we get older or later in life to slow time down. We can alter our perception of time by keeping our brains active, continually learning new skills, new ideas and exploring new places and activities.

A few years ago Lynn and I decided to try being snow birds for the winter, and so far have loved it. It has been an exciting change in our lives.

We were seeking much more than just a change in the weather. Making new friends, visiting new unfamiliar places, trying new activities including taking classes on a variety of subjects at a learning center has been fun.

In the morning we have to check our calendars to see what each other is doing that day. Lynn, an avid reader and lifelong learner, said, “I feel like I am back in college again.”

Our recent Rhine river cruise in Europe was much more that a sightseeing venture. We met and enjoyed several new friends, and we learned about the history and culture of several cities and countries that we traversed by boat and by walking.

Even though each room on the riverboat had a television, we never turned ours on. We avoided the news, which lately has been more discouraging and upsetting than uplifting. Avoiding it was truly refreshing.

To slow time down as we age, we need to do as much as possible to take advantage of new and unique experiences.

When we go to the same places and do the same things, we don’t really make any unique memories, and then time seems to fly by.

We can focus on positive memories and try our best to live in the present moment. In addition, though it may be a challenge these days, we need to try to hold a positive perception of the future and have hope and optimism.

Lynn had a favorite English teacher who told her to be sure to stop and pick the daisies. She advised her that on her travels she should slow down and veer off her planned route and stop to explore new byways and sights she might have missed otherwise. Pick the daisies.

Her advice reminds me of one of my favorite poems by Robert Frost. In The Road Not Taken he wrote:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

My mother always told us to “live one day at a time.” The older I get, the more I see she was a very wise woman.

Jim Brown, M.D., is a retired gastroenterologist who has practiced for 38 years in the Wenatchee area. He is a former CEO of the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center.

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  1. Chuck Largent says:

    Thanks Jim !

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