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Tonight, my son and I are going to see a play at his high school.
My son is 23, and two years out of college. He acted in the same show seven years ago as a high school junior.
The lead is being played by a boy I watched grow up. He lives next door to us, and I just don’t understand how he became a high school senior.
Isn’t he still five and sitting on his mother’s lap around our summer campfires?
Wasn’t it just a year ago that my son played that same role?
I’m betting a lot of you are nodding your heads and thinking of similar experiences. Time has a shocking way of passing us by.
And it seems that, as we get older, it just goes faster and faster, and we’re not happy about it.
Well, it turns out there’s a scientific explanation for this phenomenon, one that might show you how to feel like you’re getting more out of each of these rapidly passing days.
Brain time does not equal real time
Remember those “endless days” of childhood? It seemed like so many things happened in a day! Now, it feels like the day slips away with little to show for it.
Why is that?
A Duke University researcher tells us that it all comes down to brain science and physics.
Adrian Bejan, the J.A. Jones Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Duke, calls this difference in time perception “temporal disparity.”
It seems that our minds perceive the passage of time not as an uninterrupted stream, but as a series of changing pictures.
Think of a movie. It looks like a seamless series of pictures when really it’s a long series of changing images.
Our brains perceive time moving forward not according to the clock or the calendar, but each time one of those mental images changes. “Mind time” is measured as a sequence of images, one which seldom matches up with “clock time.”
Aging neurons change our time perception
But why does this “mismatch” get worse as we age?
Bejan explains it this way: “The human mind senses time changing when the perceived images change. The present is different from the past because the mental viewing has changed, not because somebody’s clock rings. Days seemed to last longer in your youth because the young mind receives more images during one day than the same mind in old age.”
Children process images much faster than adults do. Infants process them even faster. Next time you’re around a baby, just watch how quickly their eyes move. Their brain is processing images in rapid fire.
As we age, our webs of neurons grow larger, more complex and more tangled. The path that a signal needs to travel gets longer. We process an image and move on to the next one more slowly.
And, those nerve paths are wearing down, causing those signals to travel less smoothly. Think of it as a road with more and more bumps and potholes.
Trying new things will buy you more time
The feeling that time is passing you by can add stress to your life. But there is something you can do about it.
About ten years ago, I stumbled on a phenomenon I call the “bubble effect.”
Come to find out, it’s an actual theory!
Here’s what I discovered:
If I can focus on one task intently, blocking out all distractions, and really “suck the juice” out of it, when I come out of that “concentration coma,” I feel like an hour or two has passed, when it may only have been fifteen minutes. Time has “bubbled out,” and I have so much more left than I thought!
Neuroscientist David Eagleman explains it like this:
“The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass. Time is this rubbery thing… it stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, ‘Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,’ it shrinks up.”
Research tells us that getting out of your comfort zone and trying new tasks can give you a “super ager brain.”
The moral of the story: to get more time out of your days, get out there and learn something new, avoid the distractions and allow yourself to be fully immersed.
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- It’s spring already? Physics explains why time flies as we age — Duke University
- Why the Days Seem Shorter as We Get Older — European Review
- Why New Experiences Are Important, and How They Positively Affect Your Perception of Time — Lifehacker