Mind and reality: how to slow down time and increase awareness
Jan 16, 2014 | 3431 views | 0 0 comments | 285 285 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dario Lussardi
Dario Lussardi
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I believe I am not the only person who had the idea that things would slow down after the holidays. I imagined that I would relax and calmly enjoy the winter season curled up by a cozy fire with a good book and a hot cup of coffee or tea. Yet here it is already two weeks into January and the month is flying by. Why is it that even though we have all kinds of new time-saving devices, there seems to be less time as we get older? Is it really true that life is like a roll of paper and that the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes?

The answer is actually quite simple and has to do with level of awareness and our perceptions. The fact is that as we become more experienced in doing things we do them without really paying attention. It’s like driving down a familiar highway and suddenly realizing a half hour has passed in an instant and we don’t even know how many exits we went by. Most of us know the feeling well: As we mature and fill our days with more busyness, time seems to fly by faster and faster. Neuroscience has shown that it’s how the brain perceives time passing that determines whether our days feel luxuriously long or short and harried. When we do similar things over and over, we can do them without paying a whole lot of attention to the details and steps involved. We sort of go on autopilot and in this state our level of awareness is reduced and time seems to fly.

According to neuroscientist David Eagleman, “The more detailed the memory, the longer the moment seems to last. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.” This explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older, why childhood summers seem to go on forever, while old age slips by. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass. By paying attention and actively noticing new things, we can slow time down. For example, if your brain took in loads of new information one day, and the following day received hardly any new information, the first day would seem much longer than the first, even though they were exactly the same. This is because as we age, the more often we come into contact with information our brains have already processed. This familiar information takes a shortcut through our brains, giving us the feeling that time is speeding up and passing us by.

By consciously attempting to be more focused and attentive, not only do we continue to stimulate and expand mental capacity and awareness, this has the added benefit of reducing negative thinking that provides fuel for worry, anxiety, and depression. These emotions are closely linked to patterns of thought that occur without much conscious thought. Dr. Steven Meyers, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Roosevelt University in Chicago, says, “Attention is often affected in people who experience stress or depression. Their minds drift off as they ruminate about their problems, which can further worsen their situations. Paying attention to events that are pleasant or interesting certainly can enhance our mood and allows us to savor positive experiences. It allows us to better appreciate the events and people around ourselves rather than feeling like we're living our days in a blur.”

The solution to the time-flying problem is to notice more and pay attention as we go about our business and to do more new things. The essence of mindfulness is cultivating a focused attention on the here and now. This is something that does not happen simply when we have spent years doing things repeatedly. Although it is not a difficult process, it does require practice. Science has shown that focused attention can help our brains to store more information and thereby alter our perceptions of how fast time is passing. According to the research, if we feed our brains more new information, the extra processing time required will make us feel like time is moving more slowly. And since our perception creates our reality, we’d effectively be making our days longer while being less stressed and more fully present.

Here are some suggestions to make your day last longer that could put this into practice immediately if you long to slow time down and feel less stressed.

1. Practice setting five minutes aside in the morning to focus your attention on something. It could be anything; a phrase, birds at a feeder, a sound or even something as simple as your hand. For example, you choose to look out a window. Try noticing details that you don’t ordinarily observe. Are there things out there that you take for granted? Can you recall how it looked out there a few months ago? Can you imagine how you would like it to look in the future? What would you need to do to make this vision possible? To some this may sound silly, but remember that an open mind is necessary for newness to develop.

2. Keep learning and seek new experiences in everyday activities. Try taking a new route home from work or to a destination. Wear your watch on a different hand, try new foods, rearrange your furniture or change your routine. New activities will put your brain on high alert and heighten your senses. As your brain takes in and notices new details, that period of time will stretch in your mind while at the same time stimulating it and easing tension.

3. Learning new things is necessary to feed your brain. If you’re constantly reading, trying new activities or taking courses to learn new skills, you’ll have a wealth of newness at your fingertips to help you slow down time.

4. Visit new places. A new environment can send a mass of information rushing to your brain; smells, sounds, people, colors, textures. Your brain has to interpret all of this. Exposing your brain to new environments regularly will give it plenty of work to do, letting you enjoy longer, more stimulating days. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to travel the world. Working from a cafe or a new location, or visiting a friend’s house you haven’t been to can serve this purpose.

5. Meeting new people is a good workout for our brains. Person to person interaction offers us lots of new information to make sense of, like names, voices, accents, facial features, and body language.

“Time is not a threat, it is a gift”. ~ author unknown

Editor's Note: Dario Lussardi is a licensed psychologist-master, providing consultation at the Community Counseling Center in Wilmington, where he maintains a private practice providing therapeutic services to adults, couples, children, adolescents, and families.

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