Why Does Time Move Faster As We Get Older?

Why Does Time Move Faster As We Get Older?

Why Does Time Move Faster As We Get Older?

For many older adults, it seems as if time appears to be going by faster each year. As soon as they say, “Happy New Year,” a short time later, they say, “Happy Holidays.”

But it’s just the opposite with young children who wonder why it takes so long for Christmas to come. Experts say it’s all about perception, which changes significantly as we age.

“Our perception of days, weeks, years and that kind of time seems to be especially influenced by our perspective: Are we in the moment experiencing it, or are we looking backward on time?” Cindy Lustig, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, told HuffPost.

According to Lustig, older adults whose daily activities stay pretty much the same may feel that time is going by fast. For example, an 80-year-old individual whose life looks the same as it did at 78 or 79 looks back on fewer activities.

“When you’re looking back, the less rich your representation is, the more it’s going to seem like the time went by quickly,” Lustig said.

When the days or weeks are similar, experts say the brain groups time together. So, a year will seem to have passed quickly to an 80-year-old who, for the most part, does the same thing every day. But it’s not so for children. For example, an 8-year-old child learns and experiences something new in school every day, as well as in activities outside of school. The child is living “at the moment” and focusing on doing one new thing after another.

When the 8-year-old crams several experiences into one day, it appears that time is passing slowly because of the activities that occur within that timeframe.

“Children’s working memory, attention, and executive function are all undergoing development at the neural circuit level,” Patricia Costello, a neuroscientist and program director at Walden University, explained to NBC’s Better by Today. “Their neural transmission is in effect, physically slower compared to adults. This, in turn, affects how they perceive the passage of time. By the time we are adults, our time circuits are done wiring, and we have learned from experience how to correctly encode the passage of time.”

What’s more, the new activities and ideas children are introduced to leave lasting impressions on their memories, said Dr. Santosh Kesari, neurologist, neuro-oncologist, neuroscientist, and chair of the Department of Translational Neurosciences and Neurotherapeutics at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center.

“We gauge time by memorable events, and fewer new things occur as we age to remember, making it seem like childhood lasted longer,” Kesari told NBC’s Better by Today.

Mental Images Are Associated With Perception of Time

The way the brain processes images can also influence how we view time, according to Adrian Bejan, a professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University. Bejan theorizes that our brains were trained as infants to receive many mental images. In absorbing these new images as children, it may feel as if time is going by slowly.

But an adult’s brain “receives fewer images than it was trained to receive when young,” Bejan, author of Time And Beauty: Why Time Flies And Beauty Never Dies, told HuffPost. As a result, adults are processing fewer mental images, which is why it seems as though time is passing more quickly.

“People are often amazed at how much they remember from days that seemed to last forever in their youth,” Bejan said in a statement about his theory published in the journal European Review in March 2019. “It’s not that their experiences were much deeper or more meaningful, it’s just that they were being processed in rapid fire.”

How Adults Can Slow Down Their Perception of Time

While there is no way you can slow down “real” time, experts say adults can do things to feel as if time is not passing so quickly and create more lasting memories. One way adults can do this is to change their daily routines by adding new and exciting experiences like children do every day.

“Children have routine and mundane moments, too, but they’re always learning something new,” Costello said.

Trying out new things makes the days and months for adults feel different. When looking back at a time when there were plenty of new experiences, Lustig said, “we see [a] large expense of events and memories, and that makes it seem like time stretches out…and it feels very long.”

It’s been said that “variety is the spice of life,” according to Bejan. So, taking advantage of the time you have will only help make you feel like your year had more time to fill, he said.

The type of variety to add to shake up a routine can include going on a vacation or visiting a foreign country. But packing a bag and heading out to the airport is not always necessary. New activities can be as simple as:

    • Cooking a new dish
    • Signing up for a cooking class or a class in any subject that has always been of interest
    • Taking up a childhood hobby, like dancing or violin
    • Going to new places
    • Meeting new people
    • Being spontaneous whenever you can

Introducing novelty into your life can make “memories stand out and stretch time in a way,” Costello said.

Lustig says studies have shown that practicing mindfulness can help slow down the perception of time. Mindfulness is the act of being fully engaged in the moment. So, rather than focusing on several tasks at once, you focus on the one thing you are doing at the moment.

“None of us know how much time we have, but, interestingly, we do actually have a lot of control over how we experience that time,” Lustig said. “So I encourage everybody to make the most of the time that you’ve got.”

A technique Kesari suggests for slowing down time is remembering your day as vividly as possible at the end of each day.

“I suspect that if you spend half an hour every night really reflecting on what has happened that day, it may ingrain them to make them more unique,” says Kesari. “Memory is short-lived, and many of us just aren’t that engaged in the everyday things we’re doing, so if you slow down and engage more at the moment and look back on everything deeply later, you may find time lasting longer.”

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