How to Slow Down Time As You Get Older and Why it Matters

How to Slow Down Time As You Get Older and Why it Matters

By Jamie Matthewman
August 12th, 2014

Understanding The Trick to Slowing Down the Perceived Passing of Time, Could Have a BIG Positive Impact on Your Life

Have you ever wondered how to slow down time as you get older? Probably not, and of course you know it’s not possible but I’m sure you’ve caught yourself in mid conversation saying something like :

“where’s all the time gone”, “I can’t believe my kids have grown up so quickly, it seems like only yesterday they were babies!” or “when I was a kid the summers seemed to last forever, now they’re gone in a flash!”.

Even as we speak, this summer’s drawing to a close and I’m sorry to remind you, but Christmas will soon be upon us, and 2014 will then become a distant memory, never to be experienced again.

It does seem like as we get older, every year passes quicker than the last doesn’t it? Have you ever wondered why last Christmas seems like it was just weeks ago, when as a child, it seemed to take ages to arrive?

Research has proven, that almost everyone from college students to the elderly, feel like time is passing faster now compared to when they were younger. The key thing is, experiments have shown that, when older people are asked to guess how long time intervals are, or to ‘reproduce’ the length of periods of time, they estimate a shorter amount than younger people.

3 Reasons Time Seems to Speed Up As You Get Older

Of course you know time isn’t speeding up, it’s just a cognitive illusion, but why do we perceive it to be? Why does it even matter? You’ll find out later, but in the meantime I’ll share with you 3 interesting theories put forward by Psychologists that explain more…

1. We Gauge Time by Memorable Events

It seems we measure past intervals of time by the number of events that can be recalled in that period. As we look back in time, because new experiences take ‘more cognitive effort’, as we learn and create new synapses in the brain, they appear to unfold in slow motion.

If you’re a 40-something man stuck in the repetitive monotony of an often stressful daily grind – a tiresome commute, uninspiring work, the hard work of family life followed by a repetitious night in front of the TV. Those exciting years of early youth when you were embarking on new adventures and making new conquests (such as your first day at college, first job, first beer, first football game, first car, first kiss, exams and graduation etc.) probably seem far longer than you last 5 years!

Dr. David Eagleman a Neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine who’s work has focused on why time seems to pass at a slower pace during life or death moments, times in life when the future is uncertain explained in The New Yorker that “the more detailed the memory, the longer the moment seems to last. 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 while we’re dozing. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.”

Similar sportsmen have long reported the slowing down of time during crucial match moments. Neuroscientists at University College London, found that a person’s perception of time does indeed seem to slow as they prepare to make a quick play.

Research suggest that the brain ‘slows down time’, processing information at a faster intensity in order to make the right move. The phenomenon has been reported by footballers, F1 drivers and tennis players, and also as studies by David Eagleman in life-or-death situations, such as during a car crash or problematic sky-dive.

Dr Nobuhiro Hagura, from the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, said:

‘John McEnroe has reported that he feels time slows down as he is about to hit the ball, and F1 drivers report something very similar when overtaking. Our guess is that during the motor preparation, visual information processing in the brain is enhanced. So, maybe, the amount of information coming in is increased. That makes time be perceived longer and slower.’

2. The Amount of Time Passed, Relative to One’s Age Varies

This “proportional theory,” proposed by Pierre Janet a pioneering French psychologist in 1877, suggests that we are constantly comparing time intervals with the total amount of time we’ve already lived. For a 5-year-old, one year of their life accounts for 20% of their entire life. However for a 50-year-old, one year only accounts for 2% of their total life.

Steve Taylor on his blog explains it excellently, he says :

“the ‘proportional’ theory suggests that the important factor is that, as you get older, each time period constitutes a smaller fraction of your life as a whole. A child of 10 feels a year as 1/10 of his whole life – a man of 50 as 1/50, the whole life meanwhile apparently preserving a constant length.

At the age of one month, a week is a quarter of your whole life, so it’s inevitable that it seems to last forever. At the age of 14, one year constitutes around 7% of your life, so that seems to be a large amount of time too. But at the age of 30 a week is only a tiny percentage of your life, and at 50 a year is only 2% of your life, and so your subjective sense is that these are insignificant periods of time which pass very quickly.

There is some sense to this theory – it does offer an explanation for why the speed of time seems to increase so gradually and evenly, with almost mathematical consistency.”

3. Emotions Affect Time Perception

Recent research shows that our emotional state affects our perception of time. Dr. Sylvie Droit-Volet, a French psychology professor manipulated subjects’ emotional state, by showing them movies that evoked fear or sadness. She then asked them to estimate the duration of the visual stimulus, discovering that time appears to pass more slowly when we are afraid.

Stress has the opposite effect, giving the impression that time is passing quickly. Imagine you’re 5, opening your advent calendar on December 1st. Every morning, you awake excitedly, counting down the days until Santa, if you’ve been good, will deliver your bounty. Can you remember 24 days seemed like a lifetime, the anticipation almost unbearable?

Yet now you’re an adult, but as December expires, you’re more likely to be now focused on paying for Christmas, finishing work, running the house, day to day life and planning for the big day. You may well be feeling quite stressed, wishing you had more time to get things done. The thing is, the notion of a limited amount of time and too much to do, will always feel stressful.

But Why does this matter Anyway You Might Be Asking?

Well, this perceived time distortion you might be having, could be signaling that it’s time to start something new. To experiment more with your life.

Let’s be honest, most adults don’t explore and learn about the world the way they did when they were kids. Fear of change holds us back, and in the main adult life lacks the fun and constant discovery of earlier times, before it all got a bit serious!

The Key to Slowing Down Time

William James, the great philosopher and psychologist stated that the apparent speed of time’s passage was a result of adults experiencing fewer memorable events:

“Each passing year converts some of this experience into automatic routine which we hardly note at all, the days and the weeks smooth themselves out in recollection to contentless units, and the years grow hollow and collapse.”

So if you want time to slow down, it seems the answer is to develop a love for life long learning and endeavour to make newness a part of your life, to push you outside of your routines so that life feels fresh again.

As David Eagleman’s work has demonstrated, in times of uncertainty about the future, when your life is potentially on the line; time seems to slow down. One way to experience this would be to get out of your comfort zone, so life feels a little less certain.

Increase the amount of new data that’s coming into your brain by learning something new. Maybe try that thing you’ve always wanted to try but you’ve been a little afraid of up until now. It seems exhilaration is the key.

Where to Start if You’re Stuck in a Rut

The first thing to point out is that the cool thing about all this, is that you have the power to determine how you experience time by simply adding a bit of spice and variety!

For starter you could create a bucket list that will inspire you to think about what really matters to you now and in the future. (if you want to find out what a bucket list is start with this post)

In this post, I outline a simple process to help you explore new skills you’d like to learn, identify new adventures you’d love to go on and which new activities you’d like to try.

Doing new stuff means you have to pay attention. Your brain is on high alert and your senses are heightened, because you’re taking in new sensations and feelings at a rapid rate.


In essence then the trick it seems is to make the days seem longer by exposing yourself to new environments, experiences and heightened mental stimulation.

To replenish and relive the happiness, excitement and adventure you experienced when you were younger.

To take your mind off the day to day routines, and escape the stress you might be feeling.

I wish you luck with whatever way you choose to put newness into your life and avoid the monotony of another day at the office! It would be a shame to let the routine of your days make your life fly by. What does this article say to you? What changes are you considering now you’ve read this? Love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below…

Jamie Matthewman

About Jamie Matthewman

Jamie is the founder, main contributor and editor of The Inspired Man.

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