How to Slow Down Time

Life sometimes seems to fly by at a blistering pace, doesn’t it?

“I can’t believe we’ve lived here for almost two decades,” my mom once told me about the house they seemingly moved into yesterday.

“The days are long, but the years are short,” a friend recently shared about watching her kids grow from toddlers to adolescents practically overnight.

It might not feel like it every day (especially when we’re endlessly refreshing investment account balances or counting down the days until our next work holiday), but the older we get, the more quickly the years seem to pass.

Is there any way to combat the perception of this merciless acceleration? How can we make our limited time on this earth seem to last as long as possible?

A few years back, Scientific American shared some hypotheses as to why time seems to move more quickly with each passing year.

One of the most notable is the evolving ratio of one’s age to the amount of time passed. For a three-year-old counting down the days until Christmas morning, a month or two is practically an eternity. For a fifty-year-old, the same amount of time is a relative drop in the bucket. Good luck changing that one.

"If I could sloooow dooown time..."

“If I could sloooow dooown time…” 🎵

The most interesting to me, though, is the idea that “we gauge time by memorable events.” Think of all the “firsts” that take place in our early years: first days of school, first friendships, first loves, first times away from home. Childhood is a series of new experiences, and the barrage of novelty slows time to a crawl.

In contrast, how many “firsts” have you had this month? This year?

When I was working 60 hours a week, the individual days sometimes seemed neverending, but months could vanish in the blink of an eye. Long-term deadlines I had put off were suddenly overdue. Friends with whom I had intended to stay in touch quickly became long-lost acquaintances. The lack of new experiences in my life was rarely more apparent than when I’d see a friend or family member after a few months. “What’s new?” they might ask. “Hm, not much. Same old, same old,” I would respond.

This past year, on the other hand, was easily one of the longest of my life. It wasn’t because we got a leap day thrown in (or even the leap second added on New Year’s Eve). Nor was it because of endless election coverage followed by the stress and divisiveness of the past few months (though if that’s a factor, 2017 is sure to be the longest year yet!)

I suspect it’s because we enjoyed a deluge of new experiences – more than I’ve had for years.

The night of a wild and memorable Wyoming thunderstorm

The night of a wild and memorable Wyoming thunderstorm

Waking up in an empty National Park at sunrise. Wandering Bourbon Street on a Saturday night. Buying street food in Istanbul. Driving in an Albanian traffic jam. Breaking down in rural Arizona. Getting woken up by the police in Wisconsin. Drinking with French tourists in Sarajevo. Hiking through a herd of bison in Yellowstone.

When we returned from Turkey and Eastern Europe at the end of the summer, I could hardly believe we had been traveling for only six months. Even half a year was a life-changing experience. It felt like we had done a lifetime’s worth of sightseeing and exploration. It felt like I hadn’t worked for years.

My first time in a mosque - Istanbul

My first time in a mosque – Istanbul

The best way to slow down time – to live longer, figuratively speaking – is to add novelty into your life as often as possible.

Maybe you can’t drop everything to travel the world, and maybe you don’t want to. That’s fine; you don’t need to take crazy leaps like ours to keep life interesting. How about signing up for a class? Taking a new way home from work? Exploring a new neighborhood? Picking a different vacation destination? Going for a hike on a weekday evening? Trying a new restaurant on the other side of town?

When something becomes routine, maybe it’s time to break it. Perhaps full-time travel will become our stagnant routine eventually, too. Then it’ll be time for the next adventure.

What “firsts” are you pursuing?

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29 Comments

  1. This is something my friends and I have been talking about over the last 6 months or so. Since the 4 of us are all single right now, we decided to arrange various activities every month or two, with the focus being on things that none of us have done. So far this has included going to the arboretum, glass blowing, going to an observatory deck downtown, and hitting new spots around the metro. It’s been great to try new things and spend some quality time with my friends. It’s nice to shake things up so our lives aren’t all about work.

    • That sounds like a fun group! It’s funny how we often skip over those local attractions; there are still museums and parks in our own town that I’ve never visited. Time to put them on the to-see list 🙂

  2. I love trying new things. It definitely adds variety to life that keeps things interesting. We are always seeking out new things to do. New places to hike, new meals to cook, new games to play, new projects to take on.

  3. Excellent write up. I love the idea to slow down time as much as possible.

    This year we will have a new holiday destination (finally). I hope it will feel longer.

    Now that I spend more intentional time with the kids, time sometimes slows down as well.

  4. What an astute observation–that time moves slower when you’re doing new things. We just had a 4 day staycation in the city where we live. We went places we don’t normally go and experienced some aspects of our city for the first time (or at least for the first time in their current state since neighborhoods change so quickly!). I noticed how long the days felt compared to regular weekend or work days. It was quite nice! Now I understand why. =)

    • Oh fun! We did something similar last month — a four-day weekend in our old home — catching up with friends and visiting some old favorite places and some new ones. It felt like it lasted a long time!

  5. Great observation! The unbelievable pace of modern life is what is prompting me to attempt to go part-time at work, so I can slow down my weeks and explore new ideas. First up will be trying backpacking 🙂

    • Thanks, Eric! Totally — full-time work tends to kill a lot of those opportunities for new things. We want to do more backpacking at some point, too!

  6. YES! (First off, welcome back!) But YES! I have totally experienced this and that’s why, despite work and school, I still try to plan like 3 trips a year for our family. The times we spend in a new place exploring or making memories with cousins that don’t live close make the years we have with our kids memorable and longer!

    • I love how you’ve prioritized travel, which must be particularly difficult with kids and departing from a more remote place. You won’t regret those moments!

  7. I love this post so much! I always find myself counting down to the next trip – no early retirement for me yet – but I often try to remind myself that it’s important to try to notice the little things each day. Thinking about it in terms of what new experiences and “firsts” you can add into your existing life is a great way to think about it!

    • Thanks for the kind words, Bethany! We used to do the same counting down to vacations, but you’re right that it’s important to create little memories every day, too.

  8. Does having a baby count?! 😉

    I think being open to opportunities and being willing to say no to others (I’m working on it!) helps a lot. Even if it’s something really simple like going out to eat. If we are going to spend the money, we try to go somewhere new or order something unusual. I also think that just by deciding to savor things, you realize how novel each day can be. Love this post, and love that you’re back!

    • Haha, that seems pretty life-changing to me! That’s a great approach to expenses like dining out. We love restaurant dining, but I do make an effort to order things that are new — or at least that we wouldn’t be likely to make ourselves. Thanks for the comment!

  9. Welcome back!

    Hm, January was a month of firsts – first restraining order, first time in court having a case heard, first time
    While we both still work full time, PiC and I are very aware that our time together with JuggerBaby is going to fly by – and already has so far! – so we’ve been mindful ever since that first positive pregnancy test, of how easy it is to just zone out and lose track of the weeks, months, and years.

    I’m glad that while my work has only suffered on and off – and mainly as a result of ill health – we’ve spent a LOT of time together as a family, whether at home or traveling. Not much compared to y’all of course 😉 but good for us. We travel at least 6 times a year. When you consider we’re a pack of 4 (3 humans, 1 large dog), that’s not too shabby.

    We keep adding small new experiences to our schedule, but we do love our routine as well. It’s a good balance for a small family.

    • Oops, clearly I lost track of my list at the top there: first time having to use legal means to protect our family. So those firsts sucked but they sure did make January longer! 🙂

    • Oof, I’m so sorry about your rough January. That will definitely drag the time out, and not in a good way. Sounds like you’re doing well to find that right balance between good routines and new experiences!

  10. Well we did almost nothing new last year but work 60+ hour weeks, and it was the longest year of my life. So I say: Work as much as you can, do almost nothing for fun, and time will last an eternity! Hahahahaha. (Kidding, not kidding.) 😉 I love the advice to do new things, and we have a trip to Japan planned that I’m all kinds of excited about, plus a little intimidated just because it’s SUCH a language barrier (you know, like the kind where you can’t even begin to figure out signs and menus outside of airports and train stations). But I’m cramming like crazy on my conversational Japanese, which is a fun pursuit independent of the trip, and independent of the desire to slow down time, though I’m very much into that being a happy side effect of it all. 🙂

    Hope you guys are doing well! Your Central America pics have been amazing… as usual!

    • I suppose that is the valid counterpoint about other ways to make the time last! Ours just comes with more frequent surges of dopamine from all the new things 😉

      That’s awesome that you’re headed to Japan and even cooler that you’re working on the language. I’m enjoying practicing my Spanish here in Mexico. For other countries where we’ve spent only a week or so before moving on to a new place (with yet another language), we’ve had to wing it — but it’s much more satisfying to be able to have little interactions with the non-English-speaking locals, even if they’re basic. The Google Translate app is really helpful for on-the-go translations, and you can even draw non-Roman characters or translate text from a photo, which has been handy many times.

  11. ChooseBetterLife

    February 8, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    We try to be tourists in our own town as often as possible. We’re often the only people under 65 at classes and tours, and we have a great time.
    This year we’re also aiming to take an average of one trip per month, and we pack a ton into each adventure. This year we’re taking two trips with other couples and we’re looking forward to the new dynamics.
    The best part is reminiscing at the end of the year–we often can’t believe that all the adventures were just in the last 12 months because by December, January’s fun seems like ages ago.

    • We totally relate to being the only non-seniors at various events, lectures, etc. I guess a lot of people don’t even look into those types of things until they get bored without a full-time job. We just did a similar exercise flipping through photos from 2016, and like you said, January feels like ages ago at this point. Here’s to another full year for all of us!

  12. Awesome Matt. I do believe even the small steps are good. We try to go to new breweries every time one opens up around here. When traveling for work I try to go to restaurant with local drinks and cuisine. I try to hit up the local town and state parks. Nothing too crazy, but seeing new things is definitely, fun, exciting, and memorable.

  13. I like the way you frame this. Time is a funny thing. We only really perceive it because we remember the past and create some sort of reference. By adding novel memories we create the illusion that there was more time, and thus it seems to have moved slower. We can only sense this by looking back though.

    Brain hurts…

  14. You guys are the best. I recently took up crocheting, and the novelty of a new endeavor (as you and the Scientific American posit) plus the tediousness of the craft, certainly make time slow down. Great Scot!

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