How to slow down the speed of time inside your head?
June 3, 2013 7:44 PM   Subscribe

When I looked at the calendar and noticed that this year was half gone, I started to feel panicked. I remember being a child and feeling like each day would never end, now I feel like I can't blink without another week being gone. I know that the feeling that life is speeding up is quite common, and it's a little scary for me. Beyond mindfulness techniques and seeking out novel experiences, I am wondering if people can share ideas/hacks for how to fight this effect. How do I stop feeling like time is passing me by too quickly?
posted by long haired child to Grab Bag (25 answers total) 79 users marked this as a favorite
Go sit in a dentist's waiting room.

But seriously, apart from the childhood scale of time, what makes time crawl is the break from expectations. You don't expect to wait in a dentist's office. I mean, you made an appointment, showed up on time, and heck, the door to the exam room is right there...

So, what you need is to examine your routines and seek out ways to break your own expectations.

I bet you get up and drive to work every day. Break your expectations. Get up early. Go work out. Write. Make pancakes. Go to a driving range and hit golf balls. It's not seeking out novel experiences so much as examining the experiences you already have.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:53 PM on June 3, 2013 [11 favorites]

Uh, it isn't halfway through the year. The end of June is halfway, not the beginning. This is only 5/12ths of the way.

I think it happens because you are too busy. Ditch some of your stuff, simplify your life, reclaim some of your time. I don't feel that way these days. Removing soul-sucking time fillers helped me enormously.
posted by Michele in California at 7:57 PM on June 3, 2013 [6 favorites]

I suggest to work as quickly as possible on things you must do, and then get away from all clocks and immerse yourself deeply in things you really want to do. You are probably capable of getting through your chores or paperwork 3-10x faster than you currently do them. Those responsibilities suck a lot of your time and are a big reason why time appears to pass by so rapidly now, and they don't really create fond memories.

You'll never get away from the fact that each new day can never be as large a portion of your sum existence as the previous day, but you can use each day so playfully and completely that you won't mind when you look back on it.
posted by michaelh at 7:58 PM on June 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

This way lies madness. Stop wasting time worrying about it, and just enjoy each day. Don't worry your life away.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:02 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I got a "one line a day" journal, and started writing down the important things that happened each day. I think making note of what happened is helpful in that you're really reflecting back on what happened each day and what was memorable to you about it. And, the short form of the journal means it doesn't take a ton of time (so I actually do it!).

Also good, because it gets you in the habit of wanting to have done something notable every day, even if it's just "Read some of X book that was great" or "Had a nice phone call with friend X".

I've found that for me, at least, it stops that "where has the time gone!" feeling at least a little, because when I feel that way, I can flip back through and be like "Oh! That's where it went and what I was doing, and those were some pretty great things!"
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:20 PM on June 3, 2013 [14 favorites]

I see that you're dismissing novel experiences, but that might be exactly what it takes. One of the more recent theories about why time seems to be passing more quickly year after year is that there simply aren't enough new things around you for your brain to note. Once you've settled into an everyday routine, you can kind of coast through most of the stuff, which makes it seem like your weeks keep getting shorter and shorter. To a child, pretty much everything is new and exciting – and it helps that most parents encourage their kids to engage in all kinds of things – think Little League, kung-fu, language lessons, music lessons, art classes, summer camps, etc... Most adults don't really do that.

I'm 29 but feel like occasionally I "lose" a few months at a time by falling into a routine. It's scary, I agree. So I've been fighting this effect by, well, doing new things. I don't know if you consider this a "hack", but here is what has really made a difference for me: learning new skills (like evening woodworking classes at the local community college or learning to play the banjo), making room for new experiences (in my case mountaineering, with the occasional adrenaline rush when you're hanging on for dear life on a glacier), discovering new places (travel, obviously, but also just walking around the neighborhood – there are is so much to see that I never would have been aware of if it hadn't been for my dog who loves long, long walks), taking up new hobbies (let's master Cajun/Creole cuisine!), and meeting new people all the time (sports & volunteering really help with that). Living a full life really works: I look back on the past week/month/year and instead of wondering what happened and where it went, I think, hell yeah, I can hardly believe I accomplished so much.
posted by halogen at 8:24 PM on June 3, 2013 [16 favorites]

The problem is this: time is not passing by any more quickly, but as you get older you realize how much time you are wasting. Get busy - the ratio of time remaining to time spent is getting smaller, but you can spend more time getting stuff done. There is beauty in this as you discover how precious life really is.
posted by brownrd at 8:24 PM on June 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

take some LSD immediately.

if LSD is not available to you, try meditating.


sometimes trying to be still and quiet makes time move about as slow as you can possibly imagine, (unless you are on LSD).

find a personal daily ritual and stick to it. 20 minutes, 40 minutes, you can change your life by simply trying to b quiet and present for a small amount of time each day.
posted by bobdow at 8:35 PM on June 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

According to research by David Eagleman the apparent slowing down of time that occurs when we have brushes with death is caused by the speeding up of attention and the accumulation of memories. Extrapolating from that, you could try developing some practices to ensure that the days and experiences you have are memorable and remembered.

When I traveled in Africa in the 1990's for six weeks I wrote four pages in a large journal every day. Just the act of writing things down seemed to slow down and deepen the trip. I definitely remembered more of what happened, and the time I spent there was more satisfying.

(I'd also second Bobdow's suggestion, but these days writing paper is more generally available than blotter paper, sad to say.)
posted by alms at 8:46 PM on June 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

posted by Unified Theory at 8:49 PM on June 3, 2013

I found time slowed down to kid levels when I had a baby -- and the more time I spend with my kid, the slower time moves. When I was working or when she's in school, time moves more quickly. So being fully present with kids is a way to slow it down tremendously. (I did even notice the same effects when I was babysitting a small baby, so it doesn't have to be your own, just one you're paying a lot of attention to.) I think part of it is that you never know quite what's going to happen each day, and the other is the sheer boredom (and occasional terror) that babies can provide. But mostly it's needing to pay really close attention. So what can you pay close attention to?
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:39 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Dunbar, a character in Joseph Heller's masterpiece Catch-11, slowed down the speed of time by cultivating boredom. A few quotes:

Dunbar was lying motionless on his back again with his eyes staring up at the ceiling like a doll's. He was working hard at increasing his life span. He did it by cultivating boredom. Dunbar was working so hard at increasing his life span that Yossarian thought he was dead.


Dunbar liked Clevinger because Clevinger annoyed him and made the time go slow.


Shooting skeet eight hours a month was excellent training for them. It trained them to shoot skeet. Dunbar loved shooting skeet because he hated every minute of it and the time passed so slowly. He had figured out that a single hour on the skeet-shooting range with people like Havermeyer and Appleby could be worth as much as eleven-times-seventeen years.

'I think you're crazy,' was the way Clevinger had responded to Dunbar's discovery.

'Who wants to know?' Dunbar answered.

'I mean it,' Clevinger insisted.

'Who cares?' Dunbar answered.

'I really do. I'll even go so far as to concede that life seems longer i -'

'- is longer i -'

'- is longer - Is longer? All right, is longer if it's filled with periods of boredom and discomfort, b -'

'Guess how fast?' Dunbar said suddenly.


'They go,' Dunbar explained.



'Years,' said Dunbar. 'Years, years, years.'

'Clevinger, why don't you let Dunbar alone?' Yossarian broke in. 'Don't you realize the toll this is taking?'

'It's all right,' said Dunbar magnanimously. 'I have some decades to spare. Do you know how long a year takes when it's going away?'
... ...
'Do you know how long a year takes when it's going away?' Dunbar repeated to Clevinger. 'This long.' He snapped his fingers. 'A second ago you were stepping into college with your lungs full of fresh air. Today you're an old man.'

'Old?' asked Clevinger with surprise. 'What are you talking about?'


'I'm not old.'

'You're inches away from death every time you go on a mission. How much older can you be at your age? A half minute before that you were stepping into high school, and an unhooked brassiere was as close as you ever hoped to get to Paradise. Only a fifth of a second before that you were a small kid with a ten-week summer vacation that lasted a hundred thousand years and still ended too soon. Zip! They go rocketing by so fast. How the hell else are you ever going to slow time down?' Dunbar was almost angry when he finished.

'Well, maybe it is true,' Clevinger conceded unwillingly in a subdued tone. 'Maybe a long life does have to be filled with many unpleasant conditions if it's to seem long. But in that event, who wants one?'

'I do,' Dunbar told him.

'Why?' Clevinger asked.

'What else is there?'

posted by dancestoblue at 10:04 PM on June 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

I listened to an interview, probably on Q, with the author of a book about time. I can't remember details but the author was a British female journalist and it was released last year. She was explicitly asked how to make it feel like time passes slowly and the answer was: be terrified, be miserable, or pack your days with lots of activities and make lots of new memories.
posted by carolr at 10:36 PM on June 3, 2013

I just avoid thinking about it
posted by thelonius at 10:54 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I thought of Dunbar from Catch 22 as well, dancestoblue.

Honestly, I find the actually being aware of moments is really a conscious thing. Actually think "well hell this is a real damn pretty day and that dog is real funny looking" when you're stuck in traffic and then try to think about that rather than the thirty million other wasps in your head.
posted by OrangeDrink at 12:09 AM on June 4, 2013

Start running.
posted by R. Schlock at 4:37 AM on June 4, 2013

I spend at least half an hour a day outside, many times an hour eating or working out and not really doing anything else to distract me. Noticing the changes in the season slowly creeping up helps me avoid that "It's time to put the Christmas tree up, already?" Feeling. Time still goes by fast, but I think it's because I'm not as productive as I could be and humans are well known for overestimating how long a period of time really is.
posted by eq21 at 7:07 AM on June 4, 2013

When you're 10, 6 months is 1/20th of your life. When you're 30, 6 months is 1/60th of your life, so as you get older, time goes faster because your time perspective changes. Try to take time as often as possible to appreciate your life. For me, that means appreciating sunny days, dew on flowers, full moons, and other hackneyed stuff that is still beautiful. Appreciate good times with friends Hey guys, this is fun, the game is great, the beer is cold, and life is good or Sweetie, lying here with you all sweaty and satisfied is awesome. or just notice ow great it is to have a dog who thinks you are the center of the world.
posted by theora55 at 7:12 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing journaling, and here are two excellent tools:
  1. One Line a Day journal. Somebody suggested this above. This is the one I use. It's inexpensive, it's a great way to catalogue and take stock of your daily activities, and reading back through past months/years is helpful when seeking perspective and trying to make sense of time. Also, the format of this one allows you to easily look back at what you were doing on a particular date over the last few years.
  2. 750 Words. A longform journaling website. Simple, no-frills, just a blank screen and a live-updating word count. NOT a blogging platform. A great way to be intentional and reflective on a daily basis.

posted by duffell at 7:15 AM on June 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

Reading fiction. Time stops when you are utterly absorbed in words on a page. On a page. I don't get the same sense of time stopping when I read non-fiction, or when I read on a device.
posted by thinkpiece at 8:03 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Break up your routines. Have you ever noticed how time just passes and you are there when you are driving the same route you've driven hundreds of times before. That's your life. Break up your routines. Try new things. Or shake up the routines you have a little.

Live conciously. Just make yourself stand where ever you are right now and just be, concerntrate on all your senses. What are you feeling, hearing, smelling. Be in that moment. Make yourself notice the world around you. The funny looking dog like someone else mentioned, or the pretty sunset. Go lay in the grass in your backyard and look at the sky, and feel the sun and hear the birds. That's what's kids (and dogs) do, they live in the moment they are in.

Take up gardening. You become more aware of time passing, but in a good way. The whole there is a season for everything idea actually makes sense when you watch a seedling you plant slowly grow and become a bunch of tomatoes or a pretty flower.

Or to steal an idea I read somewhere put your hand on a hot stove for 10 seconds. You'll be surprised how slow that 10 seconds is, then kiss someone you love for 10 seconds and watch that time zoom by.
posted by wwax at 8:48 AM on June 4, 2013

I can't help with slowing time over a long period. But for a really, really long day? Ditch the internet.

I've been out of this habit lately, but for a while I was setting aside one day a weekend to go computer-free, and cell-phone free other than incoming calls. I read books, watched movies, gardened, hung out with my partner and cats, did stuff around the house - and those days felt endless. In a really good way.

Might be a quick and low-cost way to experiment with your perceptions of time.
posted by Stacey at 9:31 AM on June 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

I have thought about this, and while I don't have a suggestion to fight the effect, I'll share my theory anyway.

I think we perceive the passage of time in proportion to the length of our lifetime. A ten year-old sees the passage of one year as 1/10th of a lifetime. Quite significant. A fifty year-old sees the passage of one year as 1/50th of a lifetime. Not as big a deal. In essence, we feel our "lifetime" as the constant reference. This works out that the "speed of time" increases linearly with age.

Let a = one actual year
Let x = age in years
Let p = one perceived year
∝ mean "is proportional to"

1) p ∝ a/x
2) "speed of time" ∝ a/p = a / (a/x) = a * (x/a) = x
3) "speed of time" ∝ x

1) A perceived year is proportional to an actual year divided by our age.
2) The "speed of time" is an actual year divided by a perceived year, i.e. how long we feel like that year took. If it feels like it took less time, the "speed of time" is faster.
3) Thus, the "speed of time" is proportional to our age.
posted by huckit at 5:12 PM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Examine life from the ground up. For example:

Take a paper notebook and pen, leave all your electronics at home (no watch and no phone), and go sit in a garden to look. You don't know what time it is and you don't care because you have no appointments. Pick one leaf and examine it, draw it, describe it, and eventually take it home with you. Find out what sort of plant it came from, learn its life cycle. Go back the next day and find another of its kind. Look at the rest of the plant. Get a loupe to help you see the details of the plant. Go home and read about the plant. Ride your bike to the library and borrow (don't buy or download) a printed book or three about the plant.

This could be clover and you could be teaching yourself everything there is to know about clover. Look at the book (not a screen) and make notes and drawings with a pen and markers or pastels or paint. Get the colors exactly right. Learn how clover plants communicate with each other. Learn which bugs like which clover and why. Learn about the cultivation of clover. Learn to recognize the various local species of clover, starting with the differences between Trifolium repens and Trifolium pratense. Plant a bed of clover somewhere and lie in it. Buy clover seed in bulk and start planting it where clover is needed. Make your own clover stationery with stamps and ink you made. Write pen-and-paper letters to the agricultural extension to ask about clover. Get to know those people by name and maybe go and visit them to pick up some literature and chat about growing clover. Find out where the biggest clover patches are and go see them. Spend all summer becoming the top clover expert in your town or your state for all you know.

This is clover love summer.
posted by pracowity at 3:17 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

I too used to find time slipping away as the months surge on without consideration for my own schedule. Having said that, I realized it's completely within your power to battle back, and make time dependent on *you*. It's habit to say "I really wanna go camping this summer," or, "we should take a trip to Phoenix in the fall," or "I have always wanted to try out that new restaurant, but I never have time!" News flash: no one has time. Ever. Except really we all do, and saying otherwise serves purely as an excuse, an obstruction for your future.

So, make plans. In advance. It's difficult for people to commit to something three months ahead because "I don't know what I'll have going on," but make that thing-you're-planning what is going on. Plan a trip, and make your travel companion commit. If no one will, go by yourself. Buy the book you keep saying you want to read; put it on your nightstand. Make reservations for that "New American" (whatever that means) restaurant two Fridays from now. You will look at your calendar and realize you have so much ahead of you, and you will truly be taking advantage of your time without feeling like it's slipping away.
posted by goblue_est1817 at 6:48 AM on June 6, 2013

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