How can I make time slow down?
August 18, 2008 9:44 AM   Subscribe

How can I make time slow down?

I turn 25 today. And time is passing so quickly, I'm terrified.

I know other people are aware of this; it comes with aging. Maybe our memories condense, like a defragmented drive. I used to feel the fear occasionally -- in the dentist's chair, for example (wasn't I just here? IS THIS PURGATORY?). But for the last year or so, the fear has always been around the edges of my consciousness. Sometimes it comes on so strong I have to force it from my mind to function.

It seems like I'm always going to bed, if that makes any sense. Discovering another day has passed.

Maybe because I'm a writer now and work from home. My days are so routine. It also doesn't help that I write YA fiction, and am always looking back analytically, wistfully. I do notice time slowing when I travel, at least in the middle of the trip (did we really take that bus this morning? seems like two days ago...)

I don't really fear *Sudden Death!* maybe because as humans, we all feel a little invincible. What I fear is increasingly swift aging, and then death. It's not the physical beauty aspect of it, although that doesn't help. It's the fear that the days and nights will keep slamming together more and more quickly. I don't fear unhappiness -- in general, I'm happy. I am just afraid of time. And, if I let thoughts linger a bit longer.... death, and the possibility of nothingness. Re: religion, I'm pretty much agnostic, though I was raised episcopalian. In a nutshell, I have doubts, and then guilt over doubting.

My questions: How do you deal with it? How can I make time slow down? I know you're not magic. I know maybe I should talk to a counselor. But I also know there are mefites of all ages who must not think about this like I do.

I know, I'm only 25. But that's what scares me the most -- if I'm already aware of the acceleration, how fast will the next ten years seem? And the next ten after that?

A friend of mine asked an elderly acquaintance about this same thing. The man's reply: "Son... nowadays, Christmas comes every month." Shit.
posted by changeling to Religion & Philosophy (40 answers total) 96 users marked this as a favorite
The problem is proportionality - when you're 5 years old, a day spent in the fields playing is a (relatively) major portion of your life. If you spend the same day in the same field at 25, it's a much smaller proportion of your life and nothing will stop you subconsciously measuring it against what you've already experienced and feeling it coming up wanting...

The only thing you can do is consciously reassure yourself that time isn't moving any more quickly - that it's an illusion - and to stop worrying about it. Make sure that you fill the available time doing *something* - it will help you feel less guilty about the time you can't stop from slipping away.
posted by benzo8 at 9:49 AM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm 42, and I've definitely felt the way you do. What happens when we become adults is that we lose those Rites of Passage that so delineate our time when we're younger. Working a regular job requires some sort of autopilot - the day to day grind can sometimes be just too much monotony to bear as a conscious being.

So - what to do? I try to find things to commemorate - I try and pay attention during the day as much as possible - I take time to just do nothing - I let myself get bored. Time, of course, does not slow down or speed up, but waking up a little bit and finding a way to make the day noteworthy will definitely make your life seem fuller.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 9:50 AM on August 18, 2008

In my experience, fear of getting old and dying too quickly is very closely tied to a fear of wasting your life. Nobody wants to be on their deathbed going, "Wait, what did I do with my life? It flew by so quickly!" So how do you combat it? You make sure you're doing stuff now that you'll look back on with pride and fondness. Live your life now in a way that you'll be happy to remember. When you're busy living an amazing life, you might find that time passes just as quickly (maybe even more so!), but you'll be so busy and satisfied, you won't have time to panic about it.
posted by vytae at 9:51 AM on August 18, 2008 [6 favorites]

Live in the moment.
posted by mpls2 at 9:53 AM on August 18, 2008 [6 favorites]

The days go by even faster as you get older. Better learn about meditation. Time will stand still, I guarantee it.
posted by Zambrano at 9:54 AM on August 18, 2008

Time is passing quickly because you're too busy. It has nothing to do with proportions — our minds are too hard-wired to notice short term and pretty bad at recognizing long term experiences. You feel like you're always going to bed because your days are spent preoccupied, either with work or school or family or otherwise.

Perhaps you spend all your time fantasizing about the future? Practice being present in the moment. Learn what zen is all about (not so much the meditation, but in being present in every moment). Don't let life slip by unnoticed, and it won't seem like it's flying past you.
posted by knave at 9:54 AM on August 18, 2008

Mindfulness meditation. See Jon Kabat-Zinn.
posted by callmejay at 9:55 AM on August 18, 2008

Travel close to the speed of light or learn how to live on the surface of a neutron star.

Time is relative. A minute on Mars is not the same as a minute on Earth. Same for someone living at sea level and someone living on top of a mountain.

Since it's unlikely you'll be experiencing any significant time warpage, the good news is that your concept of time, is your own and completely a construct of your own mind.

Thus adjusting your own sense of time in completely within your power.

Solitude, or something close to it is one way to start. Make sure your down time is your own, to do with as you like. Nothing like sitting on a porch with a cold one and some friends with nothing to remind you of the passage of time other than the sun slowly setting...

You get the idea.
posted by wfrgms at 9:59 AM on August 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

How can I make time slow down?

Have children.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:01 AM on August 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

This is because you dont make a lot of memories of routine. You need new experiences. Go on a trip. Break up the routine.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:01 AM on August 18, 2008 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone, for the quick and beautiful answers so far. I'm open to meditation.

Ironmouth: I do want kids. But I thought having them made time pass even more quickly....
posted by changeling at 10:03 AM on August 18, 2008

When I was a kid, a year was an eternity! Waiting a whole year for Christmas, or summer, or my birthday seemed interminable! Now... shit! It's my birthday again already?

I'm almost twice as old as you. When I was younger, and I heard people my age talk about how time seems to go by quickly, I would chuckle. But it's true! (Well, the feeling is true.) My daughter is leaving for college in less than a week. But wait! She was just born, like, last week, right? One reason is seems that way is that I can remember her being born, and see that she's leaving, in a single second, without remembering everything in between. That's what can happen with your daily life. You remember waking up, now you're going to bed. You haven't left the house. What did you do?

One thing that works for me, especially at work, when I feel like the day has gone by and I don't remember where the time went: I take the last 15 minutes at work and write out a list of everything I accomplished. It gives me a feeling of satisfaction, especially on those days when it seems like my time is spend chasing after other peoples' demands. Maybe you can do this at the end of your day. It may not "slow down" time, but it will let you feel better about how you spent it.

Also: in addition to your work, plan something for yourself every day outside of the house. Whether it's as simple as getting lunch or dinner at a special place, or biking/walking a new neighborhood or park, Or going to a movie or museum. Again, it might not slow down time (in fact, fun things seem to make time go faster) but you will feel that you got more life in every day. You could also take on a new hobby, and spend a little time every day learning something new about it.

In short, make the most of the time you have, and try not to worry about it. It's a common thing, and throughout your life the feeling will come and go. In the end, all you can do know that you did the best you could with what you had.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 10:05 AM on August 18, 2008 [4 favorites]

Sleep less, exercise more, do different things every day, work on creative projects, listen to a lot of different music and never repeat a song.
posted by Damn That Television at 10:12 AM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Better learn about meditation. Time will stand still, I guarantee it.

I can scientificially prove it wont make time stand still. You'll start thinking, "crap, did I already meditate today?"

I think at 25 I started to notice this as well, and heck, by 25 I had 2 kids already.
Its like a Groundhog's Day senario and dude, truthfully, I dont know how to break that. The people you hear that dont have this issue are the rich and wealthy who "vacation" monthly or are the Mosquito Coast type who just drop the daily grind, buy and island in Honduras for 200,000 and sell exotic birds for the rest of their life.

I pleaded with my wife to do the former.

This regiment depends on you. Make the most of it, and 25 is still so young and you can still do somuch to change this rut that it's awesome. Get a pad and paper (which as a writer I know you have) and bust out a few goals that you can't accomplish in say 2 months or 6 months. Work, strive, fight to get there and thereby adding your spice to your current saltless life.

We only are here once, we can only do so much in this, I feel you 100%
posted by TeachTheDead at 10:12 AM on August 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

I went through a lot of similar angst in my 20's. It was a tough adjustment going from a relatively carefree education with lots of free time (even as an engineering student) to working in the real world.

I'm far more content in my 30's than I was then, and time has slowed down somewhat, though I'm still stressed out. I'm hoping my 40's will be even better.

You need to be comfortable in your own skin, and enjoy life, not just live it. Doing things you want to do, rather than just the things you have to do, will slow time right down. Have a proper lunch break. Go for a short walk, if you can. Take up a hobby that gets you out of the house. Do good deeds. Meet people. Have fun. Strive to be happy.

Time doesn't fly when you're having fun - it lasts in your memory for a very long time. Happy times with friends and family are like jewels of the mind, locked in time, free to return to and be played with when you need a pick me up.

Oh, and one last thing. Spend some time with the elderly. Grandparents perhaps, or great uncles, or just friends of the family. Their days go so very slowly. They invariably have great stories to tell and they'll make you realise it's not how quickly it passes - it's what you do with it.
posted by ArkhanJG at 10:15 AM on August 18, 2008 [4 favorites]

"Life can be found only in the present moment. The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life." - Thich Nhat Hahn (a vietnamese buddhist monk)

Meditation. I am not a buddhist, but I think this something that culture really profoundly understood. Find out for yourself whether it's worthwhile. Meditation is really practice for going through life mindfully... aware of your experiences in the moment, not getting too caught up in your various mental reflexes.

As benzo8 says, it's all about proportionality. I'm 19, and for the past few months I've had the first feelings of having a true past. Before, nothing really felt very long ago... there were only two categories of events: during my time, and before. Now I see that an album came out in 2001 and I think... wow, that was a markedly different time, I was a markedly different person. But I don't really feel time is going quicker in a straightforward way as I age, it just appears that way because my internal monologue has more to draw from.

Re: religion, I'm pretty much agnostic, though I was raised episcopalian. In a nutshell, I have doubts, and then guilt over doubting.

Tangentially, if you're afraid to doubt something it's questionable to what degree you actually believe it and to what extent you're just battling cognitive dissonance. It's a tough place to be.
posted by phrontist at 10:20 AM on August 18, 2008

Best answer: There is a character in Catch-22 who believes that time passes quickly when you are having fun and that it crawls when you are bored, so in an effort to live as long as possible, at least subjectively, he attempts to stay as bored as possible at all times. I was trying to find something about that online and came across this article. Here are some relevant quotes:

when childhood holidays are recalled, they seemed to stretch out into eternity. Sure, they were longer. But it's no secret that with advancing years comes the sense that time is accelerating.

Yet it doesn't have to be like that, says Steve Taylor, who teaches courses on personal development at the University of Manchester. Clock time may be about minutes and hours, but Real Time is down to how we experience it, which differs from person to person depending on what we're doing.

A child's day from 0900 to 1530 is like a 20-hour day for an adult, he says, and in his book Making Time he explains why.

Taylor says time is related to how much "information" someone is taking in from the world around them.

"Children are experiencing everything for the first time, all their experiences are new. They also have an amazingly intense vision of the world, an amazing fresh perception. Children are incredibly awake to the world around us, so time passes slowly for them."

Information - not from books or the internet, but through perceptions of the world - stretches time and as people get older they have fewer new experiences, he says.

"There is less novelty in our life and you become used to the world and more familiar. You take in less information from the world around us and time is less stretched with information."

"Make sure your life is as full of new experiences as possible. If you live a life that's full of routine, then time will always speed up but if you make an effort to travel to new environments and expose yourself to new situations, new challenges, even something simple like a new route to work, new interests, new hobbies, then this degree of newness slows down time."

posted by ND¢ at 10:28 AM on August 18, 2008 [16 favorites]

I'm an atheist.

Time will always go by faster to your perception if you're having fun. The important thing is to make the most of it. Don't waste time.

If you want a literal answer to your question, try running really fast in the opposite direction of the universe's expansion. c is a good speed.
posted by kldickson at 10:44 AM on August 18, 2008

You're only 25? I was just 25!

I'm going through the same thing you are and the best solution I've found is to be more active each day, and more varied in these activities. This can be really simple to pull off, as long as you feel like you're accomplishing something. (For example, you could wake up early and run all your errands, meet up with a friend for lunch, go home and finish a chapter or two, catch up on your emails and calls, and then go out to a show that evening.) Being shut up at home has the same time-numbing effect that working in an office does, so a change in environment might help you feel better about the time passing.

I fight with this every weekend. I'd love to just stay in and relax, but then the weekend just zips by. If I finish a project, go out, or meet with friends, then I feel I spent my time well, and the weekend seems longer in comparison.
posted by greenland at 10:45 AM on August 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

correct, Rocketman! :)

Best Answer (with caveat): Time doesn't fly when you're having fun - it lasts in your memory for a very long time. Happy times with friends and family are like jewels of the mind, locked in time, free to return to and be played with when you need a pick me up.

Well, at approx twice the age of the OP, I can confirm that time does fly when we're having fun, but the pleasant anticipation of a fun time, the event itself, and your many recollections of that time once it's past all help to make you less unhappy and more grateful of the time you have.
posted by Artful Codger at 10:46 AM on August 18, 2008

Maybe you look at time as some sort of amount of wealth belonging to you. It's not bad in itself. The problem is that boring you to death isn't going to improve your situation since you'll consider you're wasting that wealth. You're afraid of being poor, since you're going to be deprived of that wealth of yours. One way to look at it is that time doesn't belong to you. You're already poor. You're 25 and reasonnably lucky to have made it this far. You don't have to manage all that future time...
posted by nicolin at 10:46 AM on August 18, 2008

Enjoy whatever present is made of (it wasn't clear).
posted by nicolin at 10:49 AM on August 18, 2008

Hold down the X button.

No, but seriously ... the Tao says that the more you try to do something like this, the worse your results will be. If you strain and concentrate and try to make time slow down, you're actually speeding it up.

Try mindfulness meditation, and activities that require your full attention. For me, it's smoking a pipe, which is the perfect meditative act: puff too quickly or too slowly and it will go out. It's actually rather challenging to keep a pipe lit (which is why they have pipe-smoking contests), and the only way to do it is by perfectly regulating and controlling the flow of your breathing.
posted by jbickers at 10:58 AM on August 18, 2008

I try to do things that have a point or aren't transient.
(For example, watching sitcoms is a lot of fun at the time, but has no lasting impact on me, so I try to do other things.)

Then, a week doesn't feel like it disappeared, it feels like a week when I did this, that, and that other thing.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:02 AM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ironmouth: I do want kids. But I thought having them made time pass even more quickly....

It's a paradox. Some days feel like years, but years go by like days.
posted by pardonyou? at 11:14 AM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

When you have a serious illness or injury that takes you out of your routine, each day will feel like a month as you wait for recovery. I can't recommend it though.
posted by Daddy-O at 11:15 AM on August 18, 2008

I also had thoughts like yours and a few years ago decided to become an "experiencialist" (my own term) by paying attention to opportunities that came my way and taking advantage of trying new things. Life is too short to spend at home following a routine. See art, go to plays, meet new people - these things create memories that make the time you spend on earth richer. I think being creative would also add to this sense.

And I also am almost twice your age (and sending a daughter off to college - Hey Fuzzy!)so I am keenly aware of time slipping by. But after about 40 I found it easier to not sweat the small stuff and not worry so much. I set goals weeks or months in advance for things I want to accomplish personally and this also helps me make the most of my time.

But those that have suggested mindful meditation may have a point - I think I'll try that as well.
posted by readery at 11:20 AM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I completely identify with your anxiety; at the same time, I have limited patience with it, which is my own key.

I think all the advice here about how to lead a better life might have the collateral effect of reducing your anxiety; that said, it'd be great to lead that better life for independent reasons, and I'm sure you realize that. Short of perfecting those strategies I seriously doubt that this will go away.

You say, in part, How do you deal with it? * * * But I also know there are mefites of all ages who must not think about this like I do.

Every time I think this way, I bring it to an end by reflecting that there's not a damn thing I can do about it. Which is kind of the opposite of most of the advice you are getting here.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 11:22 AM on August 18, 2008

I love benzo8's answer above. The preportionality of it all had never dawned of me before but it makes perfect sense.

Also, along the lines of travel/vacations making time slow... I think that Camping is one of the best things you can do for this feeling... there's little agenda, nature is quiet and serene, you have time to take it all in, and you're day is moved forward soley by the slowly changing position of the sun in the sky rather than hands on a clock, which move at a much more rapid pace. Even an overnight trip to a lovely camp ground can give you this feeling.
posted by veronicacorningstone at 11:24 AM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest setting more goals. If you're always working toward something, you'll feel time move more slowly. "Aw man, I've been trying to learn how to surf for months. Will I ever get the hang of it?" If you feel like you've mastered everything in your life, you'd start feeling and behaving like a robot. That's when time really flies by--and you'd having nothing to show for it.
posted by HotPatatta at 11:26 AM on August 18, 2008

Barbara Sher addresses this issue specifically in It's Only Too Late If You Don't Start Now: How to Create Your Second Life at Any Age. In a nutshell, time is slow when you're a kid. So, use all the benefits (freedom, maturity, independence, wisdom, money) of being an adult to play and live harder and more fully than was ever possible as a kid. And then time will slow. (The book is ok.)

I'm 27. I definitely find the rapidity of times' passing a little alarming at times. BUT, there's a huge upside: every time I blink I've achieved some sort of major, long-term goal. The increased sense of control over my life is wonderful. Set goals, put in a little time each day or week. Suddenly, you've achieved it. That might do a lot to alleviate some of the time-passing freakiness.

>> Time is passing quickly because you're too busy.

So, I think this is wrong. Get busier in new and interesting ways, like a kid. Play. Same-busy=bad. New-busy=good.

>> This is because you dont make a lot of memories of routine.


nthing meditation as one piece of the puzzle, but only a piece. Break the routine. Live and grow.
posted by zeek321 at 11:38 AM on August 18, 2008

I need to break my habit of double-posting, but also consider watching The World's Fastest Indian (very PG, but good and still somehow edgy). True story: Old man breaks land-speed record.

"Aren't you afraid you'll die?"

"No. I live more in five minutes on that bike than some people live their entire lives."
posted by zeek321 at 11:50 AM on August 18, 2008

"No. I live more in five minutes on that bike than some people live their entire lives."

I acknowledge the broader point. But this is the stupidest, most self-absorbed, most narcissistic thing I've read in a while.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 11:59 AM on August 18, 2008

The more new things you do or experience the slower time seems to go. Traveling and taking up a new, hard skill are good ways to slow time down. I am always amazed at how slow time seems to go when I am on vacation, in a new city. Conversely, the more time you spend doing routine, boring stuff, such as sitting around an office, watching TV, or using the web, the faster time seems to go.

As people get older, activities tend to stretch out and repeat more -- instead of going to school for 9 months from 8 until 3, you're in an office from 9 to 7, year-round, doing basically the same stuff over and over again. Instead of a 2-week project being a long project, it's a 2-year project that's considered long. So the best ideas I have would be to not work in an office, get a job with lots of variety, many short projects, and that requires constant learning and travel.
posted by lsemel at 3:10 PM on August 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

Start a diary, if you don't have one already.

1) You'll take the time each night to reflect on the day, appreciating it and reliving it. You'll find you aren't able to write down even most of your thoughts or experiences - the day was packed full, you simply don't realize it.

2) You'll start looking, during the day, for things to write about. It should help you to live in the moment.

3) In 10 years, rather than thinking "Where on earth did those 10 years go! I did nothing!" you can look back through what should by then be a ridiculous number of diaries, and relive every silly little moment you had thought lost or forgotten. Remember this inside joke? Remember that beautiful sunset? Remember this brief romance? It's good to have something to look back on, and if you're like me your memory is terrible and doesn't help.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:46 PM on August 18, 2008 [4 favorites]

I'll be fifty in December. This summer was like a week long.

The only thing that keeps me from freaking out is remembering I have a really good eternity waiting for me.

If I were atheist or agnostic, I don't think I'd be handling it very well.
posted by konolia at 4:31 PM on August 18, 2008

happy birthday! my 25th was last thursday. My idea for gauging whether or not you're successfully making the most of your life: take a point-and-shoot camera everywhere you go. If you're not excited enough by your life to snap at least 5 (memory-worthy) pictures a day, then you're missing out on a lot of the opportunities life has to offer. Try new stuff, stimulate your mind, meet new people and keep on learning. When I finished school (I think I'm finally done this time), I was worried that there seemed to be no real milestones left between graduation and retirement. But that's not true; the fact is, once I started setting other goals for myself, my life became at least as interesting and eventful as school had been. I take a lot of pictures because I'm always doing something new and interesting, and I do feel like I'm SO OLD now (ha!) compared to my college years, but I don't feel like old age is approaching or that I'm wasting my days.
posted by Chris4d at 5:55 PM on August 18, 2008

Yes, the older you get the faster time goes by- or at least the perception of it anyway. I have often wondered why. One day, out of the blue I asked my nine year old and seven year old what they were thinking about as we drove down the road- they both answered "I don't know- nothing". I believe, the younger you are the more blank space there is in your life. Can you find blank periods in your day? Times when you are actively thinking about nothing at all? I tried it- didn't have much luck. My mind was constantly whirling away.

So, in a nutshell, you can not control the speed at which you think or possibly, because you are thinking so much, you are not realizing how much time is actually passing you by. I would be more concerned if time was not speeding up as I aged. I have to imagine some poor slob sitting in some prison for the rest of their life would tell you that time goes by excruciatingly slow. So, look at the positive- that birthday you just had is much better than the alternative no matter whether it came quickly or slowly.
posted by bkeene12 at 8:04 PM on August 18, 2008

The best thing I can think of is to quote the late, great, Warren Zevon: "Enjoy every sandwich."
posted by Citrus at 7:10 AM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

I do notice time slowing when I travel, at least in the middle of the trip (did we really take that bus this morning? seems like two days ago...)

I'd marked a passage in a book* that seemed to be relevant and after what I thought was a week another month has gone by. Anyway, Graham Greene recommends going to multiple places during a vacation so as to feel it lasts longer. He also has a story about a guy living in each room of his huge house for some time and then moving to the next one for the same reason. He dies when he reaches the last one (a cramped bathroom), so you probably don't want to try that in a four-room apartment.

*Graham Greene - Travels with my aunt.
posted by ersatz at 4:14 PM on October 3, 2008

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