Why Does Time Seem To Speed Up As We Age?Feb 7, 2020
When I was a child, my family lived about 40 minutes from Disneyland. I remember the car ride to get the Magic Kingdom felt like it took forever. These days, now that I’m in my early forties, a 40-minute car ride feels like it’s over in half the time.
A big reason for this dramatic change in perception is that time seems to speed up as we age.
Personally, my twenties felt twice as long as my 30s and, while now in my 40s, I sometimes forget my age because the number changes so quickly. I sometimes fear that if time continues to accelerate at his pace, my life will be over far too soon.
This idea that time seems to fly as we get older is actually backed up by science. In fact, there are four solid reasons why we perceive time to move more rapidly as we age.
The Novelty Factor
Our brains are hard-wired to encode new experiences and forget the mundane run-of-the-mill activities. We’ll always remember seeing a car crash on the way to work in the morning. But we’ll often forget if we washed out hair or not while in the shower.
When we are younger, life is full of new experiences so we encode a lot more material as memories. As we age, there are fewer and fewer new experiences.
Our retroactive judgment of time is affected by the accumulation of these experiences in our memory banks. That’s why periods of novelty appear to last a lot longer.
When we think about two weeks spent in a foreign country where everything is new, the time frame feels a lot longer than the same amount of time spent at work doing repetitive tasks.
Also known as the “telescoping effect,” cognitive psychologists believe that we perceive recent events as being more remote and older events as being more recent. The crux of this is at about three years. We will perceive an event from two years ago as older than two years, but an event from four years ago as less than four years.
When we think about major historical events that happened more than three years ago, it seems they “just happened yesterday.” This feeling is usually coupled with the thought of “where does all the time go?”
A 2005 study out of Germany found that people between the ages of 20 and 50 perceive time as moving faster, in part, to a concept known as “time pressure.” During this point in our lives we have the burdens of education, careers, and family life that take up so much time and energy, we never feel we have enough. This stress enhances the perception that time is actually moving faster.
As we age, our metabolisms slows. We breathe slower and our heart rate decreases. This means we experience fewer biomarkers than when we are younger and our bodies are more vibrant. A faster metabolism puts us more in tune with our biological processes which makes life seem more vivid, thus slower moving.
So how do we slow down this roller coaster ride by building more memories and becoming more engaged in life? Dr. Steven Myers, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Roosevelt University in Chicago, says that mindfulness is the key.
“Mindfulness allows people to appreciate their surroundings and can lead to the feeling that time is passing more slowly,” Meyers tells The Huffington Post. “Paying attention to events that are pleasant or interesting certainly can enhance our mood and allows us to savor positive experiences.”
Photo credit: Salvador Dali, Pixabay, RossHelen/Shutterstock.