Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Time Flies When You're Getting Old

It seems time passes more quickly the older I get. I developed a theory for that. Each year of life that we experience is a smaller and smaller portion of the time we've already lived. For example, the amount of time between my 50th and 51st birthday will be only 0.02 (1/50) or 2% of my life. But way back when I was ten, it took 10% of my life for me to reach my eleventh birthday.

What I experience each year is not 12 months that pass. Instead, I perceive a period of time that's relative to my life. And my life seems to be going by nearly five times faster now as compared to when I was a pre-teen.

But lately, I've decided that the real issue has to do with mindfulness. Time seems to pass more quickly now because we pay less attention to life compared to when we were young. In my own personal experiment, I decided to start meditating in order to strengthen my ability to stay mindful during the course of a day. Sure enough, I had the distinct feeling that I had more time in my day, or rather that I seemed to run out of less time.

So I was intrigued by yesterday's program on All Things Considered called Why Does Time Fly By As You Get Older? "My First Theory" is indeed mentioned in that program, although it is called "Proportional Theory." They don't specifically mention mindfulness on the program (unless I wasn't paying attention) but they did bring up the idea that novelty can make it seem like time runs slower. But they claim that the perception we have of time going slowly when we're young comes about because we have more to remember about those times.

That's rubbish. I distinctly remember days from my youth that seemed to take years to pass by, particularly the days before Christmas and my birthday. In that case, anticipation of a desired event can make time slow down. We have fewer desired events to look forward to. The flip side is truer -- we have more undesired events that we experience with apprehension. In which case it's our attitude that bends time.

What do you think? Listen yourself to hear how scientists explain why time flies as you get old.


Rummuser said...

Square Peg, I have a theory all my own on this phenomenon. Now that I don't have to do many things that I had to do to keep body and soul together and put by something for the older years, I find that there is a great deal more that I would LIKE to do, but not enough time available. This of course means that it appears as though time flies!

Kerry said...

Oh mi gosh you are an engineer. I tried so hard to get the technical theory of the first couple paragraphs--think I got the jist of it, but my head almost blew up in process. I have such respect for such brilliance as I mentioned before I am married to an engineer...excellent balance to this technically, mathematically perplexed brain of mine.

I do get the mindfulness though (thank goodness parts of my brain work) and think its awesome you've made "time" for meditation. Paying attention to life, we actually experience time...

Something I've been aware of since becoming ill and having large spans of time when I can't do much--time seems to slow way down. I think its a bit like being a kid--long spans of unstructured time--making time seem to move along more slowly.

Great post, great food for thought!

Square Peg Guy said...

Hi Rummuser:

That's a great theory. It's kind of like the "boredom factor." It's usually children whom you hear say, "I'm bored. There's nothing to do." But you and I can find so much to do that we'd need more than one lifetime to get to it all!

Thanks for commenting!

Square Peg Guy said...

Hi Kerry:

Sorry I started off the post with such technical detail. I probably drove a lot of people off! But I'm glad you stuck with it, and I'm especially glad that you commented! Thanks so much!