Having turned the Big 5-0 recently, I have been spending time taking stock of my life. The process is likely going to continue for several weeks, given that it is unrealistic to think I can really enjoy my memories or feel grateful for all my life lessons by pondering for just a couple of days.

There are many things to be noticed and I look forward to sharing them, but the other day a friend reminded me of something that fits into this transition stage very well.

And that is the concept that “time flies.”

As people get older, we are more concerned with how quickly time seems to be moving. We make comments like:

  • The year is just flying by!
  • Look how quickly Monday has rolled around again.
  • Things are passing me by!

Of course, 1 hour is the same 60 minutes now as it was in our 20s – it is our perception of time that has changed. And there is a very simple explanation for that!

Our brains give more attention to things that are new to us. Novel events that stimulate our sight, hearing, smell, touch or taste will spark new activity in the brain. Neurons that have been sitting quietly wake up and work harder, so we feel like time has slowed.

But if our day is filled with “same old same old”, there is nothing new going on. There is nothing novel for our brain to focus on.

Taking it even further, novelty brings us straight into the “present moment” – we need to be right here right now when something new is happening. However, routine allows our brains to wander into all sorts of different time zones, paying no mind (literally) to what is going on right in front of us.

Add to that the fact that as we get older, we have a tendency to do fewer new things anyway. We have our ways and we’re sticking to them, damnit!

All it takes to ‘slow down time’ is to add a new thing into the day as often as possible. Reading a different newspaper today, taking a different route home from work tonight, shopping in an unfamiliar store this weekend, eating a new food at a restaurant on the other side of town – all these things will give your brain something new to work on.

Pausing to look at my own life, I easily see ways that I have gone into autopilot. And while I still have time (hopefully tons of it), I plan on taking back “the stick” and putting purposeful thought into doing new and adventurous things.

How about you?

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