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How to Slow Down Time

little girl standing in front a tree looking up towards sun

I grew up in North Dakota, near the Canadian border where the state tree is the telephone pole and they have only two seasons, winter and road repair.

As kids, time was on our side—ev­ery day was a new adventure, and each year seemed like a lifetime. In the summer we would ride our bikes into the countryside to play in the streams and fields; we looked up at the clouds and imagined feather dragons and ice cream castles in the air.

When night finally fell we would chase fireflies and lie on our backs in the grass, gazing at the Northern Lights dancing across the sky. In the winter we would bundle up and go outside to dig forts in the snow banks, skate in the streets, go sledding in a blizzard, or have neighborhood snow­ball fights.

As the decades roll by many people grumble about how time seems to move too quickly. Years click by; it seems like you just celebrated your last birthday and now here it is again. The holiday season comes and goes and you wonder where the time went.

The endless summer vacations we savored in childhood now are just a couple of unpleasant hot and humid months spent sweating through work clothes in 95-degree heat. When you were a kid, your life was spontane­ous and your calendar was all white space—heck you didn’t even have a calendar! Back then you might have even felt twinges of boredom from time to time. Now you whine about never having the time to pursue your true passions.

Despite the years receding in the rear-view mirror of your life, deep down at the core of your being, you’re pretty much the same person you were as a 7-year-old. Like, I bet you still mentally sing the ABCs to see which letter comes next.

One of the keys to fully enjoying life is being able to channel the sense of wonder you had as a child. A century ago Albert Einstein proved that time is relative—it passes at different rates depending on the prevailing condi­tions.

Time as you perceive it is a by­product of your mind’s perspective. It is indeed possible to think like a child again, which will slow down the passage of time, giving you a longer and fuller life regardless of how many years you’ve left here on Earth.

Invest Some Time in Helping Others

A surprising study from the Uni­versity of Pennsylvania showed that helping someone else can improve a person’s feeling of time scarcity more than actually giving the person extra time.

People who spend free time help­ing others, even in small ways, report feeling more capable and appreciated than individuals who use all of their free time on themselves. Performing acts of kindness also improves one’s self-confidence about being able to effectively deal with time pressure and demands. By helping someone else, time as a resource can seem to become more abundant. The hormonal effects of altruism can also make problems seem less overwhelming. So, when you are feeling time pressured, you might try being more generous with your time—in spite of your instinct to be less so.

Don’t Think of Time as Money—Though It Is the True Currency of Life

Whether it’s food, or water, or money, or social interactions—if we don’t have enough of an essential item, we tend to focus on it more. So if you think of your time as money, and your life as an hourglass running out of sand, then time becomes extremely valuable and threateningly scarce.

Sadly, with an attitude of scarcity about time, you might become ob­sessed with your work, and become a workaholic to make enough money to last your lifetime.

Instead of leaving time to explore your world with curiosity and won­der, you may spend your life running errands and getting chores done. You can’t enjoy reading for pleasure be­cause it takes too much time; as does preparing a meal at home and sitting down to dinner with your family. Our leisure time becomes packed with an agenda of things that need to be done before we can waste time just enjoy­ing life.

Instead, try to think of time as the ultimate luxury—and one that you can afford. Time you enjoyed wasting was time well spent. But make sure it is not always the same-old, same-old routine.

 When was the Last Time You Did Something for the First Time

Time seemed to pass more slowly when we were children because we spent a large portion of our waking moments experiencing new things; much of what we felt, saw, smelled, heard, tasted and thought was brand new to us.

“Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.”

Robin Sharma

We were fascinated and curious about each new experience, as our minds were being filled with novel sensations and memories. We were newbies here on planet Earth, and thus time seemed to pass much more slowly due to the abundance of nov­elty. Each day was an unknown entity, an adventure filled with surprises.  Contrast that with the typical monotonous adult routine. About 70 percent of what we do each day is performed on autopilot, based upon well-worn habits.

We rise from bed about the same time each morning, we consume a boring breakfast, take an identical route to work, sit down at our desk and get busy with the same tasks we’ve done for years. Everything is repetitive and predictable.

Your brain doesn’t fully engage be­cause it isn’t incorporating new data or experiences. One hour blends into the next, days overlap and disappear without many distinctive memories.

We can’t recall what we had for dinner yesterday or what we did last weekend or who we spent time with last month—not because we have Alzheimer’s, but because we are in a mind-numbing rut carved deep by endless repetition.

So your mission is to make your life interesting and novel again. Ride your bike to work—it is my favorite way to commute when I get the chance. Try skydiving—it’s a sensory-overload wild rush that you will never forget. Hike in the woods, take a dance class, go to new restaurants, travel to new places.

Take an unusual route to work; even small deviations from your routine can make a big difference. Be daring and have fun spicing up your love life with your partner. Learn a new language, join a club, or discover how to fly a drone. Listen to audiobooks instead of the news. Adopt an animal to play with and love.

Balance Your Life

Americans are among the hardest working people in the world. And when we aren’t working we are think­ing about working. Yet, balance is key to happiness and health in the long run. Take vacations; and at the day’s end leave your work at the office. As much as possible avoid multitasking, which adds stress, compromises the quality of your work, and eventually burns you out.

Scientists find that spending more time using digital technology makes time seem to lapse more quickly. Furthermore, studies show that excess time spent on computer entertain­ment and social media tends to make a person more anxious and depressed. So, be careful to not become too immersed in electronic communi­cation and digital entertainment. Whether it’s email, social media like Facebook, texting or watching movies or TV shows, or doing video gaming, it’s best to limit screen time during your non-work waking time to not more than two hours total per day.

Be a Body in Motion

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity al­luded to earlier, states that the faster one moves through space, the slower time passes. Fascinatingly, this same phenomenon seems to happen on a local, personal level, even if it’s just in our mind’s eye.

In early June 2014, just after my daughter Kathleen graduated from high school we went to San Francisco for a long weekend. We spent Satur­day with her friends Morgan and Aden strolling the hilly streets, hopping on street cars, window shopping through the Haight-Ashbury, bike-riding through Golden Gate Park, and having lunch on the sandy shores of Ocean Beach. The day seemed to last forever, and left us with many lovely and en­during memories.

Perhaps you can recall a similar day during which you were very physi­cally active, exploring a stimulating environment. Then compare and contrast it with a day you spent being a sedentary spectator, say watching TV for hours on end.

Which day left you with more memories? Which seemed to last longer? After which of the two days did you feel happier, and sleep more soundly? Using your own body to move yourself through space will al­low you to make the most of your time and probably also make your life feel fuller and richer.

Joy of Anticipation

One of my favorite parts about traveling is the joy of anticipation. I try to plan our trips several months ahead of the actual date of departure. Imagining us exploring new surround­ings and meeting new people makes me smile and brings excitement, even though the trip is months away.

My family really dislikes tightly choreographed trips, so we don’t try to plan everything right up to the last detail. But we love to Google the region and culture, and look at photos and talk about the options of things to do and places to see. This multiplies the joy and excitement beyond the trip itself, and markedly enriches the experience. And you can cherish the memories for the rest of your life.

If you can throw together a rough itinerary—one that leaves lots of room for spontaneity, you can increase the personal joy and exhilaration you get out of your vacation, which will also slow down your perception of time.

Lose Yourself Out in Nature

Modern life forces us to become slaves to the clock, whereas getting outdoors tends to liberate us from that sense of time tyranny. Nature isn’t just a place to visit, it is our ancestral home.

Out in nature, time is measured in sunrises and sunsets, seasons, phases of the moon, and thunderstorms. It’s a much more organic way to enjoy the luxury of time.

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

In Good Health,

James O'Keefe, MD

Photo Credit:  Pixabay Creative Commons