As we get older we increasingly get stuck into a routine. In childhood, adolescence and even young adulthood everything has a novelty aspect – everything is new, new, new. But as we get older we do the same things over and over again. Memory research and the psychology of time perception tells us that for long durations – the last year, the last ten years – memory formation is essential for defining how long we perceive duration. So the more we experience the more subjectively time lasts.
"The more things we experience for the first time, the more exciting our lives are because of this novelty aspect."
The more things we experience for the first time, the more exciting our lives are because of this novelty aspect. We will create more memories, and consequently time will feel subjectively longer. Because we experience so many novel, exciting and emotional things earlier in our lives, subjectively time expands and because as we get older we succumb to this routine mode, times passes more quickly. Physical time of course doesn’t pass any quicker but your subjective appreciation – your judgement – of duration and the passage of time does.
This has a strong existential component because the passage of time is only heading in one direction. The only conclusion is of course death. So this can be worrying as we get older – it can form part of the mid-life crisis, this increasing awareness of our own mortality. Especially if you think time is passing quicker. Most people would prefer to experience a slower passage of time – the kind we felt when we were younger.
"How can we try and negate or counteract this feeling? The most straightforward thing to suggest is to continually try new things: don’t goon holiday to the same place every year; don’t do the same thing every weekend."
How can we try and negate or counteract this feeling? The most straightforward thing to suggest is to continually try new things: don’t go on holiday to the same place every year; don’t do the same thing every weekend. Weekends can pass so quickly anyway and if you have the same routine this will only exacerbate that. When do you get the feeling of a long weekend? When you go somewhere new or do something for the first time.
Exciting experiences with friends in a new city for example can prolong a weekend. The last time I went away for a weekend somewhere new, I remember sitting in a taxi on my way back home looking at some roadworks and wondering why they were still there. But of course they were still there. I had only been away for two nights. But subjectively these two days and nights were so long. I had the feeling of stretched time. So breaking through your everyday routines is certainly a way of ensuring time passes slower, subjectively speaking.
To see what Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, Sophie Scott had to say about this matter, look here.