How to Make Next Year Last Longer
If we understand why time seems to speed up with each passing year, then we can use some simple methods to slow it down.
Now that another year is coming to an end, you might be asking yourself: where has all the time gone? You may even feel as if time is speeding up, that this year has been shorter than the previous one. A year to you now probably seems a much shorter space of time than it did when you were 16, or even 30. Or think back to when you were a child: those eternal car journeys when you asked ‘Are we there yet?' every two minutes were probably the same time that you now spend commuting to work. Those summer holidays which seemed to last forever were really only 6 weeks.
Don't worry: this sense that time is speeding up is completely normal. In surveys, the vast majority of people say they experience it. Even young university students says that time is going faster to them now than as children.
But it doesn't necessarily have to be like this. In my book Making Time I uncover the reasons why time seems to speed up, and suggest what we can do to slow it down.
The main reason why time goes so slowly for children is because their minds take in so many new impressions and perceptions. Children are experiencing the world for the first time, and perceive everything around them very intensely. Everything seems more real to them, fresher and brighter and more exciting.
But as we get older, we have fewer new experiences. We start to ‘switch off' to the realness of the world, as it becomes more familiar to us. As a result, our minds take in fewer impressions, and so time seems to pass more quickly.
However, this shows us a way of slowing down time. When I was in my early 20s I moved to eastern Germany. It was just after the wall had come down, and everything was completely different to the UK. Everyday I was bombarded with newness - new sights, smells, sounds and experiences. After 8 months I came back to England briefly to see my family and I felt like a Roman soldier returning from years away fighting in a distant country. I couldn't believe it was only eight months since I'd left - it seemed more like 8 years. So much time seemed to have passed that I was amazed that everything was still exactly the same, that all the shops were the same with the same people working in them, that all my friends were still doing the same jobs and living in the same houses.
Unfamiliarity slows down time. If you want to make the next year pass a little more slowly, bring some new experience into your life. Travel to new places, give yourself new challenges, meet new people, learn a new hobby. Think about changing your job, or your husband or wife. (Okay, that might be going a little too far.) When you go on holiday, go somewhere adventurous rather than to a tourist complex. As a part of the research for my book, I did a survey of returning travellers at my nearest airport (Manchester, in the UK), asking them whether they felt time had gone quickly or slowly during their holiday. I found that people who went on more adventurous holidays to more unfamiliar places - for example, trekking around India, or a three week tour of Peru - felt that they had been away for a long than the actual time. But people who had returned from tourist complex holidays felt that time had gone quickly.
But perhaps the most effective way to slow down time is to live in the present. Most of us spend a lot of our time thinking about the future and the past rather than paying attention to what we're doing right now. When we're walking to the shops or the tube station, for example, our minds are usually full of thoughts about what we've got to do today or what we did last night. But the next time you do these things, focus your attention outside you. Look at the sky, at the houses and buildings you pass, and be aware of yourself here, walking amongst them. Or when you're eating a meal: rather than reading the paper or thinking or daydreaming, pay real attention to the taste of the food, and the sensations of chewing and swallowing.
Paying attention in this way stretches time in exactly the same way as new experience: it means that our minds take in more impressions.
It's also important not to rush. It sounds like a contradiction, but doing things slowly creates more time, because it allows us to relax into the present. Get up 15 minutes earlier so you don't have to rush to work; give yourself a couple of free evenings each week - or a free day at the weekend - when you don't feel pressurised by activities.
So this is what I suggest you do in the coming year, to slow down time. Make a new year's resolution to bring some newness into your life. At the same time, make a resolution to stop living in the future and the past, and to give your attention to where you are and what you're doing. As a result, at the end of next year you hopefully won't feel short-changed by time.
Steve Taylor is senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University. He is the author of Making Time: Why Time Seems to Pass at Different Speeds and how to Control it.His website is www.stevenmtaylor.com