When you think about childhood, do you remember how long the summer holidays seemed? And yet, in contrast, many would agree that our adult years seem to fly by, leaving us wondering where the time went. This can cause us to feel overwhelmed, out of control, and wishing time would slow down.
While we can’t change how fast the world turns, the good news is that there are things we can do to help slow down our perception of time and make the most of every moment.
And, aside from the benefit of feeling like we have more time to spare, slowing down can help us be more productive; make better, more thoughtful decisions; and gain a sense of balance in our lives.
With this in mind, we’ll take a closer look at how we experience time and offer seven ways to slow it down.
How do we experience time?
According to cognitive neuroscientist, Martin Wiener, we experience the passage of time at different rates. Time can speed up or slow down depending on our focus, our environment, or the familiarity of an experience. It can also be affected by factors like age, mood, and stress levels.
For example, studies by psychologist and pioneering brain researcher Robert E. Ornstein in the 1960s revealed that time passes more slowly when we process a greater amount of information.
This helps to explain why, during an accident or other frightening experience, time seems to almost stand still around us – because our brain is working hard as it quickly tries to process lots of critical information linked to our survival.
Information processing also helps to explain why age can affect our perception of time. Our early years are full of stimulating first-time experiences, which can make time feel as though it’s passing more slowly. Whereas, with age, the world becomes more familiar and we may pay less attention to our surroundings and absorb less new information, making time feel as though it’s moving faster.
Though, interestingly, studies suggest that how we remember experiences after they’ve passed can alter our perception of time too. In other words, when we reflect on our lives, if we have rich and interesting memories to conjure up – such as a holiday full of sightseeing – we’ll recall these moments as passing more slowly, which can help us savour them.
In contrast, our brains lump together days and weeks that are similar. So, if we do the same thing every day, it’s easy to look back and feel as though time went very quickly – and recalling more intricate details of moments during this time may also be much trickier.
So how can we start taking more control over how we experience time? We’ll explore some ways to do this below…
7 ways to slow down time
1. Focus on the here and now
It’s natural for our minds to wander away from what we’re doing at any given moment. You might find yourself pondering questions about the future – from the immediate ‘what’s for dinner?’ to the longer term, ‘do I have enough money to retire?’. Or you may start to replay the past – perhaps mulling over a phone conversation with a friend, an argument with your boss, or your journey to work.
But when we focus too much on the past or future rather than the present, time tends to fly by because we aren’t taking in our immediate surroundings.
One way to slow down time is to practise mindfulness: a technique that involves focusing on the present moment, becoming more aware of our surroundings, and appreciating small things that are often overlooked.
Studies have found that engaging with your immediate surroundings through mindfulness can effectively slow down the brain’s perception of time.
To give it a go, try focusing on your environment and take time to notice throughout your day: what colour is the room you’re in right now? What can you smell? What does the seat that you’re sitting on feel like? What sounds can you hear? What can you taste (when eating or drinking something)?
Scrapbooking or journaling are other mindfulness techniques that can be useful for slowing down time. This is because they allow us to pause, reflect, and remember the details of events in our lives, instead of simply going through the motions of life without thinking. They can also help us savour special memories, and make time that’s passed feel much fuller, richer, and more valuable.
For more tips on how to get started, check out our article; An introduction to mindfulness. We’ve also written about the practice of mindful eating, which can be another helpful tool, or why not take part in the weekly mindfulness meditation session over on Rest Less Events?
2. Try something new
According to Oliver Burkeman, the author of Four Thousand Weeks: Time and How to Use It, our perception of time is largely impacted by the amount of novelty in our lives.
As previously mentioned, the more new experiences we have, the slower time seems to pass while we process them, and the more we commit to memory – making events feel as though they lasted longer when we look back on them.
Our early childhood (which many perceive as passing more slowly) is full of novelty; from our first taste of candy floss to going to school and riding a bike. While in our teen years, new experiences may include learning to drive a car, falling in love, and getting a job.
But, as we age, it can become easy to fall into routines and go into autopilot as we tend to stick to what we know out of convenience and comfort. And if we don’t actively seek out new experiences, we may not have many of them at all – causing time to feel like it’s getting faster.
This could include taking up new hobbies, learning about a new topic, and meeting new people. Equally, small changes to your everyday routine can make a difference and help to slow down time. For example, why not take a different route to work, try a different café, or cook some new recipes?
3. Unwind and relieve stress by living more slowly
Research has found that how stressed or anxious we are can dramatically affect our perception of time because intense emotions can lead the brain to distort it, either speeding it up or slowing it down.
So taking time to unwind and manage our stress and anxiety levels can be useful – and often one of the best ways to do this is to slow down our movements.
Slowing down is about teaching ourselves how to turn off the body’s stress response and create the life we really want by acting intentionally and with purpose. And research has found this to be an effective way to slow down our perception of time.
Adding activities such as yoga and Pilates – which are centred on mind-body connection, slow movements, and breathing techniques – to your routine can be a helpful tool for managing stress and practising slow movements.
Even doing some simple breathing exercises or taking a relaxing stroll a few times a week can make a difference.
4. Travel more often, and differently
Have you ever wondered why a week-long foreign holiday feels a lot longer than a week at work? Again, this is because being in an unfamiliar environment requires us to process more information, which makes time pass more slowly.
Therefore, many people find that one of the most effective (and enjoyable!) ways to slow down time is to travel and explore new places.
According to Steve Taylor, author of Making Time: Why Time Seems To Pass At Different Speeds And How To Control It, people who go on adventurous trips report that their holidays seemed longer than those who choose a more predictable and less active week on a beach.
To put this into practise yourself, you could immerse yourself in new cultures, book an active holiday, or even plan a solo trip. The travel section of exciting ideas, if you’re looking for inspiration.
And remember, you don’t have to go far to seek adventure. Even a day trip or night away can seem like an age compared to the same time period in the familiarity of our homes. So why not enjoy the best of the UK by exploring a city you’ve never been to before or enjoying a staycation in one of our country’s most beautiful national parks?
It’s also worth trying to be honest with yourself about what’s achievable in a single day, as we can often overestimate how much we can get done in a given time period. While it’s good to strive to make the most of our time, setting our expectations too high can leave us feeling frustrated when we don’t manage it, so it’s important to be realistic.
5. Do one thing at a time
Have you ever noticed that when you’re jumping between tasks, time seems to speed up, making you feel frazzled? This is because our brains can only pay attention to one thing at a time.
Instead, working through our to-do lists methodically, giving our full attention to each task, and avoiding doing several things at once can help to slow down our perception of time. Plus, research suggests that we typically work more effectively when we avoid multitasking.
Things that can help with single-tasking include limiting distractions that could disrupt the flow of what you’re doing – such as putting your phone in another room or only checking your emails once you’ve completed the task you’re working on – and being honest with yourself about what’s achievable in a single day.
6. Try something adventurous
Very often, activities that are focused on one intense – and potentially frightening – experience seem to make even small moments last longer.
For example, activities like skydiving, bungee jumping, or zip lining across a forest canopy may only take around 60 seconds, but can feel like a lifetime.
While taking up extreme sports may not be for everyone, there are plenty of other softer adventure activities to consider trying (which may be challenging enough, and come without an adrenaline rush).
For example, cycling, kayaking, paddle boarding, parasailing, white water rafting, and abseiling all provide a bit of a thrill. You’ll find information on some of these activities and many more in our article; 11 really adventurous things to try.
7. Protect your time by saying no more often
Another way to create more space and time in your life is by saying ‘no’ more often. Learning to do this can be difficult at first and may take some practice, but the results are often worth it.
Saying no to things that you don’t want to do can help you slow down and focus your time, energy, and attention back on what’s important – helping you feel more in control. Plus, it can help to make sure that what you say ‘yes’ to matches your priorities and values, and to learn to say no to anything that doesn’t.
If you find it difficult to say no, you might want to read our article; The power of saying no – 8 ways to say no and why it’s important.
As the saying goes, time is precious, and most of us seek to make the most of our moments on Earth.
And while no one can actually slow down time itself, there are steps we can take to steady our perception and recollection of time, and stretch out our minutes, hours, and days. For example, by travelling to new places, practising mindfulness, and protecting our time and energy.
For more content on the perception of time, you might want to read our interview with Canadian journalist, author, and TED speaker, Carl Honore. In this article, Honore explains more about how we can stop racing through life and start living it.
Do you have any experience of slowing down time? Do you have any tips that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.