How to Stop Life from Passing You By: the Weird Science of Stretching Time

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One unnerving aspect of getting older is how life seems to start speeding up. Feeling that whoosh as time rushes past you can be disheartening as you wonder where the days, or months, or even years go.

Yet we’re not doomed to march to time’s relentless beat. Your sense of time is weird and pliable — stretching, compressing, coming to a standstill. And you can mold it, to some extent, to move to your own beat.

When you encounter the familiar, time seems to constrict and when you acquire new knowledge, it expands. Neuroscientist David Eagleman explains:

Time is this rubbery thing…. It stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, “Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,” it shrinks up.

That relationship between time’s elasticity and whether your brain is processing new information gets at why time seems to turn up the tempo as we age. As the world starts to become more familiar, we learn less and sometimes even seek information and experiences that fit within what we already know. There’s less adventure, play, exploration, creativity, and wonder to invite and engage with newness.

The way you spend your time influences how you perceive it. So the choices you make about what to do now impacts how you’ll manage your time later. Here are two ways to make your days richer and more memorable so that your sense of time expands and life doesn’t pass you by.

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The Lasting Power of Slow Gains

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You’ll never walk into the gym and hear someone say, “You should do something easy today.” But after ten years of training, I think embracing slow and easy gains is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned.

In fact, this lesson applies to most things in life. It comes down to the difference between progress and achievement.

Let me explain:

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Treat Yourself Like a Role Model

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In December I completed my first 200-hour yoga instructor certification. With New Year’s resolutions in full gear and Q1 initiatives in motion, I’m often reminded of an idea I explored during my certification and has guided me since, in both my personal life and in all of my work at Zirtual.

The idea is simple yet stunningly important: You are exactly where you’re supposed to be.

Our society has an intense quest for productivity and endless improvement. We look at our past with a dissecting eye and zoom in on what we didn’t accomplish. We set goals and record what we did, day in and day out.

But how do we use this data? Is it to celebrate each accomplishment? Hardly! We usually use what we have done to highlight what we haven’t, and everything starts to center around what’s next. “Tomorrow I’ll get through this,” we say. Or “next quarter I’m finally going to tackle that.”

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The Science of Why It’s OK to Fail at Your New Year’s Resolution

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New Year’s resolutions may be losing popularity. Only about a third of Americans made New Year’s resolutions for 2014, down 10% from just two years ago, according to a CBS News poll.

Maybe people have wised up to the fact that most resolutions don’t succeed or think there’s a better way to embark on habit changes and goals than this annual tradition.

That doesn’t mean New Year’s resolutions are completely useless. Let’s take a step back and look at the science of why New Year’s resolutions still make sense, how to make them stick, and why it’s okay if you fail.

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The Best 20 iDoneThis Blog Posts of 2013

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‘Tis the season of end-of-the-year lists!

We dug into the iDoneThis blog archives to bring you a collection of our most popular and favorite pieces from 2013 to enjoy amidst the hustle of holiday festivities and some much deserved, hot cocoa-fueled relaxation.

There are also handy save-to-read-later options to jumpstart your reading in 2014.

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The Science of Motivation: Your Brain on Dopamine

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I spent an hour on this opening paragraph:

The hour wasn’t time well spent, mind you. Sure, I was working — writing, deleting, fiddling with words here and there — but my paragraph-per-hour pace was more the byproduct of a stubborn lack of motivation than of indecisiveness.

I spent five minutes in email, ten minutes on Twitter, and fifteen minutes doing who-knows-what on Tumblr. Just kidding, I know exactly what I was doing:  looking at dog pictures.

Sound familiar?

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Dr Seuss’s Surprising Strategy For Success

In 1960, two men made a bet. There was only $50 on the line, but millions of people would feel the impact of this little wager.

The first man, Bennett Cerf, was the founder of the publishing firm, Random House. The second man was named Theo Geisel, but you probably know him as Dr. Seuss. Cerf challenged Dr. Seuss that he wouldn’t be able to write an entertaining children’s book using only 50 different words.

Dr. Seuss took the bet and won. The result was a little book called Green Eggs and Ham. Since its publication, Green Eggs and Ham has sold more than 200 million copies, making it the most popular of Seuss’s works and one of the best-selling children’s books in history.

At first glance, you might think this was a lucky fluke. A talented author plays a fun game with 50 words and ends up producing a hit. But there is actually more to this story — and the lessons in it can help you become more creative and stick to better habits over the long run.

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Do the Painful Things First

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Before I became an entrepreneur, I went to business school. While studying for my MBA, there was one lesson I learned which has proved to be useful over and over again in my life.

I was sitting in a marketing class, and we were discussing ways to design a wonderful customer experience. The goal is not merely to provide decent service but to delight the customer. Behavioral scientists have discovered that one of the most effective ways to create a delightful experience is to stack the painful parts of the experience early in the process.

Psychologically, we prefer experiences that improve over time. That means it’s better for the annoying parts of a purchase to happen early in the experience. Furthermore, we don’t enjoy it when painful experiences are drawn out or repeated.

Here are some examples:

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You’re Not Good Enough to Be Disappointed Yet

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Dan John is a weightlifting coach. He is well-known in the fitness world for keeping things simple (and you should always fear a man with two first names). Recently I heard Dan John say:

I often tell my new athletes: “Sorry, you just are not good enough to be disappointed.”

In other words, in the beginning you need to get comfortable with feeling stupid, uncertain, and unskilled.

You’re not allowed to be disappointed by your performance because you haven’t developed your skills yet. It’s only the professionals that are allowed to be disappointed because they have put in the work to be better.

  • J.K Rowling is allowed to be disappointed if she writes a bad book because she put in 20 years of work to get good.
  • Kobe Bryant is allowed to be disappointed if he plays a bad game because he put in 20 years of work to become amazing.
  • Jack LaLanne was allowed to be disappointed with a bad workout because he trained for 60 years to stay fit.

But you and me? We’re not good enough to be disappointed yet. We’re bad enough to get to work.

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5 Reasons You Don’t Do What Really Makes You Happy

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When we interviewed Dr. Stephen Schueller to learn about the basics of positive psychology, he also offered insights into how we sometimes stand in the way of our happiness due to misconceptions, biases, and a lack of mindfulness.

Dr. Schueller is a professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and member of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies. (This is the second part of our interview, presented in edited highlights. Read the first part here).

1.  We’re too dismissive of relationships and positive emotions.

Dr. Schueller:

Positive psychology has a lot within it which is the advice our grandmother would give us:  How do we live a good life? You express gratitude, you maintain optimism, you practice kindness, you focus on relationships.

We often don’t think grandmother knows best and do our own thing, and that gets us into trouble. We often pursue things like money, bigger houses, cars — material possessions — when experiences are actually much more stronger determinants of our happiness.

 

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