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


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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Ken Robinson on Rediscovering Energy

Ken Robinson’s School of Life talk teaches us to think about our lives in terms of energy and passions. So often, productivity in work and personal corners is tied to the concept of time and efficiency, which is a rather narrow view of the world.

“If you’re in your element doing whatever it is that you love to do, then at the end of the day or the end of the week, you can be physically exhausted by it but spiritually uplifted. But if you’re doing things you don’t care for, at the end of the day, you can feel physically fine but down and needing to lift yourself up again. And in the end, it’s about energy, that’s all life is, isn’t it? It’s about energy, it’s what stirs your energy, what encourages it, what fuels it, and what takes it from you. And I find, that if you’re doing things that you love to do, if you’re in your element, if you’re following a passion of some sort, that you get energy from it. Some activities take it from you.”

Click here for the full 50 minute talk, where Robinson talks about charting our own course and the indirect ways that we can grow into our element.