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 Science Behind Why You Procrastinate In The Afternoon (and How To Stop)

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It’s 3 p.m. and you find yourself struggling to focus on work. You can’t seem to stop checking Facebook. Instead of being productive, you welcome distractions like text messages and co-workers coming by to chat.

Welcome to the afternoon slump: that time in your workday when your brain refuses to cooperate with you and you can’t stop procrastinating.

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Intrigued by the Power of Kawaii? Us too!

Thanks to a study by Japanese scientists at Hiroshima University’s Graduate School of Integrated Arts and Sciences, titled “The Power of Kawaii: Viewing Cute Images Promotes a Careful Behavior and Narrows Attentional Focus”, you can be guilt-free when looking at photos of ridiculously cute animals at work.

Published in the journal, PLOS ONE, the study found that viewing photos of cute animals — which induces positive emotions — results in improved “subsequent performance in tasks that require behavioral carefulness, possibly by narrowing the breadth of attentional focus.”

Well then! Here are a few cuties to focus you today:

african pygmy hedgehog

studying...

5 days

Nice guys

The Power of Daydreaming

We always assume that you get more done when you’re consciously paying attention to a problem. That’s what it means, after all, to be ‘working on something.’ But this is often a mistake. If you’re trying to solve a complex problem, then you need to give yourself a real break, to let the mind incubate the problem all by itself. We shouldn’t be so afraid to actually take some time off.

Jonathan Schooler explains his forthcoming paper on the power of daydreaming in Jonah Lehrer’s blog post, “The Virtues of Daydreaming”. According to Schooler and Benjamin Baird’s research, questions need time to marinate and incubate in your brain in order for you to come up with better and more creative solutions.

Like doodling, daydreaming is put down as a waste of time, when in fact you’re getting stuff done. Your unconscious is still hard at work while you can let your mind wander and take a break without the guilt trip!

Creative daydreaming

Image: Hikingartist.com