“Goodness, how time flies.” We’ve all said it. We’re always surprised.
But I got into a panic the other day when I was turning out my wardrobe (changing my life à la Marie Kondo) and came across a pair of those lycra shorts — you know those stretchy things you wear for a work out. (It’s the same stuff as Spandex or elastane. Think Superman, Lara Croft — oh and the Fat Cyclist.)
I fell to reminiscing about Spandex and when I used to run half marathons. It wasn’t that long ago. 5 years maybe?
WHAT???? 25 years ago!!!!
I knew time was speeding up, but that’s ridiculous!
What if the rest of my life gets compressed in the same way?
PANIC, PANIC: at this rate, I’ve hardly got any time left!
Can we slow time down? How?
Give me some clues!
What’s Einstein got to say about time?
Abandoning the tidying (life’s just too short — sorry Marie), I rushed to look it up.
Theory demonstrates that we do perceive time as passing faster as we get older. But it doesn’t explain how to slow time down. Very discouraging.
However, I picked up some clues and I did learn enough about Einstein and Spandex to come up with the theory of SPANDEXTIME.
Spacetime and Spandex
Spandex explains how black holes are like the bulgy bits of your shorts (you know, the love handles). The bigger the mass, the BIGGER THE BULGE in the Spandex (see the Fat Cyclist above). It makes sense. That’s why we need the compression part of Spandex: to keep it in.
(Look what miracles Spanx can perform.)
On the other hand, all those athletes whose muscles bulge through their Spandex might have a point. If you have short telomeres (bits on the end of your DNA), you’ll have a short life.
Exercise lengthens your telomeres and boosts your mental health.
Now that might be a clue.
But it doesn’t explain why things keep speeding up as we age, although there was something obscure about how the fabric of space is expanding.
(Did you spot it? Spandex is an anagram of EXPANDS.)
Mmm, maybe as you get older, you need more Spandex to keep the bulgy bits in. Is that a clue?
Theory: new experiences mean time goes slower
Now this theory seems more like it. Having new experiences and processing new information makes time seem to pass more slowly.
I can vouch for that.
An infinitely long time passed as our car rolled over onto its roof. I hung upside down and watched the metal sides of the windscreen slowly crumple from the roof upwards to the dashboard, wondering curiously whether there would be enough room for my head.
Apparently, because this was a new experience, it just SEEMED that time went by slowly as the car rolled over I NOTICED IT more.
(Boy, did I notice it!)
Our brains perceive new experiences as taking longer. Well, that’s one interpretation.
But time flies when you’re having fun
Here’s a different take on that theory about new experiences: You go to your school prom —it’s your first really grown up party. You feel great in your suit or your prom dress: SEXY as only a 16-year-old can be. Loads of dancing, singing, flirting, giggling, gossiping: the evening flashes by.
In no time at all, you’re at the after-prom party. It’s brilliant fun. All of a sudden, it’s 6am. You’ve been up ALL NIGHT.
Where did the night go? It was AWESOME.
(Note: I reserve the right to deny that I’m paraphrasing my granddaughter.)
So, in this theory about a new experience, there’s nothing like getting absorbed in something to make time fly by.
Where theory and experience collide
So, one new experience made time S-L-O-W D-O-W-N. And another new experience made it SPEED UP.
Yet the theory says that all those new experiences will make us feel as though time passed more slowly.
I don’t get it!! It doesn’t feel as though time stretches out just because I’m doing new things — quite the contrary. It all seems to fly by faster and faster.
Time pressure: pay attention
The time pressure theory: we’re all so busy busy and we have to fit in so much, we end up on automatic pilot. Like driving the car somewhere and not remembering how we got there. So time goes quicker.
Aha — another clue to the solution. Pay attention and we’ll notice that time is passing. It will FEEL as if time is going more slowly. Like it did in the car when I paid attention to the crumpling.
Like it did this morning when I was practising MINDFULNESS. Lovely view, warm breezy weather, chatty waiter, good coffee: I’m smelling the roses — well, actually, it’s freshly baked croissants (because I’m sitting on the terrace of the local bakery).
Time is running out
But paying attention doesn’t stop you feeling like those posters they tout in London:
THE END IS NIGH!
The feeling that time is busy putting on its lycra shorts so that it can run out on you is not a new one.
Back in the 1650s and 60s, Andrew Marvell was suffering from it too.
But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.
ANDREW MARVELL, To His Coy Mistress
Like Andrew Marvell (umm — well, sort of like him), I feel the pressure of time nudging me to cram in as many experiences as I can, whether they’re new ones or old ones.
It’s not a nice feeling.
Time and emotions
Feelings — ah, another clue.
As we get older, (or if we, say, get a terminal illness) and we realise that we don’t have so much life left, we change our views about what’s important. We have a far more forceful desire to maximise the positive affect and minimise the negative affect of what we do on a daily basis.
Now to me this seems much more like it.
Einstein had something to say about this phenomenon too.
We all know how the minutes seem to tick by inordinately slowly if we’re waiting for results from tests in hospital or to see the dentist. Time DRAGS ON AND ON because we’re a bit scared or nervous or bored.
But as we saw, POSITIVE experiences fly by. Christmas and all the presents took about 2 minutes. An exciting date passes by in nanoseconds.
The trouble is that when you throw emotions into the Spandex, it mostly ends up with the nasty bits of time having the BIGGEST ULGIEST BULGES in time. The fun bits of the fabric of time seem so thin they slither through your fingers and into the washing pile of memory before you know it.
And that seems to mean that we should spend our lives doing very boring or scary things to make time go past slowly. I don’t think that’s a very good trade off.
We want GOOD TIMES!
On, on as they say in the running club.
We nearly missed a clue in amongst all those emotions. Remember we were talking about Christmas?
Remember that when you were a kid, the weeks leading up to Christmas seemed to drag on for ever? We got more and more excited as we anticipated presents.
That seems like a great way to slow down time.
It’s all in the memories
Let’s dig the next clue out of the washing pile.
Another theory says time goes slowly when you’re a kid because any given period of time eg the six weeks of school holidays or waiting for Christmas, is a big percentage of your life so it feels long. As you get older, that period becomes a smaller percentage.
Ummm, it’s still the same measurement of time though.
A better theory is that it’s to do with how much you’ve got in your memory. When you’re a child, everything is new and you’ve plenty of memory to put the memories into (like a new computer). As you get older, it gets a bit crowded in there and so lots, especially the routine, gets crowded out.
But it’s another clue! Remember about Einstein and the theory that the universe is still expanding? How about if we make our memories bigger?
Training your memory and all the other bits of your brain, can improve your cognitive function (well, maybe not if you’re another Einstein — you’ve hit your ceiling).
Longevity and Memory
My current favourite research shows that some people over 80 (Northwestern University) or between 60s and 80s (Northeastern University) have more connections in their brains making up their memories. In addition, their brains have thick and healthy cortex in regions which bolster the tenacity and the will to persevere in the face of challenges.
These ‘superagers’ attribute their sharpness and vitality to surviving the physical and mental challenges of life.
Professor Lisa Feldman Barrett of Northeastern warns you though. You have to be vigorously engaged, even suffer a bit to have a chance of achieving superager status. You need to stay positive, persevere and work through the tough challenges.
Go toughen up your brain!
Putting the Spandextime theory into practice
So, how can we achieve our goal of S-T-R-E-T-C-H-I-N-G the fabric of time, slowing it down while still having fun?
The bad news is time flies.
The good news is you’re the pilot.
Yes, it’s up to us to take control and pilot our way to feeling that the good times last longer. Let’s put the clues together and come up with a theory we can put into practice.
Clue 1 Exercise: Get those shorts on, go out and exercise. Time may go by fast, but if your life is longer and you’re in better mental health, you’ll have more time to have fun.
Clue 2 Throw yourself into new experiences: although the jury’s still out on whether this really makes time go more slowly, at least you’re out there having fun doing lots of new things.
Clue 3 Pay attention: The more you notice things, the longer something seems to last. Practise mindfulness. Try it next time you’re quaffing that vino on the terrace.
Clue 4 Anticipate: Imagine a coming happy event in full glorious technicolour, well in advance. Spend time working out what you’re going to do, the sights you’re going to see, the food you’ll eat, who will be there. Time will go more slowly and researchers say you’ll enjoy the anticipation more than the event itself.
Clue 5 Train the brain: life long learning means you’re constantly having new experiences, which improve your cognitive function. Choose the things that you find fun, whether learning a musical instrument or playing brain games. But you have to work at it VERY HARD.
Clue 6 Reminiscing: Flex those memory muscles and enjoy your memories all over again, in retrospect. It’s a nice way to ensure that you can carry on enjoying them in the future.
Clue 7 Stay positive: persevere, push through the unpleasant bits, overcome challenges and keep smiling.
Spandextime: slower or more fun?
Even if the clues don’t add up to a theory and time carries on sprinting past you, at least you’ll have had a good time and you’ll have lots more memories to enjoy.
Einstein would be proud of your efforts.
Meantime, I’ve folded up those lycra shorts ready to run down to the charity shop.
Working out what we can do NOW to live a longer life and have more fun.
This article was first published on Medium
DISCLAIMER: This article is not intended to provide and does not constitute medical, legal or other professional advice, nor does it constitute any advice on running.