How to slow down time, part one

6 October 2016

Since having a baby, there’s a conversation people love to have with me, and it goes something like this: Wow, isn’t time flying by? How is she so big? Where has the time gone?! Doesn’t it seem like just yesterday that she was born? Soon she’ll be one!

I’m sure even if you haven’t recently had a baby you regularly have a version of this conversation, so you’ll know that the socially-acceptable response is: Yes! I know! Time IS flying by! It seems like the last few months have gone by in the blink of an eye! Can you believe it’s already October?

Two years ago, however, I declared a moratorium on this kind of talk, and I’ve stuck to it ever since. I purposefully try not to let the passing of time be a topic of conversation, especially in reference to its speed. I just refuse to let that be the way I see my life.

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It’s more than that, though. It’s not just that I refuse to admit that time is whizzing by; it’s that I really don’t feel like it is. January 7 feels just about exactly as far away as it should at this point, no more, no less. And the trick to that, I think, is something I learned from a very random Art of Manliness article I somehow stumbled on a few years ago. The article is absolutely worth reading in full, but here were my biggest a-has:

Number one: Because our perception of time is intricately tied up with our emotions and memories, our minds filter the info before presenting it to us. When confronted with a scary or novel experience, our brains go into overdrive, recording much more detail than normal. Because the brain lays down such rich, dense memories of those moments, when we later look back on the experience, there’s a lot more “footage” than normal to run through, making the experience seem like it lasted longer than it actually did. On the other hand, when the brain encounters something familiar over and over, it doesn’t have to expend as much time and energy recognizing or recording it.

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Number two: There are two types of time perception: prospective and retrospective. Prospective time occurs when you’re in the moment. When you’re busy and a lot is happening, it seems like time is going by quickly. If you’re in a boring meeting, however, you have nothing else to do besides watch the minutes tick by, which makes time seem to slow way down. Retrospective time is how you think on these episodes after the fact. If you’ve been doing something boring, your brain won’t have recorded much “footage,” so it will seem like a quick episode – nothingness – in your memory. If you look back on that boring meeting, it barely registers as a happening in your brain. But when you reflect on a novel experience, your mind has plenty of detailed footage for you to peruse.

Based on this info, one of the best ways to slow down time, and the one I feel has had the biggest effect on my year, is to inject novelty into every day. I have a baby who’s always growing and learning and trying new things, so change hasn’t been hard to come by for the last few months! Being present and experiencing everything alongside her has made time seem to stretch out in the most wonderful way. But I’ve noticed that even little things, like taking a different route on our evening walk, eating dinner on the front porch instead of inside, or doing a crossword puzzle instead of scrolling the internet at night also stretch out my perception of time. Same with going out to a new restaurant on Friday night instead of watching TV on the sofa – the weekend seems so much longer!!

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It’s not an overstatement to say that these realizations and small adjustments have changed my life (and my perception of my life!), so I hope they’re equally enlightening to y’all!

More…
Rituals, traditions, and the perception of time
How to slow down time, part two

14 Responses to “How to slow down time, part one”

  1. Thanks for sharing this Emily, I love these thoughts! I definitely want to change my perspective on time. I hate feeling like there is “never enough time” but I think that is a matter of perspective.

  2. Zoe

    This is fascinating. I think I have been subconsciously doing this for a while, but you have articulated exactly why ‘making the ordinary extraordinary’ is so important to me. I am currently 30 weeks pregnant and in this season of life it seems all the more poignant.

  3. Em

    Zoe!! Congratulations! The good news is I think having a baby makes all this both more important – but also easier :)

  4. The concept of injecting novelty into each day and not allowing thoughts of time passing to become self-fulfilling prophecies speaks so much to what I’ve been learning lately. Life is so much richer when we are fully engaged in it! :)

  5. SKB

    I love this post! Looking forward to what else you write on this topic- hoping you have suggestions for good responses to those “time is flying” comments. :) Thanks for sharing!

  6. Em

    Hey Sarah! My typical response is usually the truth: something along the lines of, “Actually, I don’t really feel like time is flying – the pace has felt really nice to me recently!” This usually takes the questioner back a bit, and leads to a more interesting conversation than we might have had if we had just stayed on the surface of the routine back-and-forth :)

  7. Kensington

    Long time reader, sporadic commenter here! I love your blog for so many reasons, but especially for posts like these that go against the grain by using critical thinking as a catalyst for finding more joy in life. Thank you for sharing on this topic, and for brightening my day once again!

  8. Em

    Thank you so much, Kensington!! That’s such a nice comment. I think you’ll enjoy the other posts I have coming up, too! :)

  9. I love this! I’m always inspired by your thoughtfulness and approach to living a meaningful, joyful life, Em! Can’t wait to read more! :)

  10. This is so insightful! Ari and I have been talking about this for a month. I never really grasped into the idea of “making memories,” but it has become clear to us recently that the intentional act of doing things differently (even when it’s inconvenient with three kiddos to wrangle) and trying new things as a family is incredibly life-giving. And time-giving apparently. It’s true! The weekends where we go out of our way to shake things up feel full and whole.

  11. Rachel

    Love this!! We are now 6 months pregnant and already getting so many comments about how fast it will all go. We haven’t even met her yet!!! Making my husband read this :)

  12. megan

    Love this! I don’t feel like “time is flying,” either, though I think I’m just (as a FTM of a 10monther) in awe at HOW MUCH/FAST the baby changes and grows each week to the next (and mine is a slow grower, so I can’t imagine it for those who have babies who plow through those baby sizes every other month)! And it just seems like SO much time goes between getting to visit with people we care about, which can be a bummer, but it is the reality…so when they see the baby, we also hear those comments. Looking back, the newborn stage felt really long and was sometimes very daunting for me in the thick of it (and the big unknown-is my baby always going to be this fussy?! Are we doomed? Will she ever nap? Why isn’t she a chill baby?), but once you’re past that “100 day fog” and things become a little easier and everyone gets a bit more rest, it definitely allows for more of the novel aspects to kick in and things really become more fun and memorable. I also feel like when you’re in those challenging early days, holding the baby and really soaking in the quiet moments get you through it, and that’s what I try to remember the most, because that’s what I miss the most, despite all the anxiety inducing cries. I love celebrating that she’s only little once and dressing up in our Sunday bests for church (and anything else adorable everyday “just because”), having fiesta Fridays, Saturday morning “brackfits” out, and interjecting some magic upon each week, if not each day, by getting outdoors and making memories. I think a part of it, too, is just getting involved in your community and “settling down” in a sense …and making the very most of your “bubble” or life around you.