Slowing down time

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Every turning of the new year, I start thinking about time. I suspect I am not alone. When I should be concentrating on those pounds I am going to lose or the ways I am going to save our planet from the destructive path it seems dedicated to, I waste time worrying about time passing by.

Specifically, I worry about how damned fast it is fleeing from my life meter. It is the dirty little secret they never teach you about in school: Time fugits faster and faster the more time you have spent on this earth.

These days, it's a blur, so much that I can't even track it sometimes. Did Christmas (I mean "the holidays") really just happen? What a waste of a perfectly good tree, I am now thinking.

We all remember when we were 13 and it seemed like forever before summer arrived. I cannot only recall the summer of 1960, I can still smell it. I can't even begin to remember this past summer.

I am constantly trying to figure out this mystery of life. Albert Einstein supposedly did, but since I am no Einstein, I can't really understand his explanation of time's flight. What I do get is that time is relative.

Think about it. Doesn't it seem like whenever you are going to some destination that is new, it always seems to take longer than when you return from the same place? Perhaps it has to do with the fact that when you are trying to figure things out (like how to get through the woods to Grandma's house), time becomes denser.

Probably the most accessible explanation of the "relativity theory" of time comes from the following well-traveled hypothesis. Our perception of time is relative to the amount of time we have spent living on this earth.

Think about it this way -- when you were 5, you lived 1,825 days. A year represents 365 of those days and a big chunk of your life, say 20 percent. But when you have made it to the exalted age of 50, you have managed 18,250 days, and a year becomes a paltry 2 percent of your total time alive.

In other words, time is subject to perceptual bias, which renders it relative and not absolute.

Nonetheless, this sucks. What 10-year-old really cares about the ticktocking of the clock?

I am personally trying to figure out all I can to slow down the clock of aging. Sometimes this can be difficult. How many dubious supplements can I really take? Maybe another strategy would be to slow down my perception of time. I may not actually live longer, but it will at least seem like it.

Who said we have to live constantly in a multimedia world? When is the last time you turned off your Blackberry or your iPod or the computer and just looked at the sky?

As we get older, we tend to fall into ruts, following the same patterns every day. We forsake more, engage in new and exploratory activities, and time passes us by more quickly as a result. If you normally drive to work, try walking or taking a bus, or at least take a different route.

One thing I know I can do is to stop worrying about time flying the coop and just enjoy these minutes whizzing by. As Jay Ingram said in his fascinating book The Velocity of Honey: "When your mind is focused on something other than the passage of time, you are fooled into thinking that less time has passed."

Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh is a Cape Girardeau native who is a licensed clinical psychologist in Santa Barbara and Santa Monica, Calif. Contact him at

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