Why Time Flies As We Get Older

Time flies, yet young people have time to spare

To an adult parent, last christmas seems like yesterday and this christmas is rushing in like a head-on collision. To thik we’re already halfway through the year. June is about to end. In a few short months, it will be time for another round of blood pressure elevating school fees. No respite it seems.

Yet, to the children, they can’t wait for christmas which seems sooo far away and is taking its time arriving. There are so many hours in the day, it’s a struggle filling up their time appropriately. You actually have to plan how to keep children busy for their 14 – 16 waking hours.

Not so for the adult who constantly looks for more than the allotted 24 hours just to try to accomplish set goals. Daily.

It would seem then that the problem is over-activity? 

The key factors

Does the emotional quality of an event influence our perception of how time flies? Depression and fear will drag out time. But an exciting  game of football featuring the mighty Barcelona in full flight will pass in a twinkle. 

Differences in time perception as we grow older may relate to a number of necessary cognitive processes, including how much attention we can devote to a particular task. To put it simply, the older we get, the less effective we are at multi tasking. Our efficiency gradually dampens as we age and may influence the subjective perception of time.

Adults have less time to ‘make it’ or to even correct what was badly made. Panic sets in. Time starts to fly.

Perhaps more importantly, our frame of reference for the duration of events also changes as we age. Memories we have stored throughout our lives allow us to create a personal timeline. There’s a suggestion that our perception of time may be in proportion to the length of our lifespan. Known as the “proportional theory”, this idea states that as we age, our sense of “present” time begins to feel relatively short in comparison to our entire lifespan.

Proportional theory…

…makes sense if we consider how a year in the lifespan of someone who is 75 years old may feel much quicker for instance, in comparison to a year in the life of a ten-year-old. But it cannot fully explain our experience of present time as we can move from hour to hour and day to day independently of the past.

Memory may hold the key to time perception, as the clarity of our memories is believed to mould our experience of time. We mentally reflect on our past and use historic events to achieve a sense of our self existing across time.

The best years of our lives

As the most vividly remembered experiences tend to occur in our formative years, that is, between the ages of 15 and 25, this decade is associated with an increase in self-defining memories, known as the “reminiscence bump”. This memory cluster may help explain why time speeds up with age, as older people move further away from this critical period in their lives.

Take it easy

Can we slow down just how quickly time flies? Perhaps. Improving cognitive abilities, especially attention and memory, can help us fine-tune our internal timers. Meditation may also help anchor our awareness in the here and now. It may in fact gradually help us to reduce the pace of time.The Conversation


Edited by Ifeanyi Maduka

This article was originally published on The Conversation

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