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Slowing Down Time


seabaugh_face.jpgEvery turning of the new year, I start thinking about time. I suspect I am not alone. While 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 by worrying about time passing.

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

These days, it is a blur; so much so that I can’t even track it sometimes. Did 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 can not 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 how long we have spent living on this earth. Think about it this way. When you were five, you lived 1,825 days. That is a big chunk of your life, say 20 per cent. But when you have made it to the exalted age of 50, you have managed 18,250 days. That 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.

None the less, this sucks. If the Creator were truly merciful, he or she would have known that the older we get, the more we value and covet time. What 10-year-old really cares about the tick tick-tocking of the clock?

I am personally trying to figure out all I can do 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.

I have no Star Wars solutions to offer on how to do this, but I have a couple old fashioned psychological strategies to share.

Enjoy the “Pink Hour.” In this multitasking world we live in, we are constantly distracting ourselves with our obsessions for answering every cell phone call we receive. Since when was everything so urgent? Here in Santa Barbara we have this lovely time of day, right before sunset when the sky glows, warmly embracing our mountains. Plein air artists call it the “pink hour.” It is especially lovely this time of year. Do we really need 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?

Stir it up, shake it up. One of the reasons time seems to last longer when we are younger (or when we are traveling to some place new) is that we are engaged in new and exploratory activities. Our minds are usually engaged in a way that intensifies our experience of time. As we get older, we tend to fall into ruts, following the same patterns every day. If you normally drive to work, try walking or taking a bus or at least take a different route.

We live more complex lives these days. That is for certain. Many of us are so stressed that we really believe we have no time to smell the roses because we have to work harder and longer to pay for them. But one of the things we hopefully gain as we get older is wisdom. And the wise person knows that we can both savor the hours as they pass and still take care of business.

One thing I know I can do is to stop worrying about time fleeing the coup 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 licensed clinical psychologist with a psychotherapy practice in Santa Barbara. Comment at healthspan@mac.com and visit his web site and blog at www.HealthspanWeb.com for more info.

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