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Why does time speed up as I’m slowing down?


Rick Shaw


    At almost 66 there are a lot of things on my body that don’t exactly work the same way they did when I was 20. My fingers, after many years of doing blue collar labor and then writing long hand notes and other things, are numb. My wrists ache after landing on them too many times falling off my dirt bikes over the years. My shoulders hurt from lifting sled dogs into dog truck compartments on cold winter days. My knees don’t bend well due to years of playing out of control basketball when I was a young man. My mind is clouded with too much shoved in a small brain after many years of trying to stuff more and more into it. There are some other parts that are failing that I just don’t want to talk about here.
    All of that is pretty manageable…but it is the shock of how the days seem to fly by that alarms me the most. It’s been two and half years since I retired from this newspaper as the publisher and it seems to me it was just a few days ago. And now, this week, my oldest grandson turned 20 years old. How could that blond little boy, who is now so big he could crush me with his foot alone, be that old?
A rough start in life
    When he was born he was very sick. The day he came into the world I was supposed to be in Maine doing a seminar for a client. As things progressed we knew he would not be a well baby and he was in intensive care for a while, so I delayed my trip. Interestingly, the people I worked for were not very understanding. When I made the call and set the seminar up for the next week, they weren’t happy. I got a pretty cold reception when I arrived. I was surprised, but then different people view life differently. I never regretted hanging back for a few days. My daughter needed the support, and the little guy was wonderful. He ended up healthy and happy as a boy, but what if he hadn’t and the little time I could have had with him had taken away by chasing a few bucks for some knot heads in the Northeast? I did the right thing in my mind. Family comes first, no matter what else is going on.
Age is in the mind
    I saw a post on Facebook the other day proclaiming something that went like this. “I can’t believe I have been out of high school for 20 years. It just seems like yesterday.” “Hey, try 47 years,” I said to myself. For you youngsters, age is in the mind, even if the body doesn’t work the same. In my mind I am still 16 (and my wife strongly supports that concept).
    But this illusion of having time move faster as we age (when in reality it doesn’t move any faster at all) is common and psychologists have done studies that have found some interesting things about why people over 40 tend to perceive time moving faster. Basically, past that age we tend to look at events from two different perspectives: one while an event is taking place and the other after it has ended. It is interesting that when we are engaged in something we like doing, time seems to move very
fast. But in terms of impression upon us, we remember that event much better than we do the more mundane things that took place around it. Therefore it takes up more time space in our perception. Studies show that we encode the interesting memories more, therefore taking up more space in our timeline. A weekend of pure pleasure (such as a getaway, a great unique camping trip or a fun trip to Vegas) holds a lot more sway with our minds than the weeks leading up to it or the ones that follow it. One psychologist calls it the holiday paradox.
Vagaries of memory
    It seems that in childhood and even into the time we are becoming an adult our personalities experience a lot of new things, experiences and people. As time goes on, as adults, our lives become less exposed to new things since we have so much experience. This causes our minds to have an over representation of those early events, and since they are remembered so well, we tend to think they lasted longer.
    That certainly is just observation, because there is no way to measure how the mind really works, at least not yet. But it does make some sense. I think if you just try to remember what you did over this past summer you can get some kind of a perception of that concept. What you will recall is not all the days you went to work, stayed home or did yard duties, but the camping trips, the vacation, the trip to Lagoon, etc. Over time those kinds of things become the center of our perspective. Now if those are the same things you do at the same places summer after summer, they blend together and the individual events do not become as important. For instance would that month you spent in Europe be more or less memorable than the 12 camping trips you took to the San Rafael Swell over a two year period? In 10 years which would you remember better?
    There is a good book on this subject called “Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older: How Memory Shapes our Past” by Douwe Draaisma. Another book, “The Time Paradox” by Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd explores how one can keep these tendencies from running one’s life. In essence it says to keep things fresh and new, by having new experiences and new adventures. It also helps to live as much as possible in the present. You can listen to oldies music from the 60s, but just don’t make it your life, because it can keep you in the past. Speaking of oldies, think about how you felt when you first heard the opening words of “Wouldn’t it be Nice” that was written by Brian Wilson and first performed by the Beach Boys in 1966.
    “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older, and we wouldn’t have to wait so long.”
    Did you ever think that when time seemed to creep until you could get that drivers license, get out of high school or to live on your own, would now be so many years in the past?

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