The narrative of old age is familiar and shockingly common: failing memory, declining cognitive function, limited mobility, and constant complaining. Is this what old age has come to?
With people living longer than ever before in history, we’re facing important questions about mortality and those last decades of life. How can you live them well, and can you learn how to slow down time? These are two questions we’re tackling today.
Living Longer, But Not Better
Morbidity compression is the concept of speeding up the bad parts of death while lengthening the good parts of living. Let’s explain. Death is common to every person under the sun, but an increasing number of people are suffering through a very long period of morbidity.
These years before death are marked by impairment and illness, and often therefore characterized by pain and loneliness. You don’t have to look far to find examples; chances are, you have loved ones who have suffered increasingly for years, so much so that death comes as a relief.
Advocates of compressed morbidity, however, believe there’s a way to lengthen the years of health and wellness by shortening the years of impairment, enjoying a good death in the same way that they enjoyed a good life. It’s a great idea–but is it even possible?
The Science Behind Aging
One of the forces impacting our long morbidity is, technically, a good one: better healthcare and the extermination of diseases that might have killed our ancestors–things like cholera and the bubonic plague.
We don’t have to deal with these issues, and when we do experience something serious, such as heart disease or cancer, we have all the resources of modern technology at our disposal and can have everything from new organs to stem cell therapy to help. What’s happening, however, is that because we’re living longer, those last years tend to be filled with decay.
Medical staff is reporting that the death of an older person is, in many ways, much worse than death by accident or death at an earlier age.
Slowing Down Time
What we want to do, of course, when it comes to time, is to slow it down. But can we even learn how to slow down time? Many believe we can, and here’s how:
The New is More Exciting
The adage about time flying when you’re having fun might lead us to believe that being bored out of our minds would help our lives slow down, but that hardly sounds fun! Instead, experts explain that there are two kinds of time perception. These include prospective time and retrospective time.
Retrospective time is the boring time. You might be in a boring meeting, or waiting for a train to arrive. Either way, you don’t have enough stimuli to engage you, and instead, you’re paying a huge amount of attention to time. In fact, retrospective time might be described as a focus on time, itself. This kind of time drags on (seemingly) forever.
Two Kinds of Time
Prospective time, however, is the kind of time that takes place when you’re “in the moment.” You’re having so much fun that you’re not paying any attention to the clock at all. You are the opposite of bored; so engaged and focused on the task at hand that you’ve forgotten about time. This kind of time seems to fly by.
What’s fascinating is that simply glancing up at the clock can trigger you back into retrospective time and when that happens, your brain replays the footage of your past period. If you’ve been bored, your brain went into autopilot, recording very few memories.
If you were heavily interested and stimulated, however, your brain put down layers and layers of memories, tricking you into thinking lots of time passed.
Does Time Stand Still?
This, in fact, is what happens when we’re terrified, and time seems to stand still: your brain takes in and records so much detail that you can recall hours’ worth of footage from a single moment, even though you can barely remember your forty-minute commute to work.
Tips and Tricks to Slow Down Time
While we can’t, of course, actually make time slow down (we’ll live that question to the physicists!), if we could figure out how to make time go slower (or at least, appear that way), without boring ourselves or terrifying ourselves, we’d be increasing our quality of lives exponentially.
Here are some powerful ways to do just that:
1. Take Advantage of Novelty in Your Life
We’ve already explained the power of the new and exciting, but let’s dive a little deeper. We joke that the difference between a summer when you’re seven and a summer when you’re forty-seven is that a year for a ten-year-old is one-tenth of his life, while a year for a forty-seven-year-old is one-forty-seventh of his life.
Statistically, that’s a big difference, but that isn’t what your brain is processing. Instead, your brain is taking advantage of routine to switch to autopilot. It’s a big part of how we manage to get through our days (have you ever noticed how tired you get when you’re trying something new?), but it also tells our brain to turn off the camera; no new memories need to be recorded here!
Change it Up
What does that mean for us, trying to learn how to slow down time? It means we should look for opportunities to break up the routine. You can do big things, like taking vacations to new places or taking up new hobbies.
You can make meet new people and make new friends. But you can also do smaller things, like take a different route to work, sit at a different place on the couch, or sleep on another side of the bed. You can wear your watch on the opposite wrist or read a book outside of the genres you normally read in.
Not only do these switch-ups help us as we try to figure out how to slow down time, but they also increase our quality of life. People like to say curiosity killed the cat, but we suspect it was, in fact, boredom that offed the feline.
2. Be Mindful
Mindfulness, often practiced through meditation, is the state of being aware of the present, of bringing one’s conscious attention to the here and now. As we mentioned, it’s usually developed through meditation and has been shown to make time appear to move more slowly.
This is both because of the additional sense of calm experienced during meditation, but it’s also a sort of novelty hack. Even a wait in a boring place can bring a greater sense of joy and peace when it’s done mindfully, as you’ll find your mind isn’t limited to the four walls around you.
Also, you’ll find that mindfulness discourages multitasking, which, contrary to popular thinking, doesn’t help us work better or faster. It just makes us more scattered and less focused, which in turn makes it more difficult for our brains to stay engaged and–you guessed–makes time seem to fly (but not in a good way).
3. Ditch the Devices
Ironically, even as our technological devices become more and more advanced, seemingly saving us more and more time, scientists have found that technology, in fact, speeds up our perception of time.
We suspect this has roots in the “time is money” way of thinking. If you see time as money (and it often feels that way, thanks to the hourly wages many of us are on), you’re bound to want more money, i.e., time. This way of thinking, however, puts us on a rat race that’s hard to escape. Instead, try ditching your devices and enjoying a good book, a walk in the park, or an evening with good friends.
You’ll be surprised at how time seems to slow down and speed up simultaneously, in the best possible ways.
4. Move Your Body
One of the best ways to combine many of the hacks and tips we’ve already mentioned is to move your body! Make sure you’re not moving routinely (i.e., taking a walk around your house that you’ve taken mindlessly a thousand times before), but pay attention to how you perceive time as you move your body.
In fact, compare a day of movement (a hike, an exploratory walk through your city) to a day camped out on the couch in front of Netflix. Which one feels longer? Which feels more memorable? Chances are, it’s the day spent moving that you’ll enjoy the most!
We shared four great hacks for slowing down time. Your next step is to pick one and try it out, propelling you on your way to healthier, happier aging.
Feature image via Shutterstock