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Is 2016 Flying Past You? 4 Steps to Slow Down Time

Mar 22, 2016

Do you ever arrive at home, after driving from work or school, and wonder, “How did I get here? Where did the time go? I don’t remember a bunch of those turns.” Me too!

car traffic time

Last year, our family moved into a new place. Not far from where we lived before, but far enough where we now have a different path to work, church and our favorite stores. It took me weeks to not turn the wrong way to head home, to leave enough time to get places.

But now several months later, I still will pull into my garage and think, “How did I get here? Did I just zone out for 7 minutes?!”

It turns out that there is some cool science behind this phenomenon. Neurologist David Eagleman explains it this way,

“Let’s say you’re on a very boring airplane ride over to Europe. During the event it might seem like it’s taking a long time.  But in retrospect, once you’ve gotten off the plane, it’s like there was no time there at all. The reason is you didn’t lay down any new footage during the flight.  There was nothing new happening.  There were no events and so when you look back on it you can’t remember it at all.

And that’s of course what happens during a typical workweek or when you drive to work.  You’re doing something that you do all the time. Time shrinks retrospectively.  But if you go off for the weekend to some novel vacation, a place you’ve never been before, then you look back and you think, “Wow, that was very long weekend!”

When we were young, we didn’t long for a future life where we just drifted through long, forgettable seasons. We had dreams of amazing experiences, awe-inspiring moments, and unforgettable memories. So, what gives? How do we make sure most of our experiences are memorable and not easily forgettable?

4 Steps to Slowing Down Time

1. Reclaim our wonder.

I shared in a talk I gave recently about how familiarity kills wonder. I was moved by this video, which chronicled the recent experience of a man named Otis. He was released from prison in 2015 after being incarcerated for 44 years. His sense of wonder about our modern world may surprise you!

Isn’t his story unbelievable?! We struggle to live with a sense of wonder. Our world kills wonder. Whether in TV shows like Mythbusters or clips from the ESPN Sports Science guys or through the work of sites like TMZ, we eliminate the wonder behind everyday life.

We need to reclaim our wonder, so we can live with eyes wide open to the world around us. We need to appreciate the incredible experiences we have on a daily basis. If we lived with wonder, I think our perception and attitude would look radically different.

2. Practice gratitude.

Last week, I stumbled on yet another article discussing the “entitlement” within my generation. There are 86 million Millennials in the United States – that’s a lot of us! Stereotyping that many people is not only unwise; it’s also difficult to accurately describe such a large group. Entitlement is a human problem, not a generational problem. Louis CK points out this issue in Millennials, as well as the general population, in his famous clip known as Everything’s Awesome and Nobody is Happy (Warning: Louis does use some rough language).

Gratitude is a counter-cultural action. When we stop and give thanks for what we have, when we exchange our entitlement for gratitude, our attitude about life changes. We pay more attention and enjoy our experiences, privileges, possessions and relationships on a deeper level. Gratitude will only change our lives when it becomes a daily habit, not a seasonal one during late November. 

3. Pay attention.

In the video above, Otis expresses his confusion, “How can people be on their phones and walk at the same time?!” Well, some of us don’t do it as well as others (I once walked into a fire hydrant). But, I think it’s a fair question.

How much attention are we paying life? Or are we basically distracted, paying just enough attention to not run into someone while we’re driving or not ignore someone who means a lot to us? Many of us struggle to present with the people we’re physically near, instead of being just physically present but mentally and emotionally absent.

When we pay attention to life, we notice the little things around us. The more we pay attention, the more meaning we give these little things. According to one study from the Journal of Consumer Psychology, “the more attention we pay to an event, the longer the interval of time feels.” Presence, engagement and attention help slow (our perception of) time down.

4. Pursue new experiences.

Several years ago, I read a book which challenged my thinking. In his book, The Circle Maker, Mark Batterson writes, “As we age, either imagination overtakes memory or memory overtakes imagination.” When he later asked, “Are you living from memory or imagination?”, I was seriously convicted about places in my life and leadership where I was on auto-pilot. I was going through the motions. Time seemed to be passing very quickly and I sensed that life was passing me by.

In an interview with The New Yorker, neurologist David Eagleman also said, “This explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older, why childhood summers seem to go on forever, while old age slips by while we’re dozing. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.”

Pursuing new experiences can slow down our perception of time passing. While familiar and normal are not our enemies, a complete lack of new experiences can lead us to feel like our lives are passing us by. Something as simple as taking a new route to work, ordering something new at a favorite restaurant, changing up a routine, building a new friendship, learning a new hobby, or visiting somewhere new on vacation can shake us out of our rut and into a new season of awareness.

I commented to someone yesterday that I can’t believe the year is nearly 1/4 complete. Like you, there have been a lot of significant events so far in my year. We all want to live lives full of meaning, purpose and love. We cannot slow time down but we can change how we perceive it. 

Mark Batterson casts a vision which sums up this entire post in The Circle Maker, when he writes…

“One litmus test of spiritual maturity is whether your dreams are getting bigger or smaller. The older you get, the more faith you should have because you’ve experienced more of God’s faithfulness. And it is God’s faithfulness that increases our faith and enlarges our dreams. There is certainly nothing wrong with an occasional stroll down memory lane, but God wants you to keep dreaming until the day you die.”

I’m praying you reclaim wonder and live today to the full!

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