The most commonly reported time distortion is vacation time. You go for a 2-week vacation and when you return back home it feels like it flew by in a flash. Why is that? The length of a vacation that remains in your mind is directly related to the number of memories you collected from that time. Researchers have estimated that a normal routine week would contain between three to four memories that are worth remembering. But when on vacation, the number of interesting memories can jump to as much as nine in one single day, depending on the type of vacation you take. A day on vacation feels much longer retrospectively than a normal routine day. If for instance, you decide to go to an entirely new place where you can experience a new culture, exciting adventures, taste new foods, listen to novel music, observe new sights and sounds, there will be many opportunities to retain memorable moments which will stretch the remembered duration. But during the vacation, you will be so absorbed with these novel experiences that your attention will be distracted from the passing time. As soon as it is over, the vacation feels like it was over in a flash. It is only when you return home and later recall that vacation that you realize that there was so much novelty to chew on and so many memories to keep, that makes it seem

If for instance, you decide to go to an entirely new place where you can experience a new culture, exciting adventures, taste new foods, listen to novel music, observe new sights and sounds, there will be many opportunities to retain memorable moments which will stretch the remembered duration. But during the vacation, you will be so absorbed with these novel experiences that your attention will be distracted from the passing time. As soon as it is over, the vacation feels like it was over in a flash. It is only when you return home and later recall that vacation that you realize that there was so much novelty to chew on and so many memories to keep, that makes it seem longer as if time has stretched. The remembered duration will seem longer than the vacation duration that was experienced at that time.

The length of a vacation that remains in your mind is directly related to the number of memories you collected from that time. Researchers have estimated that a normal routine week would contain between three to four memories that are worth remembering. But when on vacation, the number of interesting memories can jump to as much as nine in one single day, depending on the type of vacation you take. A day on vacation feels much longer retrospectively than a normal routine day. If, for instance, you decide to go to an entirely new place where you can experience a new culture, exciting adventures, taste new foods, listen to novel music, observe new sights and sounds, there will be many opportunities to retain memorable moments which will stretch the remembered duration. But during the vacation, you will be so absorbed with these novel experiences that your attention will be distracted from the passing time. As soon as it is over, the vacation feels like it was over in a flash. It is only when you return home and later recall that vacation that you realize that there was so much novelty to chew on and so many memories to keep, that makes it seem longer as if time has stretched. The remembered duration will seem longer than the vacation duration that was experienced at that time.

If, on the other hand, you decide to take your two-week vacation to a familiar beach resort, the opposite time distortion occurs. You might spend the whole time in a relaxing mood, lying on the beach, reading a book, or enjoying the sun. The same ritual is repeated each day, with the exception of a nice dinner here and a short trip there. Having escaped your work environment and all its distractions, you are now able to devote your full attention to that peaceful rest time, and as a result, the days drag and the passing time slows down. However, when you are back to work and try to recall that vacation later, having collected only a few interesting memories, it will seem short. That experience might have been rejuvenating, but the vacation will not register much time in your mind. You will experience a time distortion, as the remembered duration feels shorter than the longer duration you experienced at that time.

In passive leisure, attention to the passing time is greater so time slows down. However, that period will shrink retrospectively due to the reduced number of memory markers. In contrast, time flies in active leisure as we are distracted from the passing time. But that stretches the remembered past as more life-fulfilling memories are created. It all depends on the type of holiday you go on. A vacation will seem long if it was adventurous or filled with novel experiences. Whereas, a vacation will seem short if it was spent in some familiar tourist resort and will later be recalled as if it was over in a flash.

This effect does not just apply to vacations only but can be used to enhance our overall perception of a more fulfilling life experience. If you want your life to seem long, you can slow it down by filling your weekends, months, and years with novel experiences. The more absorbed we are in what we are doing, the faster time runs in the present, but the more memories are captured and the longer that period will seem later on. Thus having fun makes for a satisfying present time experience but, more importantly, creates vivid and long-term memories which, when later recalled, will weave a rich mosaic that stretches the story of our life.

For more information about how our brains experience time and how to slow down time, please check ‘The Power of Time Perception: Control the Speed of Time to Make Every Second Count’ which is now available on: Amazon

To measure how fast time runs in your mind, check this new Online Speed of Time Test. You will receive a detailed report about how your personality affects your time experience!

References & Notes:

  1. Esposito MJ, Natale V, Martoni M, Occhionero M, Fabbri M, Cicogna P. Prospective time estimation over a night without sleep. Biol Rhythm Res. 2007;38:443-450. doi:10.1080/09291010601068776.
  2. W. Christopher Winter. Sleep type predicts day and night batting averages of Major League Baseball players. American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). http://www.aasmnet.org/articles.aspx?id=2306. Published 2011. Accessed May 18, 2016.

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