The speed of time has always intrigued me. We know from physics that time progresses at the same rate at all times, but that is not how it feels. Time certainly seems to speed up as we grow older. We find ourselves saying things like: ‘How is it nearly Christmas again?’ ‘Has it really been already four years since the last Football World Cup?’ Why does time fly when we are having fun and why does it drag when we are bored? Why does time seem to stand still during a car crash accident?
For a long time, the nagging question in my mind has been: is there a way to slow down time to the speed it was running at when we were young? After spending 4 years researching the latest findings in Psychology and Neuroscience, I finally found some answers and decided to write a book about it. This is how “The Power of Time Perception: Control the Speed of Time to Make Every Second Count” came about.
You see the speed of time in our mind depends on various factors, such as how alert we are, our current emotional state, some of our personality traits, and our age, among other things. Here, I will focus on the role of alertness.
Alertness levels fall in a spectrum that ranges from fully alert, to relaxed, drowsy, and all the way to very sleepy. This is determined by how fast your brain neurons are firing electrical signals. It can be displayed as brain waves on an EEG scan that measures the level of electrical activity inside your brain. The faster your brainwaves, the more alert you are, and the faster information can be processed in your brain. When you are fully alert, your brain can take in anything you throw at it, but when you are sleepy you start missing a lot of what is going on around you. But what does that have to do with the perceived speed of time? Well, the latest findings in neuroscience indicate that the speed at which we process sensory information defines the speed of time in our mind. The experienced speed of time is nothing but the speed of our thoughts.
This is clearly seen from the fact that when you are less alert, time seems to run faster. An example is a good night’s sleep of eight hours, which might sometimes feel like a few seconds. This is because, during sleep, alertness and attention are mostly shut down, and sensory input to the brain is minimal, so the brain does not process or ‘record’ much information. When you wake up, you recall very few mental snapshots of the whole night, which gives the impression that it only lasted for a few moments as if time flew, when you might have been actually sleeping for eight hours. The same effect is observed, but to a lesser extent, in daydreaming. When you allow your imagination to wander freely, you are no longer fully aware of what is going on around you, and you quickly lose track of time. Similarly, if you are on a long trip, say an eight-hour flight from Paris to New York, you might have noticed that not all hours feel the same. The first hour is agonizingly slow because you are still quite alert. The next six hours pass more quickly and time goes faster and faster, as you get tired and become less alert. However, in the last hour, as you near your destination, excitement builds up and you become alert once again, so that last hour drags.
Moving further down the scale of alertness is the state of anesthesia. A general anesthetic that is given during surgery has an even more pronounced effect on time. The drug decreases the firing rate of brain neurons immensely and the brain’s processing speed approaches zero as the patient loses consciousness and is put into deep sleep. Anyone who has undergone surgery will tell you that when he or she woke up, it felt as though no time had passed at all. A similar situation occurs with people who go into a state of coma for years and wake up feeling that time has frozen, as if they were only gone for an instant. It is easy to see that as the levels of alertness drop, from fully awake to deep sleep, the brain’s information processing speed declines and, with it, time subjectively speeds up.
What is interesting is that the opposite of that is also true. When you are more alert, time slows down. People involved in life-threatening situations experience extreme levels of fear that elevate their alertness to abnormal levels and often report time as having slowed down. A person standing at the side of the road observing a car crash accident would barely measure a fraction of a second for the whole incident, whereas the driver going through the crash will later recall it as passing in slow motion. He can often describe the tiniest details of the collision and would swear that the event was several seconds long as if “time stood still”. In movies, such as Kill Bill, action-packed scenes are often shown in slow motion ‘bullet time’ to portray what the character is subjectively experiencing in those thrilling moments!
The point to take from all that is that if you want to slow down the speed of time in your mind, you will need to maintain a highly alert brain. This can be achieved through special brain diets, good sleep, regular exercise, and a good dose of mental workouts. You can download a FREE copy of The Ultimate Guide to a Healthy Brain Diet, by clicking on the link below
If you are interested to find how fast time runs in your mind, check out this new online Speed of Time Test. By answering a few questions, you will receive a detailed report on how your personality affects your time experience and ways to slow down time.
For more details on how to slow down the speed of time, check out my book “The Power of Time Perception” that covers several other factors, in addition to alertness, that influence the speed of time in our mind. Now Available on: