7 Ways to Slow Time and Savor Your Life
"Time flies." "Where did the time go?" "Time is a thief." Life today is consumed by planning, doing, doing more, and looking ahead to what's next. No wonder time seems to speed by. We rarely observe and experience what's right in front of us.
I'm in my 60s. And if I let it, the rest of my life could fly by. Before I know it, my grandkids will be grown and I'll be really old (not just in late middle age).
Even if you're in your 30s or 40s, do you want to miss the best, most productive years of your life? You don't want time to drag, you don't want to be bored, but you also don't want to wake up one morning and realize that days, months, years, even decades have flown by.
Time moves as fast as you let it. You can follow our society's model and let it move at warp speed, or you can intentionally slow down.
Like a child
When we're young, time ambles, with endless car journeys, luxuriously long summer holidays, and birthdays and Christmases that seem so far apart.
As children, we find the world endlessly fascinating, full of new sensations and novel experiences. We're constantly taking in new details, and psychologists theorize that when our brains process so much information our perception of time slows.
As we get older, the world becomes more and more familiar. We become desensitized to our experiences, which means that we process less information, and time seems to speed up. We all know what it's like to hop in the car and drive to work or some other familiar destination, arriving with no sense of time having passed and no clear idea of what happened along the way.
You might think the answer is to start experiencing as many new things each day as possible. Foreign travel, new cuisines, different languages, unfamiliar music, and cutting-edge technology would be just the beginning. Exploring the many varieties available in the world would be pretty exhilarating. And kind of expensive. And maybe ultimately unfulfilling, as we would train ourselves to expect something new and exotic at every turn.
I don't mean we should never take in new experiences and opportunities, but it shouldn't be the only way we increase the information our brains have to process.
How to expand your sense of time
1. Be an observer.
Another way to enjoy new sensations is to be more mindful of what we're seeing, feeling, tasting, smelling, and hearing. It's a different approach to avoiding the commonplace. Instead of seeking something "new and improved," we change our attitude to the familiar things around us.
For example, when taking your morning shower, instead of letting your mind babble on about the things you need to do today, the things you did last night, or that unnamed tune that's stuck in your head, you could bring your attention to what you're doing. Feel the water cascading over your body, enjoy the scent of your lavender soap, listen to the drops splashing on the shower curtain, give thanks for the warmth and cleanness. If the tune's still there, figure out what it is and sing!
On the way home from work, instead of thinking of your tasks and problems, look outside at the sky. Notice buildings, trees, and other landmarks as you pass them. Tune in to how your body feels after a long day, relax tight muscles, and take deeper breaths.
When you do a task like folding clean clothes or washing the dishes, don't lose yourself in daydreams or music on your headphones (save that for when you're actually dancing around the house). Instead, notice the objects you're handling and the physical sensations you're experiencing. I think you'll enjoy yourself more. Instead of seeing these activities as chores, see them as a chance to enlarge the amount of information you process. Let time expand as you become mindful.
Of course there are things we do again and again, day after day. But it's possible to make those experiences less mindless. Just because you work in the same building each day doesn't mean you have to act like a machine in order to get there. You could shake up your expectations by:
- finding different routes to drive
- taking the bus
- riding your bicycle
- taking the stairs instead of the elevator (or vice versa)
- turning your desk to face a different direction
You might be able to do the same activity at a different time or in a different location. If you usually eat lunch in the cafeteria, try finding different places outside to eat. If you usually answer emails first thing in the morning, try returning phone calls instead and leave email for a bit later. If you always fix pasta for Monday dinners, try serving it with a different sauce, adding a different vegetable, or preparing a different shape. Or make pasta salad instead.
3. Choose human speed over high speed.
It's not just our perception of time that has speeded up. Our expectations have too. As long as we continue to demand instant access and information, our lives will keep moving faster.
It's easier to buy things than ever before. It's easier to communicate. It's easier to consume information. But should it be? Easy is nice, but what are the consequences? Clutter, debt, stress, overload, inanity, impatience. Maybe even the obesity epidemic – think about fast food, junk food, processed food, DoorDash, and meal kits.
I'm not going to advocate throwing out all automation and technology, but taking more time and effort isn't always a bad thing. When we do more things by hand and in person, it forces us to consider whether they're worth doing at all. We pause for a decision about how to use our energy and resources.
That pause is everything.
If we "don't have time" to write a note, cook a meal, have a conversation, or make or do something for ourselves, maybe we need to get away from screens and machines to make time. Maybe we need a return to knitting, mending, kneading bread dough, ironing, and snail mail.
4. Take a break.
Being productive is what it's all about in our society. "What do you do?" is the question any new acquaintance asks. But when we're constantly "doing" we have no chance to fully experience anything.
Slow down time by setting an alarm for intentional pauses. For me, 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. work well. I take 5 to 10 minutes to sip a cup of tea, pray, sit in a quiet place outside, read a page or two of a good book, mindfully vocalize (I'm a singer), or just close my eyes.
These pauses change the pace of my day, shifting my focus toward "being," which is where time moves most slowly.
5. Stop multi-tasking.
Multi-tasking is usually done to "save time" for other things. We think, "If I can make dinner, watch The Crown, and call my sister all at once, I'll save time for later." But at the end of the evening, the dinner will be overcooked, you won't remember what happened on the show, and your sister will complain that you never listen to her.
Instead, focus on the one thing you're doing, and do it well. When you cook, or watch, or have a conversation, give all of your attention to it. Appreciate it. You won't always feel like you're in a rush to get to the next thing, and that will slow down time.
6. Be an explorer.
The world is more interesting than we give it credit for. We stumble half-awake through a morning routine, go to school or work or errands, come home, and watch TV or browse online. That's a good way to make time fly by unnoticed. Instead, become an explorer – of your neighborhood, your world, and yourself.
- Try a different grocery store or the local farmers' market.
- Visit a different coffee shop, or invite a friend over for a coffee break.
- Go to the library, and check out a book by a different author or from a different genre than what you usually read.
- If you're a night owl, take an early walk and watch the sunrise. If you're an early riser, go out late to look at the stars.
- Can you write a poem? Grow some of your own food? Play or sing a new piece of music? Challenge yourself. Learning new things helps us access a beginner's mind, which works slowly.
Time races by when we're not looking. Suddenly, it's May, and summer's almost here, and what happened to that cloudy, cold, spend-time-cozily-inside January afternoon? You missed it.
Try taking notes. Most of us know that journaling has many benefits, but we never get around to doing it. How can we make it simpler, so we can gain the benefits without making it feel like yet another obligation?
I'd like to suggest a one-sentence journal.* It's easy and fun. And a habit doesn't have to be impressive in order to be useful. My habit of writing one daily sentence for this blog has led to over 550 posts and more than a dozen published books.
* This blog is reader-supported. If you buy through my links, I may earn a small commission.
What can you write about? One sentence that lets you focus on something important about your day, such as:
- one event
- one person
- one quote
- one idea
- one gratitude
- one decision
- one accomplishment
- one beauty
- one kindness
- one mistake and what you learned
- one adventure
- one funny thing
This journal will become a keepsake that lets you ruminate and remember your life. It will let you savor and secure those moments in time before they fly by.
If the days and weeks pass by in a blur, let us slow down time with more luxurious attention on this moment.