We Warp Time

slow time down, live each moment,

Remember sitting in third grade watching the minute hand move so slowly that dismissal time seemed weeks away?  Remember how your ninth birthday took almost forever to arrive? Yeah, that was childhood. Now months zip by with such speed that it’s becoming clear our elders hang on to handrails because time is practically knocking them down as it whips past.

This concept is brilliantly depicted at Wait But Why.



See how our perspective of time changes as the years go by?

Researcher Robert Lemlich studied the way we perceive this. According to him, 80 year olds have gone through 71 percent of their subjective experience of time by the age of 40, making the years between ages 60 and 80 seem like 13 percent of their lives. By his calculations, when we’re 20 years old we’re halfway through the felt experience of our lives, meaning that 60 additional years will seem to pass as quickly as the first 20. That’s a nasty blow.

It makes me wonder how the youngest among us sense time. If a baby cries when a parent leaves, does it feel like an eternity of sorrow to him? If a toddler’s plaything is grabbed by another toddler, does that frustration seem to stretch out forever? Maybe that’s not far from the truth.

It illustrates why our experience of time isn’t entirely explained by the proportional theory. If we think about it, we realize our perception of time has a great deal to do with what we’re experiencing. Time actually warps. Notice that it moves grindingly slow when we’re in physical or emotional pain. Time also elongates (far more wonderfully) when we’re fully present,  making even the most ordinary moments—a child’s squeal of laughter or a sip of cool water—into something larger. It stretches even further when we’re immersed in a wholly new experience—say first love or scuba diving or public speaking.

Far too often, our personal time warp goes the other way. It gathers speed because we’re busy, we’re multitasking, we’re in a rut, and thus less mindful of the passing moments that make up our days, weeks, and years.

We can get all quantum-y about it. There’s an experiment that seems to explain why time moves slower and faster according to our perception. But we don’t really need to study entangled photons to figure it out. We want to fully live the time we’re allotted on this planet.

I’m working on making my time more warpable. How do you stretch your sense of time?

slow down time, perception of time,

“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”  ~Albert Einstein

8 thoughts on “We Warp Time

  1. I don’t believe in time. But I expand my sense of hours and days by living each day as if I have all the time in the world. I hate that old advice, “live each day as if it’s your last.” By doing the opposite, I find I am less fear-driven in my experience of time. I can luxuriate in the simple good things. I can dwell in a moment for its own sake. I can do the things I love and the things I dislike with no pressure. And time takes its own time. I’m so glad I began this approach when my dd was a baby, as now I remember so much about her childhood, and all of it in a peaceful, happy way.


  2. Perhaps it’s the way our brains are organised to store memories, too. I know that in addition to the experience of serious pain stretching out exquisitely long despite being comparatively short, the memory of it is much sharper than the longer interludes of relief between. Recall retrieves the emotions of unpleasant experiences in much greater detail than the pleasant one, I find, despite there being fewer of them in my life in comparative terms!


    • I know what you mean. I think our strongest memories are inextricably tied to sense memory as well. Pain is certainly a powerful sense memory. The positive ones are too—-a beach vacation isn’t just relaxing, it’s the sound of the waves, the feel of sun on our flesh, the scent of sunblock and salty air and fun food. I’m trying to remind myself to consciously create sense-rich memories.


  3. Beautifully said! I think we could add that some perceptions seem to take longer and last longer the first time we experience that event, or one of the first. Things we don’t even notice as adults are new to children, so they stop and drink them in.
    Reminding myself to “stop and drink” is a way I warp my time these days. It helps me recall those early days when things were new. The brain only lives in the present, but if I let it, mine will recall things that slow down that relentless march of time.


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