Healthy eating, exercise, security – these are just some of the means to
living a longer life, we are often told. But what about our perceptions
of time itself? A new book argues that by “slowing down” time we can
extend our lives further.
Enjoy your summer holiday – while it lasts.
One of the unwritten rules of being a fully fledged member of the
taxpaying workforce is that the two weeks you’ve looked forward to all
year will fly past as if it had only been a few days.
Yet when childhood holidays are recalled, they seemed to stretch out
into eternity. Sure, they were longer. But it’s no secret that with
advancing years comes the sense that time is accelerating.
Yet it doesn’t have to be like that, says Steve Taylor, who teaches
courses on personal development at the University of Manchester. Clock
time may be about minutes and hours, but Real Time is down to how we
experience it, which differs from person to person depending on what
Children are incredibly awake to the world around us, so time passes
slowly for them
Author, Making Time
A child’s day from 0900 to 1530 is like a 20-hour day for an adult, he
says, and in his book Making Time he explains why.
In developing what he calls the perceptual theory, first put forward by
American psychologist William James in the 19th Century, Taylor says
time is related to how much “information” someone is taking in from the
world around them.
“Children are experiencing everything for the first time, all their
experiences are new. They also have an amazingly intense vision of the
world, an amazing fresh perception. Children are incredibly awake to the
world around us, so time passes slowly for them.”
Information – not from books or the internet, but through perceptions of
the world – stretches time and as people get older they have fewer new
experiences, he says.
“There is less novelty in our life and you become used to the world and
more familiar. You take in less information from the world around us and
time is less stretched with information.”
‘In the zone’
A possible explanation is that the brain and its capacity to perceive
time are affected by the units of information it is asked to process.
So the eight months Taylor once spent in Germany seemed like eight
years, he says, because of the number of new experiences crammed in.
He also gives credence to the proportional theory, which is that as we
get older, a year is a smaller part of our life as a whole, so seems to
DOES TIME FLY HAVING FUN?
It does if in a state of absorption, chatting to friends or watching an
But not always. Two weeks exploring the Andes, having new experiences,
may seem longer
Source: Steve Taylor
Another factor which makes time relative, he says, is the way we can
occasionally shift out of our normal consciousness, such as in an
accident, when people often say time slowed down.
This shift to “slow motion” can also be achieved by top sportsmen.
George Best and former basketball player Michael Jordan are among those
to have remarked on how time seemed to slow down when they were “in the
“I don’t think it’s a delusion,” says Taylor. “Time isn’t something real
or something absolute, it’s something created by our minds.
“Einstein showed in his theory of relativity that time is related to
other factors. So it’s not just an illusion, they [the sportsmen] are
actually slowing down time. It’s the same in accident situations, we
shift out of our normal consciousness.”
Tiger Woods reportedly learnt a variation of tai-chi as a child
Mike Hall, a sports consultant and author of In Praise of Slow, has
spent nearly 15 years learning how to use the discipline of tai-chi to
“slow down” time while playing squash and golf.
“If the brain waves are in synch with the heart rhythms, this is the way
the body moves into a state called ‘the zone’. It’s like playing in slow
motion and you have gone beyond linear time.”
Perception is brilliantly enhanced to the point where even the yellow
dot on the squash ball can be seen during play, he says. Top footballers
like Best and Paul Gascoigne had a sporting intelligence that was
spontaneous and gave them an ability to see space in a different way,
says Mr Hall, but it can also be trained.
If you can control time, it is no longer our enemy
Mr Taylor believes time is elastic, not solid, so a man on a three-hour
plane journey can have a longer “psychological time” than the passenger
next to him. And a man who dies at 40 can live a longer life than a man
who dies at 80 if he has travelled around the world and had new
Western culture, unlike some indigenous peoples, presents a linear view
of time, with human lives like a river running through the past, present
and future, he says.
Hiro in the BBC’s Heroes is able to stop time
It may be true that society has become more time-poor, as life has
become more hectic, but humans have probably always experienced a
speeding up of time as they get older, although this can be controlled.
“Make sure your life is as full of new experiences as possible. If you
live a life that’s full of routine, then time will always speed up but
if you make an effort to travel to new environments and expose yourself
to new situations, new challenges, even something simple like a new
route to work, new interests, new hobbies, then this degree of newness
slows down time.”
Similarly, spending an evening in a “state of absorption” reading a book
or watching a DVD will make the time pass quickly, as will a holiday
spent on a beach or by a pool. But varying the activities will help
stretch out the minutes and hours.
“We try to extend our lives by keeping fit and having a healthy diet,
which is fine but it’s also possible to lengthen our life by changing
our experience of time and having new experiences and spending more time
living in the present.
“We often feel threatened or negative towards things we can’t control,
helpless … so if you can control time, it is no longer the enemy.”
So summer holidays needn’t pass so quickly. But you’ll need to leave the
pool and put the book down in order to stop it.
Making Time by Steve Taylor is published by Icon Books.