Time does not stop. No matter how hard we work against it, time keeps marching forward. Without us realizing, years can pass by, and as we get older, sometimes we feel "stuck" in our lives. These moments of feeling stuck can make us feel as if time is passing by even more quickly than we can fathom, constantly slipping through our fingers no matter how hard we try to hold on.
This thought has been a source of panic in my life since as long as I can remember. I vividly remember waking up one day at four or five years old, a few days after my parents had separated, with the understanding that nothing lasts forever. My perception of life changed when my parents divorced, and there was no returning to the way I had viewed it before.
Since then, and less so than when I was younger, I have had overwhelming moments of clarity in which I have felt suffocated by the knowledge that time moves perpetually forward. I have allowed myself to be nostalgic and sad about moments that were occurring right before my eyes because I understood they could not last.
Fortunately, coming into adult life has brought responsibilities and experiences that occupied, such large portions of my day, leaving very little time to panic about mortality. I have also had to learn a universal truth—there is nothing we can do to stop the clock or hit rewind.
Along with this lesson, being an adult has also taught me that—while the intense panic about my own mortality isn't always normal—feeling a little trapped and stuck in life at times is. Not only is it normal, it is nearly universal to the point that there is research being done to understand how this feeling is associated with our perception of time.
Another stunning and humbling discovery from my young adult life—the way we interact with time is directly related to how we choose to spend it.
Dr. David Eagleman, a prominent neuroscientist and professor with the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, researches the manner in which the human brain experiences the passage of time.
His research indicates that our routine causes us to perceive time as passing more slowly in the moment, yet when we recall the experience late, we perceive time as having passed quickly. This in turn is associated with the feeling of not having enough time in the day.
The irony of this is routine often inescapable with work, and for many of us it is generally a part of getting older. While it is necessary and beneficial to the efficiency of our lives, many of us find routine comes along with the overwhelming feeling of getting stuck in a life that has become monotonous.
Not only do we allow ourselves to develop routines, but our brain forces them upon us. Most of the experiences we have daily are internalized as a part of existing patterns. Every time we drive home, we don’t have to recall our own address to get there because that would be ridiculous and exhausting.
Information can be filled in by patterns efficiently and our brains seek out the most efficient connections. This happens without us trying because humans are creatures of patterns and routines.
There are ways to overcome this, and as a method of combating the feeling of time passing too quickly, Dr. Eagleman suggests breaking routine by seeking out new experiences. Exposing our minds to new and novel experiences makes our own perception of time change because we are forced into collecting new information that is not reliant on a pattern from our memory.
Breaking routine means we challenge ourselves to form new patterns and gather information in new ways, which takes more effort. This means when we recall a day that included a new experience, it will seem to have lasted longer.
This is comforting for people like me who sometimes worry excessively about running out of time. There is always a way to trick yourself into perceiving time as passing more slowly. I commit myself to trying new things.
Because of this simple idea, I have applied for jobs and made friends and tried terrifying things like skiing and cliff jumping. Because of this idea, I have lived my life more vividly than I would have allowing my fear of mortality and time to consume me.
If you're feeling stuck, Eagleman's research indicates trying something new, even something as simple as going to a new restaurant or trying a new hobby, is definitely worth the shot. Even if we are not specifically analyzing the fact that we are forming new patterns and connections every single time we make weekend plans to try something we’ve never done before, we will perceive our days as being more full.
If nothing else, we’ll all just be trying new things that make us happy. No one can fight against time, but we can sure as hell live our lives and enjoy trying.