Stay in the moment and actually experience your life
If life seems to race by and much of your past seems to be missing, practice mindfulness to preserve those memories. Our sense of how fast time passes is a function of our memory. If we don’t remember something, it doesn’t exist for us. It’s missing from our past, and so our past is shorter than it should be. If we don’t pay attention to what we are doing, if we lack concentration, if we’re distracted, if we’re not totally aware of what’s going on in the moment, we usually don’t remember it. The key to remembering names, for instance, is to listen carefully so you hear it in the first place, focus on it, and repeat it to yourself many times. If you don’t, it’s lost.
When self-help gurus and stress management practitioners tell you to “be in the moment” they may be referring to happy, anxiety-free living. But it’s more than that. It lengthens your life. Because if you’re “in the moment” you are fully aware and focused on the “now” and it will likely become a permanent part of your long-term memory.
Life expectancy for Americans born in 1900 was 50 years. Today it is about 80 years for men and 83 years for women. But I will wager that those 50 years, in retrospect, seemed just as long as our 80 years. Because today we are bombarded by external stimuli – everything from ipads to iphones, paper mail to email and people to podcasts. We are in the age of speed, doing two things at once, thinking ahead while getting behind, anxious and stressed – an ideal situation for memory loss.
Our entire life to date, except for this fleeting second that is happening right now, is in the past. You are living in the age of speed, and as you look back, the last five years probably seems more like two or three; because over half of it is missing from your memory. At this very second, the only present you have, time is not zooming by, regardless of how old you are. In fact, reading this is probably making time drag. You’re already glancing at the clock to see how much longer you have to endure this. You may be thinking about those things you have to do afterwards and what’s on schedule in the morning. You may even be anxious because the kids may start screaming at any moment or your eReader might cut out. Consequently you will forget 40 percent of what you’re reading within the first hour.
Your brain is working against you since it is programmed to be on the alert for any interruptions. It’s a defense mechanism to keep you alert for any pending dangers. You may not encounter very many physical dangers nowadays, but the same response is kicking in when you are in the middle of a conversation with someone at a party and all of a sudden you hear your name mentioned somewhere across the room. Your attention immediately shifts to that conversation.
Your level of awareness depends on your degree of interest in what is happening at the moment. If you can train yourself to be more thoroughly aware of the present, your perception of time will change. An hour spent working on a project that excites you and engages your attention will seem longer, in retrospect, to an hour spent daydreaming. Stefan Klein had a great line in his book, The Secret Pulse of Time – “By giving more life to your time, you give more time to your life.”
This topic is discussed in length in my eBook, Slowing down the speed of life