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Why time flies as you age and what you can do about it.

 

Time flies as you age

The September/October, 2017 issue of Popular Science gave the usual explanation as to why time seems to pass more quickly as we grow older. To quote, “To a child, one year can feel like an eternity, but to that kiddo’s grandparents, it passes in a flash.” They are referring to the fact that one year to a child is a lot larger percentage of their total lifetime to date as one year to an elderly person.

As an example, as explained by Barry J. Gibb in his book, The Rough Guide to the Brain, for a 10-year old girl, one year represents 10% of her existence to date. That’s a long time. But to a 60-year old woman, one year represents less than 2% of her life experience to date, giving the impression of it passing much faster. The older you get, the faster life will seem to pass. From experience most of us can vouch for the truth of this statement.

But what most people tend to overlook, is that there are more factors at play than age,  Our perception of time is influenced by many things, such as heat, activity, stress, and speed – regardless of our age. Time goes just as fast for a child as it does for an adult when both are involved in an activity they enjoy. And it drags just as much when they are waiting in a line-up or taking a long trip in a car.

We can compensate somewhat for the age effect by modifying our lifestyle. For example, when we are busy, jumping quickly from one job to another, time seems to pass more quickly. So stay clear of multitasking and avoid busyness as much as possible.

Also, time spent with things seem to go faster than time spent with people. Cultivate friendships and don’t be stingy with your time when you are interacting with others. Gretchen Rubin, in her book, The Happiness Project, referred to a study that showed that doing things with someone  rather  than  doing  them  alone is always more  fun,  regardless of whether  it  is exercising, commuting  or doing housework.

Of fifteen daily activities, researchers found that the only one people preferred doing alone was prayer. Rubin goes on to say that strong relationships not only add more joy to life, it lengthens your life, boosts immunity, and cuts the risk of depression.

Mindfulness also slows down your perception of time. Just as gulping your food and rushing through meals takes the enjoyment out of eating while doing nothing for your health, rushing through life has its consequences. If you can’t remember what you had for dinner last night, you were probably mentally absent at the time. And the same thing applies to life itself. If you rush through life, multitasking and always thinking ahead about the next item on your bottomless “To Do” list, later in life you will wonder where the time went.

Speed is the enemy of time management, not its ally. Life is meant to be savored, not dispensed with as quickly as possible. Slowing down will result in fewer errors, fewer accidents, a healthier lifestyle, improved relationships, and a more enjoyable and memorable life.

Other factors are at play as well. A long period of time spent on the same or similar activities shortens our perception of this time later. For instance, if we fish off the same dock for three  hours  every morning,  the  time  may not  seem to  drag at the  time,  depending  on our level of interest. But looking back at it later, our brain doesn’t distinguish between one fishing session and the others. The past will have seemed much shorter since this part of our life has been compressed. Barry Gibb, in his book, The Rough Guide to the Brain, refers to this as “retroactive interference.”

These effects help move life along faster as you grow older. The longer you live, the more similarity in things you have done, and consequently the more compressed your life becomes.

You are what your brain says you are. You have lived and experienced what your brain says you have lived and experienced. External time passes as quickly as your brain tells you it passes.

Just as inactive waiting makes time drag, so a slow-paced, boring, non-eventful life seems longer while you’re actually experiencing it even though it seems shorter when recalled later. For many people, the days seem to pass slowly and the years seem to fly by.

If you race through life, multitasking, cramming as many activities as possible into a day, generally time will zoom by. And when you’re in your seventies or eighties, it will seem like you have lived only half of that amount of time. That’s what I call poor internal time management. But this doesn’t mean you should lead a slow, quiet, boring, non-active life with plenty of waiting and therefore appear to live longer. Because there are other factors involved, the most significant being memory.

When we contemplate how fast our day or life has gone by, we are relying on our memory. And our memory is very selective. It dismisses anything it deems insignificant. We remember the important things, such as graduation from college, that car accident, our first bicycle, a winning goal scored in a soccer game, a new job and so on. Our brain doesn’t bother with all the insignificant things that happen to us, such as those thousands of emails we reviewed and deleted or the mountains of paperwork that came across our desks or those trivial tasks we worked on, or those endless hours waiting for people.

If we have a lot of significant events in our life – if we achieve significant goals, and we live purposefully – we will have plenty of vivid memories, and consequently, our lives will have seemed longer in retrospect.

I discuss these things and more in my 64-page eBook, Internal Time Management: Slowing the Pace of Life, published by Bookboon.com, 2016.

 

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The greatest time management strategy is to live longer.

I suppose whenever I pass another birthday (83 this month), my thoughts return to thoughts of loving life. The good news, according to statistics, is that we’re living longer. The bad news is that our bodies frequently outlast our minds. Dementia is on the increase. To gain time by living longer and healthier, we must look after our brain as well as our body.

Physical exercise keeps the blood circulating throughout the brain where we need it most. It also helps to build new brain cells and improves learning and memory. So keep up a physically active lifestyle.

Lifelong learning, and the constant mental stimulation that it provides, will offset some of the cognitive decline we experience with aging. Avoiding stress where possible, and being able to cope effectively with it when it does occur, will prevent brain cells from being killed. Minimize the hassles in your life.

Social activities of any kind, where you are interacting with others, force you to practice cognitive activities as you carry on conversations.

Diet can also help. For example, older people, who get omega-3 fatty acids by eating fish such as salmon and sardines, or take DHA and EPA supplements, are believed to be able to slow cognitive decline as well.

An active lifestyle, both physically and mentally, is good for your overall health, including the health of your brain. And the most effective time management strategy I know is to live longer and healthier.

 Age has its benefits besides senior discounts.

Older people are not always portrayed favorably in movies or sitcoms or among the younger crowd. In one study reported in the April, 2010 issue of Scientific American Mind, 65 percent of psychology students agreed that “older people are lonely and isolated.” And 64 percent of medical students agreed that major depression is more prevalent among the elderly,

Research doesn’t back up these opinions. In fact, older adults are actually happier than younger people, at least in the research reported to date. And population-based surveys reveal that rates of depression are highest in those between 25 and 45. The happiest group overall is men aged 65 and older. In one study of 28,000 Americans, a third of the 88-year-olds reported being “very happy” and the happiest individuals surveyed were the oldest.

Older people are more likely to recall positive than negative information, so that should also help. And cognitive abilities do not fade dramatically with age. We do experience some memory loss and forgetfulness; but serious illness of the brain aside, intelligence and verbal abilities are not much different than they were decades earlier.

So being over the hill, doesn’t mean you’re not able to climb more hills.

Purpose beats profit hands down.

It’s important to have goals at any age. But it’s also important to have the right goals. According to Daniel Pink in his book, Drive, it’s our nature to seek purpose. Monetary goals don’t necessarily satisfy. And as people grow older, they seem to have less concern about profit

He refers to a study of University of Rochester grads who were asked about their life goals, and then were followed up early in their careers. Some had “profit” goals such as to become wealthy or famous, and others had “purpose” goals, such as to help others improve their lives or to learn and grow.

Those with purpose goals, who felt they were being attained, reported higher levels of satisfaction and well-being than when in college, and lower levels of anxiety and depression. However those with profit goals reported levels of satisfaction and self-esteem that were no higher than when in college. They had reached their goals; but it didn’t make them any happier.

So attainment of profit or materialistic goals could have little if any impact on well-being.

But it does impact the pocket book. Of course I see nothing wrong with having both profit goals and purpose goals at any age. But being is more important than having, and purpose is more important than profit.

Simplification can help

There’s a book called Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin that describes a Fulfillment Curve. This curve plots money or possessions or “stuff” along the x-axis, or horizontal axis, and fulfillment or happiness along the y-axis, the vertical axis. The more money you have to spend, the greater the degree of fulfillment and happiness – up to a point. After fulfillment goes through the survival stage, comforts stage and luxuries stage, it levels off. Then it starts to decrease.

Once you have achieved what the authors refer to as enough, acquiring more simply makes you unhappier. It’s interesting to note that Daniel Pink also mentions in his book, A Whole New Mind, that while living standards have risen steadily decade after decade, personal, family and life satisfaction haven’t budged.

Material things consume a lot of our time.  People spend their precious non-renewable resource, time, in order to acquire more money and possessions, only to discover that the possessions do little to further their enjoyment of life. In fact, possessions consume even more of this non-renewable resource. Not only does it take time to earn enough money to buy this stuff, it takes time to shop for it, learn how to operate it, maintain it in good working condition, repair it, upgrade it, insure it and use it.

If we have to rent public storage, we have to sign a contract, pay rent, buy a lock, take trips back and forth to check on it or add to it, and so on. We are afraid of losing it, breaking it or having it stolen. We frequently have to make payments on it, acquire more space to accommodate it, and worry about keeping the neighborhood kids or the family dog away from it. There also comes a time when we have to figure out how to get rid of it.

From the viewpoint of cost, stress and time management, you should simplify your life as much as possible. Simplifying your personal life involves freeing up more time and energy to pursue your personal goals and working on activities that you really enjoy. Getting rid of the possessions that threaten to possess you is a good place to start.

 

 

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Positivity at work

 

POSITIVE

Positively eliminate the negative

Emotional well-being is when a person consistently reports more positive than negative feelings. And according to research reported in the November/December, 2015 issue of Scientific American Mind, we become more positive and happier the older we get. In spite of hardships and failing health, something about old age keeps people in good spirits – particularly those passing the 100 mark.

It could be from failing minds, but more likely this positive attitude is from a changing outlook as we grow older and wiser and more able to control our brains. Certainly studies suggest that the positivity and happiness changes over time and is not something that we always possessed or acquired suddenly as we aged.

Also, it was found that seniors who are the most positive also have the sharpest minds – so if you’re young, keep it healthy with both physical and mental exercise. And if you’re old, do likewise. Everyone, regardless of age, should give their positivity a boost whenever possible.

A positive attitude tends to stress-proof your life. It’s important to get sufficient sleep, daily exercise and social support. And it’s equally important to be aware of the good things that happen to you – those positives amid negative events. Be more conscious of the things that go right in your life, and remember that when things look bleak, humor helps. Also, volunteer on a regular basis; by helping others you are also helping yourself.

Use the “stop” method whenever you find yourself having negative thoughts about a future event that may or may not happen. Negativity thinking is more common than you may think. Robert Leahy in his book, The Worry Cure, (Harmony, 2005) claims that 38% of people say they worry every day, and more than 19 million Americans are chronic worriers. Instead of dwelling on negative thoughts, immediately say “Stop that!” either aloud or silently to yourself. And then get on with the next item on your “To Do” list.

Action will dissipate worry every time.

You will become more positive and happier the older you get. But why wait when you can enjoy life more right now by accentuating the positive and doing everything you can to eliminate the negative.

If that last line is familiar to you, and the research showing that positivity increases with age is accurate, you are already more positive than most people because it’s based on a song written over 70 years ago.