Time is a funny thing.
Even though it’s a fixed dimension that can be objectively measured, the way we perceive time can fluctuate in subjective ways — both in the moment, and when we later reflect on it.
When we’re bored, frustrated, and/or annoyed, time seems to move more slowly. When we’re caught up in some fun and/or focused activity, time can seem to fly by.
There’s a reason for that — when we’re doing something tedious and lacking in interesting stimuli, we check the time more often, which makes the minutes and hours seem to creep along. When we’re deeply engaged in some activity, we aren’t watching the clock, and thus lose track of time.
When we shift from thinking about time in the moment, to reflecting back on the time we just spent, time can seem to speed up or slow down as well.
You’ve probably made the observation that as a child and young adult, your days, weeks, and years seemed really long. High school and college only lasted four years, but probably seem significantly longer in your memory.
As a grown-up, your days may feel long in the moment (because you’re bored and watching the time — “How long ‘til I go to bed?” “How long ‘til I can put the kids to bed?!”), but then your weeks and months, and especially your years, seem to pass by and pile up at an alarming rate. It’s New Year’s Day, and then all of a sudden it’s summer, and then, wow, is it time for the holidays again? You find it hard to believe another year’s gone by. And that 1999 was not ten years ago, but twenty. And can it really be possible that Dead Poets Society came out thirty years ago?
You can often seem to be racing towards old age, and — gulp — the grave, at a breakneck pace.
There’s a reason for this too: researchers have found that whenever your brain participates in experiences that are novel and/or emotionally salient, it figures, “I may need to remember this later” and so takes plenty of “footage” of what’s going on. When you later look back on those periods, there’s plenty of “film” to unspool, so the experiences seem to have lasted a long time.
However, when you do things that you’ve done before, that are familiar, and follow the same routine, your brain already knows what to expect next. It’s seen this movie before. So off clicks your mental camera.
When you’re young and constantly learning new things, encountering novel situations, and grappling with emotionally heightened experiences, your brain takes a ton of footage, and lays down lots of rich, dense, detailed memories, which, when looked back on, makes that time feel slower and more expansive.
But when you’re an adult, and typically follow the same carbon copy routine day in and day out, your brain doesn’t see a need to record you brushing your teeth, driving to work, and warming up your Hot Pocket in the office break room for the 1,000th time, and therefore takes very little footage of your life. As a result, there’s very little film to play back later — you find you can’t really remember how you spent your weeks and months, and that your years just seem to speed by in a blur.
Grown-ups thus face a double whammy in regards to their perception of time: their days seem to drag on interminably because their life is so tedious, and yet their months and years evaporate into nothingness! (You’ve probably heard the expression: “The days are long, but the years are short.”)
But it doesn’t have to be this way: you can intentionally tinker with your perception of time so that your days are more fulfilling, and your life seems longer — and more memorable.
All you have to do is to inject your adult life with a little of that which you once had an abundance of in your younger years: novelty. Firsts.
More Footage: Take the One-Month “Do Something New Every Day” Challenge
To help you jumpstart this simple but profound transformation of your life, we’re issuing a month-long “Do Something New Every Day” challenge. The parameters of the challenge are simple: do one novel thing every day for one whole month. These novel experiences can be anything you want. They just have to be things you haven’t ever done, or you haven’t done in so long, that they will feel fresh and different. And they don’t have to be big things — even super small stuff counts, and can effectively slow down time a bit.
Below we’ve listed nearly 40 non-exhaustive ideas to help get you thinking. We didn’t include things like reading a new book, listening to new music, or watching a new television show/movie, because, though these activities do certainly add interest and freshness to life, and can slow down time some, in our observation, consuming things doesn’t seem to trigger the mind to take more memory footage the way experiencing things in a more firsthand way does.
- Make yourself a cup of tea instead of a cup of coffee for breakfast
- Do a new kind of workout: if you normally lift weights, go for a run; if you normally run on a treadmill, run outside; if you normally run outside, run on a high school track; if you normally do the stepclimber at the gym, run the steps at a stadium; if you normally use weight machines, see what kind of exercises you can do in the woods (also why are using weight machines?)
- Wear your watch on a different wrist (hey, this was suggested by the guy who pioneered the time perception research mentioned above!)
- Drive a different route to work
- Eat lunch in a new place (like a park)
- Change the arrangement of your kitchen table or other furniture
- Make a new recipe for dinner
- Eat at a new restaurant
- Try a new sex position
- If you normally walk your dog on a certain loop in a clockwise direction, walk counterclockwise
- Visit a new museum
- Shop at a grocery store you’ve never been to before
- Talk to a stranger
- Take a walk or bike ride in a neighborhood you’ve never explored before
- Try tackling a new DIY craft project
- Do something around the house or on your car that you’ve never done before; change a light fixture (or headlight), finally fix your toilet, etc. (while these seem like chores, the first time you do them can be sort of fun as you figure out how things work)
- Play a new card game or board game with your friends or family
- Host a dinner party or poker night (or even just invite the neighbors over for a drink)
- Make a small change to your morning or evening routine — change the order of doing things, or change your bedtime/wake time
- Order a new dish or new drink at your favorite restaurant/coffee shop
- Sleep in a different room in your house (or in the backyard!)
- Take a trip to a city — even a nearby one — you’ve never been to or explored
- Call a friend or family member you haven’t spoken with in a few years
- Do an act of kindness: pay for someone’s coffee, re-fill the time on an expiring parking meter, etc.
- Wear something from your closet you haven’t worn in a long time
- Go a day (or a week) without watching TV; or go a day (or week) without using your phone
- Attend a concert or play
- Take a hike on a new trail
- Do a new activity or game or craft with your kid(s)
- Learn and memorize how to say a simple phrase in as many languages as you can
- Treat your body — go to a spa, or get a massage, or try a float tank (whatever you’ve not tried before)
- Meditate (if you’ve never done it before)
- Walk or drive somewhere just to watch the sunset (or the sun rise if you’re feeling bold!)
- Look up local events — book signings, 5Ks, art fairs — in your newspaper or online and go to one
- Learn a new and easily acquired skill just for fun — how to whistle with your fingers, a cool uncle trick, etc.
- Take a bath instead of a shower
- Get your haircut at a new barbershop
For help in getting into this challenge, I recommend our more in-depth treatment of how to be a “time wizard” here, as well as listening to my podcast about the book Off the Clock coming on Monday. Share what novel things you’re doing with us, by posting pics with the hashtag #morefootage on Instagram.
At the end of the challenge, reflect back on the month that’s passed – did it seem longer, and more memorable, than usual? Moving forward, what will you do to keep the #morefootage momentum going?
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