Have you ever wondered why time seems to pass much more quickly every year of your life? Since virtually everyone experiences this phenomenon, there has to be a concrete reason for it. In other words, it can’t just be everyone’s imagination.
As it turns out, there have been many theories set forth to explain this phenomenon, and the one that is most plausible to me is that each additional unit of time we live through is a smaller percentage of the total time we’ve been alive. Of course, we don’t consciously compare any particular time unit with how long we’ve lived; it’s just something that the subconscious mind automatically processes.
To an infant, there is no separation between himself and the world. They are one and the same. Not only is he the only player in the game of life, he is life. His crib, his smiling mother, and his baby food are all part of him.
He hasn’t lived long enough to figure out that these things are separate and apart from him, and that he is not the entire world. The world he perceives — which encompasses everything he can see and touch — is static. His unconscious perception is that nothing changes — not his mother, not his crib, not anything in his surroundings. He simply doesn’t have enough experience to notice any kind of change.
His first year seems like a lifetime to him — because it is. That’s why the passage of time has been very slow. But when the baby reaches the age of one, he slowly starts to become aware of the passage of time and the changes in his once-static world.
What happens from that point on is that each additional year he lives through is an ever smaller percentage of his total experience. So the second year of his life goes much faster than his first year, because it comprises only one-half of his life, while his first year comprised his whole life. So even though his total life at that point is two years, the second of those two years would seem to go much faster than the first.
By the age of ten, time has speeded up considerably, and a year goes by ten times faster than when he was an infant, because his tenth year comprises only 10 percent of his total life. It’s only logical that he would perceive life to be passing by much more quickly than when he was, say, only five years of age.
At the age of fifty, a year is only 2 percent of the life span he has actually experienced, so he perceives time to be accelerating even faster. At one hundred (You are going to make it to a hundred, right?), he’s at 1 percent, meaning that his one-hundredth year consists of less conscious time (relative to his whole life) than did four days when he was only a year old.
What we’re talking about here is relativity and perspective. In absolute terms, the one-time baby’s one-hundredth year was, indeed, a genuine year — meaning that the earth circled the sun one time. But relative to the time span of his entire life, it was only a bit less than four days.
And while we’re at it, why not extend this thinking beyond death and see what it might mean if there’s life after death. Imagine how quickly time would pass when you hit your one-millionth birthday. By then, a year would be reduced to a one-millionth part of your total experience, the equivalent of thirty-one seconds to a one-year-old child. A baby would grow to become an adult in ten minutes!
But let’s get back to planet earth and life as we know it. There’s also a theory that when you’re young, the reason time seems almost to stand still is that you’re experiencing everything for the first time — first day in school, first date, first kiss, first varsity game, and so on. As people age, life — at least for most — tends to be very repetitive, so the moments aren’t savored like they were in their youth.
In this regard, I remember a friend of mine, who was a star athlete in high school, lamenting when we were in our first year of college, “Once you graduate from high school, life is pretty much over.” His comment too me aback, to put it mildly, but I’m glad now that he said what he did.
Why? Because it inspired me to make my adult life a thousand times better and more exciting than my life was as a kid and a teenager in a yukky Peyton Place environment. It motivated me to try things no one had ever tried before — some of them ending in disaster, but what a ride I’ve had. And, yes, time has accelerated every step of the way.
So which is reality — your absolute years or your perceived years? I would argue that both are reality, because both are true. It’s a fact that the earth circles the sun one time between each of your birthdays, but your perception of time speeding up is also a reality. After all, what we actually experience is life as we perceive it. Our perception of time passing more quickly may be wrong in absolute terms, but our experience is what it is.
That being the case, the one thing you don’t want to do is unthinkingly wish time to go even faster — anxiously awaiting the next big game, the next big closing, the next big date … and so on. A much better idea is to have the same mind-set toward life that you have toward sipping a fine wine. Savor and enjoy every drop of it, and it might just slow down a bit — or even a lot. It’s certainly worth trying.
Reprinted with permission from Robert Ringer.