Why Life Speed Up as You Get Older

I read an interesting book about time recently and I want to share the coolest insights with you in this post.

The hourglass: an apt analogy to why time speeds up as you get older

“[Ernst] Jünger watches as a funnel-shaped hole appears in the upper bulb while a cone grows in the lower bulb under the velvet stream of soundlessly falling sand.

It is not a comforting though, he reflects, that though times slips by it does not stop. For what vanishes from above piles up a new supply below.

Every time the glass is turned upside down the reservoir of available time is restored- you have only to stretch out your arm. But no matter how often you can tap the new supply, time passes more and more quickly.

In hourglasses the grains of sand increasingly rub one another smooth until finally they flow almost without friction from one bulb into the other, polishing the neck wider all the time.

The older an hourglass the more quickly it runs. Unnoticed, the hourglass measure out ever shorter hours. This chronometric imperfection hides a metaphor: ‘For man, too, the recurring years fly past more and more quickly, until finally the measure is full. Man, too, is increasingly permeated by impressions.”

So why does time pass quicker when we’re older?

To answer that we need to know:

Why Time Passes Slower When We’re Young

William James is the man for this one:

“In youth we may have an absolutely new experience, subjective or objective, every hour of the day.

Apprehension is vivid, the retentiveness strong, and our recollections of that time, like those of a time spent in rapid and interesting travel, are of something intricate, multitudinous and long-drawn out.

But as each passing year converts some of this experience into automatic routine which we hardly note at all, the days and the weeks smooth themselves out in recollection to contentless units, and the years grow hollow and collapse.”

And also:

“The intensity of emotions, their number, the keenness of memories and expectations, the effect of routine or of its opposite – all that lends psychological time its own rhythm and duration.”

Why Time Flows Faster When We’re Old

Enter Jean-Marie Guyau:

“Old age, by contrast, is more like the unchanging scenery of the classical theatre, a simple place, sometimes a true unity of time, place and action that concentrates everything round one dominant activity and expunges the rest; at other times the absence of time, place and action. The weeks resemble one another, the months resemble one another, the monotony of life drags on. All these images fuse into a single image. In the imagination, time is abridged. Desire does the same: as we approach the end of life we say every year, ‘Another year gone! What did I do with it? What did I feel, see, achieve? How it it possible for the three hundred and sixty-five days that have passed to seem no more than a couple of months?”

Basically, as we get older things don’t shock us anymore. In our youth, our memory uses time markers to denote the special memories that are worth remembering; these time markers are references points for our memory.

“A period that brings up many memories will expand when seen in retrospect and seems to have lasted longer than an equally long period comprising few memories. Conversely, time markers will become less numerous at about middle age and later, and in the void thus created time will speed up subjectively. That is an explanation that, at first sight, has much in common with William James’ view of the vivid and exciting memories of youth and the uniformity and routine of later years, but what Shum added to that view was that the crucial factor might well be the temporal organisation of memories: together with variety the network of time markers disappears, and with it an important access to memories from that period.”

What You Can Do to Make Time Fly Slower

Here’s Jean-Marie Guyau:

“If you want to lengthen the perspective of time, then fill it, if you have the chance, with a thousand new things. Go on an exciting journey, rejuvenate yourself by breathing new life into the world around you. When you look back you will notice that the incidents along the way and the distance you have travelled have heaped up in your imagination, all these fragments of the visible world will forum up in a long row, and that, as people say so fittingly, presents you with a long stretch of time.”


Why You Should Cut Toxic People Out From Your Life

Chances are you have a toxic person or two in your life right now.

You know you’d be better off if you shut this person out of your life but you’ve either invested too much time or have become too emotionally invested in him/her that it can be difficult to severe all ties.

I’m here to guide you through the world of logic and reason (and science) and show you why keeping toxic people orbiting around your social circle is a bad thing (if you needed any further convincing in the first place, that is).

Toxic people drain your energy

A group of researchers (Fritz et al., 2010) gave pre-school teachers daily surveys at 3 different time points (Friday evening, Sunday to cover weekend, next Friday).

They wanted to find out how having hassles at home affects recovery and subsequent well-being in the weekdays that followed.

Here’s what the researchers found:

Affective well-being during weekend Affective well-being the following week
Psychological detachment ♦♦
Mastery ♦♦♦
Relaxation ♦ ♦♦♦♦ ♦ ♦♦♦♦
Non-work hassles (negative impact) ♦♦♦

So you know how you’re supposed to relax and mentally detach from the workplace during your weekend?

Hanging around toxic people doesn’t help with that one bit.

The researchers found that well-being was negatively impacted by non-work hassles.

This doesn’t mean that toxic people in the families or social circles of these pre-school teachers are to blame, but it does raise an interesting idea:

Toxic people will ruin your leisure time, hamper your recovery from work, and most importantly, adversely affect your overall well-being.

Stress is stress

You know how stress hormones are summoned by your body to tackle job-related assignments in the workplace?

Well, emotionally taxing people will draw on the same stress-related functional systems in your leisure time and will burn you out.

In his book Gorilla Mindset, Mike Cernovich emphasises that you cut out the negative people and spiritual vampires from your life because, otherwise, “you are fighting off stress, anxiety, and worry rather than pushing forward toward what you want to achieve.”

Toxic and emotionally draining people also affect your overall productivity, as filmmaker, artist, and found of the Webby awards, Tiffany Shlain posits in Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind:

“You’re letting those people into your brain and they’re going to influence your thoughts. I find that I even dream about some of the people I follow [on social media]. We need to be really mindful of who we let into our stream of consciousness.”

So not only can toxic people influence your thoughts, but they will impede your recovery from work and ultimately influence how you use your newly accumulated energy.

Choose to surround yourself with upbeat and vibrant personalities that you will build a positive ecosystem of emotion together with.

After all, eliminating negative people and refusing to argue is a choice, not luck.

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my free weekly newsletter for more psychological insights into everyday life.

How to Succeed With Long-Term Projects

How can we succeed at long-term projects when we’ve grown up in a society that places a premium on short-term rewards?

From a very early age, we are taught that if we do x, we will be rewarded with y.

As children, we were determined to eat all our vegetables during dinner to be rewarded with a sweetie for dessert.

We studied for our tests so that we could get a better grade.

And, as Scott Belsky notes in his book Making Ideas Happen, this ‘x for y’ approach extends into later life as well:

“As we entered the workforce, the good grade became the pay-check, the recognition, and the potential for a raise or bonus.”

It is therefore not surprising we have a desire to somehow be validated with rewards in the short-term, whether they are tangible or otherwise.

This ‘carrot-and-stick’ type of motivation is all fundamentally rooted in Skinnerian psychology.

If a behaviour is rewarded, the frequency of this behaviour is increased.

And since this short-term rewarding of behaviours has permeated our lives since we were little, it’s difficult to ween ourselves of it when pursuing long-term goals and projects.

You may be thinking – why is it important to unplug from this short-term reward system? Here’s Scott to address that question:

“When a project is handed to us with a clear objective and a clear payoff, it is easy to economize our energy.The rewards system of the traditional workplace keeps us on track, in line with deadlines from the higher-ups (…)

However, these tendencies become destructive as soon as we begin to pursue long-term goals or attempt something extraordinary.

Mustering the stamina to pursue bold ideas against all odds – and building a system of incremental rewards to make this possible – is an exceedingly challenging task.”

So what can we do to make sure we succeed with our long-term projects?

Develop a Tolerance for Uncertainty and Ambiguity

I feel this point deserved its own post which you can read here.

Set Up a System of Incremental Rewards

For us to stick with our long-term projects and get through the periods of uncertainty, we need to fundamentally change what is motivating us.

We need to shift our focus to what intrinsically motivates us rather than place a premium on external rewards such as money, praise, or recognition (i.e. extrinsic motivation).

Intangible qualities like wanting to prove something to yourself, doing it for the journey, seeing if you can do it.

“While it can be psychologically [and financially] difficult to depart from the race toward conventional rewards after a lifetime working with one mindset, doing so is imperative to succeeding in the long term. Otherwise, you will struggle to sustain your long-term projects amidst the desire to be validated in the near term.”

We simply love progress and it’s funny how our desire for progress can manifest itself in the most unassuming life situations.

I talk about some of the ways this happens in a previous post but to take one example, consider “Door Close” buttons in elevators. In Making Ideas Happen, Scott explains the purpose of these buttons:

“It is the same sensation as the one you get pushing the “Door Close” button in an elevator: even though doing so may, in fact, do nothing (many of these buttons are disabled), it is satisfying to feel you are making progress.”

It is simply in our nature to want to keep progressing, to keep things moving forward.

So we need something to show us we are on track. For this reason, we need incremental rewards.

I’ve discussed the important role these incremental rewards play in life in a previous post.

But the gist of the post is this:

You may need to break-up a long-term projects into a series of smaller steps to get to where you want to be.

Become Intrinsically Motivated (Do It For Yourself)

To get to where you want to be you have to, as Scott says, “find ways to re-engineer you reliance on traditional rewards systems. Rather than fight your natural inclinations, you must short-circuit your focus on the short term.”

 Fundamentally, you have to do it for yourself.

That’s the only thing that will sustain you through the short-term pain of failure or rejection in reaching that grand vision, your end goal.

In The Dip, Seth Godin puts it this way:

Short-term pain has more impact on most people than long-term benefits do, which is why it’s so important for you to amplify the long-term benefits of not quitting.

You need to remind yourself of life at the other end of the Dip because it’s easier to overcome the pain of yet another unsuccessful cold call if the reality of a success sales career is more concrete.

It’s easier to stick out a lousy class in college if you can picture graduation day.

Picture the end goal.

In fact, visualize it.

What’s the vision?

Detail it, even use different sensory modalities to describe what attaining that end goal will feel, taste, smell like.

In a nutshell:

The drive to pursue long term creative goals goes against the grain of the comfortable trickling stream of short term rewards that are meant to sustain and maintain the status quo. To push our ideas to fruition – time and time again – we must find ways to overpower our basic tendencies and nearsighted motivations.

We can do this by becoming intrinsically motivated, developing a tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity, and setting up a system of incremental rewards.

 P.S. Hope this helped. Keep in touch by signing up to the community’s email list.