Summer is coming, and if it’s like every other summer of my adulthood it will last about three minutes. It seems like I’m buying beach towels one week and school uniforms the next. What has happened to the endless summer? These years, every season seems to be over before I’ve unloaded all my clothes and shoes from the under-the-bed storage. My cousin and I saw each other at a play last week and both realized the last real conversation we had was at Christmas. “That long?” we both said, since neither of us have any earthly idea where the past three months have gone.
I used to think that life moved so swiftly because I am such a busy person, so I chided myself internally for not taking life slower. Thankfully, busyness is not the culprit. Scientists have actually studied why, as people get older, they have a sense that time is actually moving faster than it is. One theory?
Surely you know what those are. I do, because I’m knee-deep in them. I head into my office every morning at 7:40 a.m. with my second cup of coffee in hand. I return emails first, do postings next, eat a banana about an hour later, exercise during the lunch hour ( I walk and run the exact same route every day), return more emails after lunch, take a break at 3 p.m. when my daughter comes in from school…I won’t go on. This is the story most days, with a few variations here and there. I love my job, my hobbies, and my life, but all of it tends to waltz along with a familiar 1-2-3 step. It’s a pleasant rhythm, but at the end of the day, the repetition makes the dance a bit of a blur.
So, based on this theory, what do scientists offer as a way to slow down the days, months, years? I love the answer: Experience more “firsts.”
As children, we were constantly experiencing new things for the first time. The younger we were, the more “firsts” we had.
First day of school. First bicycle. First big snow. First time off the high dive. First double-digit birthday. First pet. First time to walk to school alone. First kiss.
When we experience things for the first time, there are so many details to remember that the list of encoded memories is dense, and reading them back gives us a feeling that those experiences must have taken forever. I remember that first time off the high dive with slow-motion precision: the long walk around the pool deck to the diving board; looking up at the stairs with my hands gripping the rails; the feel of the ridges in the aluminum ladder as I climbed endlessly up; crouching for a moment at the top (I hate heights); the rough board under my feet as I walked to the edge; focusing my eyes on the water below and ignoring the people waiting their turn at the bottom of the stairs; turning around and walking back toward the ladder (I hate heights, did I mention?); turning away from the ladder and walking back to the edge of the board (because I hate being fearful worse than I hate heights); sticking one foot out and bouncing off the board and into the air; falling, splashing, and then sputtering up for air because I had plunged so deeply into the cold, chlorinated water. Yeah, and I can remember about five things from the last two months.
I’m not old, but I’m also not ready for my list of encoded memories to fade away into shallow nothingness. Time is relative, I know, but I’d like to savor my memories…if I can call them to mind at all. So what’s a girl like me doing in a rut like this? And what, if anything, should I do about it?
Scientists say that even small changes in the routine can help time move at a slower pace. Suggestions? Drive a new route to work. This won’t happen for me since I work from home, but the next time I drive to the office where I volunteer, I’m going a totally different way. Will this make all the difference for my encoded memories? I have no idea, but for goodness sakes, there isn’t anything wrong with shaking up the routine. And I’m ready for some significant “firsts” again. Just a few. But unlike in childhood, adulthood “firsts” don’t come without some effort. Most of us who waltz in endless routine circles must be intentional about experiencing new things. We prefer our tried and true experiences because they are predictable and don’t require a lot of effort or thought. It crossed my mind to take a different route on my walk/run yesterday, but it was easier to stick with the old route. See? Even when I’m exerting energy I’m finding ways to exert less energy.
Another suggestion for slowing life down: Go to a place you’ve never been. So, in the spirit of experiencing a “first,” I’m traveling to Ghana on May 13. It’s my first time to that country. My first time to Africa. My first time to travel across the ocean without a group (it’s just Erin and me). So there you go. I’m shaking up the routine in a big way and hoping to make a list of dense encoded memories – just to slow things down a bit. Of course, time is relative and it will fly by in Ghana just as quickly as it does when I’m living in the midst of my ruts, but I’m hoping this “first” will allow the memories to play back in slow motion and with great detail. But just in case…I’m taking two cameras.