Why time seems to pass faster as we age

1/ I’ve been mega-obsessed with this feeling.

A year as a 36-year-old seems so much shorter as compared to when I was a kid or even as a teen.

It seems cosmically unfair – we have fewer years to live, and each year flies by faster.

2/ But, why is that happening?

My tentative conclusion is that it’s an unfortunate outcome of how evolution shaped our brain to be an efficient storage device. 

3/ Our brain is a prediction device.

Its top job is to construct a model of the world so that we get a survival and reproductive edge. 

4/ To be able to predict a phenomenon is to be able to control it and have power over it, so our brain is obsessed with predicting how things are going to go.

It wants to be able to predict how mates are found, how money is made, what makes people laugh, and so on.. 

5/ But it’s also efficient.

If an event has happened before, what’s the point of paying attention to it and storing it in memory?

Redundant storage is inefficient, so the brain likely only pays attention to and memorises what’s new and surprising. 

6/ As kids, everything is new and surprising.

The world is full of learning opportunities, so the brain makes massive updates in memories.

Full snapshots of your birthdays, vacations, days at school and so on. 

7/ Surprising information comes in droves every single day, so the brain simply paid a lot of attention, and hence you felt there were so-many-slices-of-time in a day.

It also stored that rich information in memory, so even looking back, days felt longer. 

8/ As we grow, new surprises become a merely tiny-patch on an old memory.

Why store the full details of your N-th vacation when you can simply store the diff of it from your first one? 

9/ In other words, as we age, our memories and attention become low-fidelity versions of their former self.

As patterns in life start repeating themselves, the slices-of-time that you notice and memorise become fewer and coarser. 

10/ Naturally, if anyone asks where did time in your life go, you’d access your memory and find the majority of them relating to childhood, and very few from the recent times.

And that’s why time feels like it accumulated in the past, and not in the recent present. 

11/ The main culprit in time-speeding up is predictability.

The more predictable your days are, the shorter they will feel. 

12/ A thought experiment.

If you have a stable job, you can pretty much mentally time travel a full year and find your days to be similar.

But if I ask you to imagine doing a PhD in Sanskrit at a foreign university, you would have no idea what your days are going to look like. 

13/ So, predictability not just impacts perception of time in the present but also for the future.

As kids, a vacation was full of surprising information, so it actually felt rich and long.

Now, your nth trip to Goa feels much shorter as you know what you’re going to do. 

14/ So, what to do? How to slow down time?

The only approach I can think of is to break the predictability and actively plan to be (massively) surprised.

Take on projects that you have no idea about. 

15/ Unfortunately, we are evolved to avoid exploring and taking risks as we age.

Our brain pushes us to exploit more of the world we have come to understand better instead of pushing us to explore more.

But that’s precisely how you’ll make your years fly. 

16/ You need to ask yourself.

How do you want to answer how you lived your life?

Long one, or the one that *feels* long?

What’s more important to you?

17/ Interestingly, the solution to slowing down time is not boredom (as I thought).

Boredom is a negative state. The solution is to dive head-first into unknown territory.

That is, to travel physically or mentally,

18/ Note that we’re really good at grokking patterns / making predictive models.

As soon as we figure out a winning condition for a game or the story plot, we lose interest in it.

19/ So an existential crisis is a spoiler alert for life.

The brain with all its predictive models asks: is this all to life?

But it’s mistaken – it’s all only to the life that it has chosen to live.

20/ A (radically) different life that it can’t predict will keep brain at its toes.

The key word here is “radically”.

The smaller the change, the less memorable the time.

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