Over the last decade or so I’ve developed two theories about time. For a non-physicist – in fact, for a non-scientist – I think that’s pretty impressive.
The first one, formulated some time between 2000 and 2004, I will call the Slowing Time Down Theory. Sounds promising, doesn’t it?
In 2004, I went to Greece for ten days for the Athens Olympics. Nearly everyone I told thought I was mad to go “all that way” and spend “all that money” on airfares, not to mention “all that time” in flight, for just ten days on the ground.
The conventional wisdom in Australia is that if you travel to Europe you need to go at least for several months, which is surely as much a legacy of our days as an English colony as our long service leave entitlements are.
While I didn’t feel the need to justify my actions to anyone, I did take the time to explain two things to each person who seemed outraged or shocked by my decision.
Firstly, my sister-in-law had given me some great advice when I was deciding whether to go to Mexico in 2000 for eight days and that was: “Len, they can’t all be long trips.” In other words, if you wait till you have the money and time to take a three month holiday every time you want to travel longer than 10 hours away from Australia you’ll be waiting a very long time. In fact, the stars may never align. So better to take short trips when you can than potentially miss out on going at all.
Secondly, according to my Slowing Time Down Theory, the ten day trip would actually seem like a lot longer. In fact, it would feel more like a month. So the trip would definitely warrant the expense and the time spent flying.
This is what I had experienced in Mexico in 2000. I was gone for just eight days but it felt more like a few weeks. Then in 2001 I was in Greece for a month but it felt more like two to three months.
Why is it so? Well, it’s really quite straightforward.
Adult life is generally very highly scheduled. We are constantly moving through life according to a relatively strict routine. The alarm goes off at a regular time, you catch public transport (or drive) to work at a regular time, you start work at a regular time, have your lunch break at a regular time, finish work at a regular time. During the day, especially if you work in an office and super especially if you work in Government, you have regular meetings at regular times. You catch public transport (or drive) home, eat dinner, watch the news and/or your favourite TV shows and then finally go to bed all at – you guessed it – regular times. Do you go to the gym or piano or book club or any other activities? Chances are you do it at a regular time.
Weekends are a little bit more relaxed, but even then there’s usually a routine, especially if you have kids.
We are constantly aware of time. Where we need to be at a certain time, how long we need to be there, and what we’re doing next.
The Slowing Time Down Theory holds that the moment you break your regular routine and stop accounting for every minute of your day, time seems to slow down.
This is why when you’re on vacation, days stretch out and you seem to fit so much more into a single day. You might have things booked but they’re not at the same time every day. So it’s not that you don’t have things planned or have a schedule of sorts, it’s that it’s not a routine.
It even works if you just take time out and go away for a weekend. Weekends away always seem longer than normal weekends because you don’t follow the usual routine.
It also explains why time seems to last longer when you’re a child.
Even though your life might be routine, when you’re a kid you’re not the one doing the scheduling. It’s not you that’s hyper-aware of the time.
Others – your parents, your teacher, whoever is responsible for ringing the bell at school – are aware of it for you and propel you from one event to another. They tell you it’s time to get up, it’s time to eat breakfast, it’s time to go to school, have lunch, do your homework…and on it goes. You just float from one event to the other. And then on the holidays, when all regular activity is on hold, time seems to stretch out even longer.
As you get older and become more responsible for yourself, time suddenly starts speeding up. Next thing you know you’re saying things like, “Wow, where did the year go?” and “time flies!” and “the weekend went by too quickly!” You never hear kids saying stuff like that.
So there, my friends, you have it. The secret to slowing time down. Switch off your routine. Take off your watch. And just live.
Trust me, it works. Every time.