I have a genuine fear of running out of time. I wouldn’t call it an irrational fear either, since we are indeed all slowly running out of time. I do agree it doesn’t bring much to ponder on this, since we can’t really do much to gain more time. What we can do, however, is to add more content to the time we already have. You can’t get more amount of time, but you can trick your brain to change your perception of time, which is essentially the same thing.
I’ve had this feeling for a long time, but I was young so I couldn’t quite put it into words. Then a few years ago I came across a specific excerpt from Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. It describes my thoughts so seamlessly and accurately and I’m sure countless other people have had the same epiphany while reading it.
Imagine that you’re going away to a new place for a holiday or business trip. You’re excited as the trip draws near and once you arrive everything is new and exciting. Time moves slow at first, but as you get used to this new place and new routine it starts moving fast again.
There’s a widely spread false understanding about boredom. People usually think when they’re experiencing something new and interesting, time flies away, meaning it becomes shorter, while mundanity and emptiness slow down its pace.
This isn’t exactly true. Of course, monotony and dullness can stretch certain moments and make them “boring”, but they severely reduce and even completely destroy the biggest chunks of time we have.
On the other hand, a rich and interesting experience can shorten and give wings to an hour or a whole day, but when we consider a longer period of time, it becomes more solid, heavier with knowledge and memories. This makes the years full of events flow much slower than the poor and empty years that just disappear from our thoughts.
What we call boredom is a painful and unnoticeable passage of time as a result of tediousness; huge chunks of time can be severely reduced — a truly frightening thought. If every day is just the same as the next one then all days are equally uneventful and with this complete repetition even the longest life will be spent as a brief moment and will suddenly be over.
The habit is a form of sedation or at least a weakening of the perception of time. You know how the younger years of a person’s life pass slower than the later years, which move at an increasingly accelerated pace? Habit is one of the reasons why.
We know very well that including new and different habits is the only possible way to maintain a full life, refresh our feeling of time and achieve rejuvenation. That’s why we like to have a change of setting every once in a while, go on a vacation or look for adventures.
The first couple of days spent at a new place have a young and exciting vibe. Maybe even a little more than a week, although the exact amount might be different for everyone. Then, when you start getting used to this new place, you notice a sudden shortening of your days. You realise with actual concern that your days are starting to blend into each other and fly away quicker and quicker. The last week spent at this new place is gone almost unnoticed.
The same “reboot” of your sense of time is also present after you go back to your normal life. At least for the first few days back at home your days feel different and new again. Sadly, this period is even shorter — people get used to the old habits again faster than they let them go. If the perception of time is already numb or perhaps has never been well developed, that feeling fades away even quicker. After just a couple of hours, it’s as if you’ve never been away and your whole journey was just a dream.
What can we do about this? We all know the answer to this question. It’s just that it’s an uncomfortable solution. You have to introduce change as much as possible. Every time you start noticing something turn into a routine — change it. The reason it’s uncomfortable is because it literally disrupts your comfort. Habits make us feel comfortable and relaxed, because we know how things work and there’s no unexpected outcomes. It’s a natural animal behaviour of looking and sticking to something familiar and safe.
Change can be stressful and sometimes even annoying. But it’s essential if you want to “slow down” your time in the long run.