Routine is accelerating time, and I don't like it

posted by Jeff | Thursday, November 9, 2023, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

I have been struggling with anxiety a lot the last few weeks. It's bad. It's keeping me up at night, I look tired, I feel tired and I'm generally just spent from the constant worry about everything. Sure, the world is a lot, so everyone has that. But I'm also feeling anxiety from the fact that it seems like time is flying by. Weeks are now days, quarters feel like a single month. I mean, it feels like we just did Thanksgiving. It's alarming, unnerving, unsettling.

As any otherwise scientific mind might do, I wanted to understand why age seems to accelerate time. After all, when you're in high school, elementary school feels like it's decades ago by adult standards. You can kind of explain that away by the human developmental process, as you become fully formed. But then you get to be an adult, and you think, "A year seemed to last forever, and now it's over quickly."

Research, which is weird because it's about human perceptions, something that seems like a hard thing to sample and measure, indicates that the brain seems to perceive time relative to the uniqueness of its stimuli. In other words, as you age, you see and do more things, and the more you see and do, the less likely that it's something that you have not seen before. Sameness blends together, and without the uniqueness to associate with moments in time, the less distinct each day is.

This completely tracks with me, and maybe I even instinctively understood it. I've been desperately thinking about how we can get back to Europe. That two weeks seemed to last much longer than any two weeks since. The reason is obvious, because we visited five countries (six if you count a layover in Frankfurt) that I had never been to. All of that sensory input was new, whether it was places, people, culture, sights, smells, etc. Every one of those days seemed impossibly long, in a good way. Crawling into bed was satisfying because of all that we had seen.

I'm emphasizing something like new countries here, but I don't want to make it totally about places. Sometimes it's the context, and if that varies, it provides the variability that slows things down. For example, you'd think that after doing three cruises a year for the last decade, that each voyage would go by quickly. While the places are the same, the variability comes in from all of the different people involved. You encounter new sets of people, repeatedly, whether it's at dinner, in the bar, activities, and people are as different as anything can be. That's what I get most out of those trips, and I crave it, even though that level of social interaction is a little exhausting. Heck, just feeling like I belong in a group of people, at times, feels like a new, unique experience. You can apply the same thing to a local resort stay, or having friends over, or whatever. This sort of thing breaks the routine, even if the places seem routine.

It seems like every Friday, when I step away from my desk, I'm excited to be at the weekend, but simultaneously distressed that I've already arrived at another one. Work can be somewhat repetitive in nature, which is why I was so glad to visit the mothership back in August. Also, shit, that was three months ago. See what I mean?

I don't want to add more planning and structure to life, but I do feel like I need to find ways to break up the routines in a positive way. This year seemed to be going at a slower pace up until recently, because there are so many things that we have done, places we've gone, people we've met. Of course, I don't want anything to be super disruptive in a negative way either (I'm looking at you, 2020 and 2021).

As a sidebar, maybe this is why I crave new music all of the time.


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