No doubt you’ve heard an older person wonder out loud, “Where has the time gone?” And often in response, someone answers, sarcastically, “Time flies when you’re having fun.”
In the sense that perception is reality, the first statement is true, but the “time flies” response doesn’t explain the question.
(I promise I’ll relate this discussion to bass fishing before we’re through, and you’ll thank me for it.)
First, researchers explain that time does tend to pass more quickly when you’re doing something that’s challenging and that you enjoy. You’re fully engaged in the activity, you’re loving every minute of it, and you pay little attention to the clock. Minutes and hours seem to fly by, compared to activities that are routine or unpleasant.
In the same vein, almost everyone over 40 feels that time seems to pass ever more quickly as they grow older.
Several theories attempt to explain that phenomenon.
One of the oldest is the “proportional theory,” which suggests that time periods represent a smaller fraction of a person’s total life as he ages. That is, a year is 1/50th of a 50-year-old’s life, but a 10th of a 10-year-old’s life.
More recently, Duke University professor Adrian Bejan wrote in the paper, “Why the Days Seem Shorter As We Get Older,” that it’s a matter of physics.
People perceive the passage of time based on the number of mental images processed by the brain, he wrote. As the brain ages, its ability to process those images slows, and fewer images can be received and remembered.
“The human mind senses time changing when the perceived images change,” wrote Bejan. “Days seemed to last longer in your youth because the young mind receives more images during one day than the same mind in old age.”
I much prefer the “perceptual theory” proposed by Steve Taylor, Ph.D., in his book Making Time.
It’s not the brain’s ability to process mental images that affects our perception of time, Taylor noted, but the quality or novelty of those mental images. So many of the things a young person experiences are new and different, and they seem to take longer to live through.
“However, as we get older, we lose this intensity of perception, and the world becomes a dreary and familiar place — so dreary and familiar that we stop paying attention to it,” he wrote.
In other words, time has flown because you’ve been bored.
This wakeup call was driven home to me by Tim Sanders, a motivational speaker I heard at an American Sportfishing Association seminar a couple of years ago.
“Most people have only three days they remember in the past month,” he said. “Life is not the number of days you live but the number of days you remember.”
His message was that fishing makes memories, and memories make life more fulfilling.
Sanders may have been preaching to the choir that day, but it was a sermon I needed to hear.
Instead of lamenting how quickly time has passed, I need to process more “mental images”— images of foggy mornings and sunsets, of surface strikes and surging bass, and of fishing with friends and family. I need to get out more, and I bet you do, too.