Why Conventional Wisdom About Slowing Time Won't Work...

Why Conventional Wisdom About Slowing Time Won't Work, (In Fact, it is Exactly, Perfectly, Wrong)

Recently nearly a dozen people sent me an article about how to slow down time. It was thoughtful, articulate, compelling, and as it turns out exactly, perfectly, wrong. The author's observation was that the pace of life is picking up (true), that constant interaction with technology is causing our minds to race (true), and that the key to slowing down time is to detach, slow down, and clear our minds (exactly.perfectly.wrong). Why is it wrong? Well, I'll get to that in a second, but first to clarify - the author's advice is not bad advice - lots of people probably need to detach, slow and clear their minds - there are lots of health and other benefits to doing so. However if slowing time down is the goal, then this advice is exactly, perfectly wrong. In order to show why we'll need a brief lesson in neuroscience. 

Philip Zimbardo of Stanford was one of the first to look into how our brains focus on time - in particular that sometimes we are thinking about the future, sometimes the present, and sometimes the past. He calls these “temporal perspectives.” Here’s the critical factor: when it comes to time perception (how long did this day last, this month, this year, last summer) all that matters is past temporal perspective. More specifically, the you that you are and the time you experience, all exists in long term memory. The future doesn’t matter, the present doesn’t matter, only memory. You experience with time perception is directly correlated to the quantity of recallable memories you store, and how intense (deep) they are. How you experience time in the present actually has an inverse relationship with your perception of time. This is where the fallacy begins…

“The day was super hectic, busy, it flew by… alas time sped up and I ‘lost time.” Yes, time in the present temporal perspective was swift, but the key question is, “did you lay down a lot of memories?” If none of the high speed hectic activities were intense or meaningful or recallable, well then.. yes. But consider a long boring day where time extends to infinity in the present temporal perspective. The clock on the wall simply stops ticking and the day is endless. Most likely this is actually going to leave almost no memories… Sure slowing down your mind and assuming a zen-like pose might be good for your nervous system, but it won’t create memories.

So here’s why the advice is exactly perfectly wrong. In order to expand time, you have to create lots of recallable, intense memories. In order to do that, you have to process lots of information at a high rate. Slowing or emptying your mind? It might be important for a health check, but those days of high speed “in the zone” engagement where the pressure is on and you perform at your best? That’s the stuff time perception is made of.

More in my forthcoming book (working logo below)


A Really Living / Event Horizon Moment: Four Movements in Time

Core to the philosophy of the Art of Really Living is creating those intense, memorable moments that slow time. Designing the "Four Movements in Time" performance did exactly that and became a fractal of itself. By performing a show about about really living and creating event horizon moments we simultaneously created a really living event horizon moment in the form of the show. Time slowed dramatically in preparation for the show. The intensity was probably the highest for me as I had two roles and the lion's share of the content. The event featured all 5 components associated with an event horizon moment:

  1. EMOTIONAL INTENSITY: Talk about terrifying. I've never written poetry before, much less performed it as a rant in front of an audience. 81 lines to memorize while flipping slides, changing the lighting with a remote, holding up props, and then changing roles and personas to the TED talk 5 times during the show. That said, hearing Ani play and watching Tess interpret the message flooded me with joy to be associated with such talent and see it come to life.
  2. PHYSICAL INTENSITY: not for me, but certainly Tess (and Ani) were putting it out there physically as you can see in the photos below. The volume of Ani's playing and dramatic dynamics literally gave me goosebumps. Tess's movements are startlingly athletic and flexible.
  3. UNIQUENESS: This was not like anything I or we had done before and really stretched all of us I think. The mix of piano concerto designed in flow with a TED talk about time, syncopated with a poetry rant interpreted through modern dance was unforgettable.
  4. FLOW: I had moments of flow in preparation - especially when I memorized the rant / manifesto and then once on stage I experienced it most of the time I was up there - I assume the same was true for Ani and Tess. It was 80 minutes long but was over in a second.
  5. BEAUTY: The endless sustain of the final chords of the prologue, Ani's elegant black dress and cheekbones, the lights and colors of the slides and lights with the gorgeous face and movements of Tess and a message I believe is beautiful as well: all this fractalized into a micro of the macro message.

Below are some photos from the event. We also captured it in video - not sure when or how we might share it. Regardless we will do it again.


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One Resolution for 2015: "Race Your Strengths"

"Race Your Strengths" was a refrain repeated daily for decades by Mike Walden, the head coach for a small cycling club in Detroit Michigan. During those 25+ years, this small club produced over 120 national champions, 12 world champions, 10 Olympians and 4 Olympic medals. There was no mysterious talent pool in Detroit during this period, and all of the athletes were local. Nonetheless, by a relentless focus on helping people find their strengths as athletes, this one club produced more than 25% of all national cycling medalists for a 25 year period. walden

For 2015 I propose we make only one resolution - the kind of resolution that "floats all boats." For 2015 I propose that we follow Mike Walden's advice and extend it beyond athletics. Let’s design our lives to align closer to our strengths and natural talents, and design around those activities that are true weaknesses. When we are operating in sync with our native capabilities, we are more resilient: we can handle greater amounts of stress because we are filling our bucket with energy and positive feedback. When we are pursuing activities that are in line with our strengths, we experience more moments of "flow" where time speeds by in the present, buts creates a treasure trove of significant memories. When we are "racing our strengths" we have more and greater chances to have life-defining moments of "really living," experiences of such meaning and gravity, that time slows, stops, or even expands.

Life is short: time to race your strengths.