How to Control Your Perception of Time So You Can Be Happier

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You can argue that a minute is a minute, no matter who you are or where you live, but the perceived speed of time can change person-by-person and even minute-by-minute. Ask anyone who has ever done something they have not enjoyed; they may say that time slowed and dragged by. And consider the idiom, “Time flies when you’re having fun.” Time often seems to go too fast when we’re enjoying something, like a vacation or a movie. While you can’t lengthen or shorten time at your leisure, you can change how you perceive time in order to become more productive, less rushed or happier.

What’s Your Time Perception?

The first step is to get an idea of how you perceive time. The Zimbardo Time Prespective Inventory is a free assessment that gives you a set of scores across different time perspectives. Once you take the test (it only takes about 5 minutes, though depending on your frame of mind, it may feel like 10), you can use your scores to measure your time perception against the averages to identify areas where a change in time perspective may benefit you.

Analyzing Your Time Perception

As an example, the assessment gave me a score of 4.77 in the future time perspective. Measured against the graph, I am landing high above the average future time perspective score of 3.5. When I review Zimbardo’s description of time perspectives, I am clearly a future-oriented person. The summary tells me this about a future-oriented person:
They are able to avoid temptations and distractions that are perceived as short-term inducements or time wasting, such as play and other consummatory activities, when there is work to be done or tasks to be accomplished. Much of their behavior is primarily an instrumental means to goal attainment.
No surprises there! But reading on, the summary says:
If their goals, when attained, are not substantial, it is likely they will feel as if they have worked hard and become successful at something that really wasn’t worth it, thus leaving them with a sense of existential meaningless of their life’s worth — in other words, being set up for mid-life crises.
Wow, so I have a very strong propensity for facing a questionable feeling of worth if I continue to put so much weight on goals and goal attainment without more balance on my expectations. Combined with my lower-than-average score in the present-hedonism perspective, this certainly suggests I may be able to benefit from slowing down and enjoying life more.

Changing Your Perception of Time

The assessment above is an exercise developed with the book, “The Time Paradox,” by Phillip Zimbardo and John Boyd. The book contains quite a bit of information about each specific time perspective and how managing your perception effectively can lead to increased success, better health and greater fulfillment. In general terms, though, once you know how you perceive time and determine how you WANT to perceive time, you can teach yourself to control your perception and how it impacts every aspect of your life. I view this kind of change as dependent on three key thought processes:
  • Understanding relativity: Your perception of time relates directly to your life, your environment and your internal pressures. Considering this relativity is necessary if you want to bring about change.
  • Consistent awareness: Being able to distinguish between internal and external time pressures, and being able to manage those pressures requires that you have a steady awareness of where they are stemming from.
  • Conscious effort: Changing your perception of anything isn’t easy, but with conscious thought, measured actions, and repetition, you can change your time perception to reach increased fulfillment.
How do you perceive time? Do you think you could benefit from a change in perception? Image credit: otdfi

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Time Perception

How does our brain perceive time?

The perception of time is not a straightforward process. It involves various parts of the brain, including the basal ganglia, cerebellum, and prefrontal cortex. These areas work together to create our sense of time. The basal ganglia, for instance, is thought to act as a clock, counting time intervals. The cerebellum helps in timing motor activities, while the prefrontal cortex is involved in prospective timing, which is anticipating future events. However, our perception of time can be influenced by various factors such as attention, memory, emotions, and even the drugs we take.

Can our perception of time be manipulated?

Yes, our perception of time can be manipulated. Various factors can influence how we perceive time. For instance, when we are afraid, time seems to slow down. This is because our brain goes into a hyperactive mode, taking in more information per second and thus making time appear to slow down. Similarly, when we are bored or waiting for something, time seems to drag on. On the other hand, time flies when we are engaged or having fun. This is because our brain is occupied with other tasks and doesn’t pay much attention to the passage of time.

Why does time seem to speed up as we get older?

As we age, our perception of time seems to speed up. This is known as the “time flies” phenomenon. One theory suggests that this is because we have fewer new experiences as we get older. When we are young, everything is new and exciting, and our brain takes more time to process these experiences. As we age, we have fewer new experiences, and our brain processes information more quickly, making time seem to pass faster.

How does culture influence our perception of time?

Culture plays a significant role in how we perceive time. Different cultures have different concepts of time. For instance, in Western cultures, time is seen as linear and finite, and people tend to plan their activities around time. In contrast, in many Eastern cultures, time is seen as cyclical and infinite, and activities are more spontaneous.

Can meditation influence our perception of time?

Yes, meditation can influence our perception of time. Studies have shown that regular meditation can slow down our perception of time. This is because meditation helps us to focus on the present moment, making us more aware of the passage of time.

How does sleep affect our perception of time?

Sleep has a significant impact on our perception of time. When we are sleep-deprived, our brain’s ability to process information slows down, making time seem to drag on. On the other hand, when we are well-rested, our brain processes information more efficiently, making time seem to pass more quickly.

How does time perception differ in children and adults?

Children and adults perceive time differently. For children, time seems to pass more slowly because they are constantly learning and absorbing new information. As we age and have fewer new experiences, our brain processes information more quickly, making time seem to pass faster.

Can drugs alter our perception of time?

Yes, certain drugs can alter our perception of time. Stimulants like caffeine and amphetamines can make time seem to speed up, while depressants like alcohol and benzodiazepines can make time seem to slow down. Hallucinogens like LSD can distort time perception to such an extent that time may seem to stop altogether.

How does time perception relate to mental health?

Time perception is closely related to mental health. Disorders like depression and anxiety can distort time perception, making time seem to drag on. On the other hand, people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often underestimate the amount of time a task will take, leading to procrastination and time management issues.

Can we train ourselves to perceive time more accurately?

Yes, it is possible to train ourselves to perceive time more accurately. Techniques like mindfulness and meditation can help us become more aware of the passage of time. Additionally, practicing time estimation tasks can improve our time perception skills. However, it’s important to remember that our perception of time is subjective and can be influenced by many factors.

Alyssa GregoryAlyssa Gregory
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Alyssa Gregory is a digital and content marketer, small business consultant, and the founder of the Small Business Bonfire — a social, educational and collaborative community for entrepreneurs.

time managementwork life balance
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