Updated: Jun 18
It’s almost astonishing how we as humans are so used to the compartmentalization of time. As children, our time is boxed up into time tables that regulate how we tick-tock about our day, and as we grow up, we learn to function in the tight routines we maintain.
Apart from all of the nerve-racking changes that the pandemic has wreaked on us, an interesting outcome seems to be the way people are experiencing time. It seems as though our days are merging into an endless mush of uncoordinated and dreary events, and time is crawling at a glacial pace. On the other hand, it also feels like several months have been stolen from our lives. Our calendar seems to have gotten stuck in the quagmire of March, and the fact that June has been zooming by (pun intended) is, well, rather scary.
Psychologists have studied the perception of time, and it turns out that the judgement of time is based on cognitive functions such as attention, working memory and long-term memory, as well as drive states, moods, personality factors and emotions. This explains why boredom seems to stretch time thin. This is because we pay more attention to time itself, and the load on the memory (in terms of storing memorable experiences) increases. These factors also cause pleasant activities to seem like they finished before they began. What you perceive as fun seems to finish in a jiffy, while that Zoom Webinar seems to go on for eons.
Now, coming to the pandemic, research also shows that if we have more changing experiences within a certain duration, the duration is subjectively experienced to be longer. This might explain the stretching of months. There seems to be a lack of diverse stimuli in our lives now, in the sense that we are probably experiencing the same reality within the four walls of our homes (doesn’t every video call feel like déjà vu?). On a normal day, even a trip in the metro would lead to a bunch of diverse experiences- interesting sceneries, smells, noises, stimulating conversations and so on. Moreover, when we engage in routine activity as opposed to novel activity, we perceive shorter time intervals. This also explains the other point, the merging of days. Even if we do not have a ‘routine’ in the sense of the word, we do almost the same thing every day. Chores, work, webinars, repeat. This lack of novelty makes it feel like our days have merged together and become a void of nothingness.
Well, how can we intervene, you ask? BBC UK had, on their site, a few suggestions to improve the perception of passing time.
You can add more activities to your day. The point about novelty substantiates this point. Do some drawing, then maybe read a book, catch up with a friend and then do some gardening (or exercise).
It’s best not to watch too much TV (or Netflix, or Prime, or… you get it). This is also evidenced by the point regarding novelty- since these media do not lead to the formation of many memories.
You could avoid boring routines. If you need routine, it is understandable, but you can mix it up a little, and not follow a similar routine every day.
You can practice mindfulness. There isn’t so much research about this in Psychology for nothing. It’s a wonderful practice that can aid with this as well.
By – Meghna Pradeep Feature image by – Niharika Suri
References/ Read More At –
References: Wittmann, M. (2009). The inner experience of time. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1525), 1955-1967.