What Time Feels Like When You’re Improvising.

At first glance, time seems to be as objective a measure of our reality as we could hope to find. Seconds, minutes, hours. Weeks, months, years. Time appears to pass in a consistent, dependable way. But when you add the filters of human experience into the mix, things get more complicated.

For example, it’s often been noted that time seems to speed up as we age. For a 4 year old child say, a year feels like an eternity. It’s 25% of their entire existence. They will learn countless things about the world, have any number of new experiences, their minds will literally be different at the end of the year than they were at the beginning.

Things are very different for a 40 year old. A year is a mere 2.5% of their life. Very little about their minds or their experiences or the things they hold true will change. And so, a year seems to flash by in an instant.

But even for our hopelessly over the hill 40 year old, there are ways in which this change in the perception of time can be reversed. As I’ve hinted at, it has to do with the way they use their mind:

During what psychologists call “flow states,” where one is completely immersed and absorbed in a mental or physical act, people often report an altered sense of time, place, and self. It’s a transportive and pleasurable experience that people seek to achieve, and that neuroscience is now seeking to understand. A great example of flow state is found in many improvised art forms, from music to acting to comedy to poetry, also known as “spontaneous creativity.” Improvisation is a highly complex form of creative behavior that justly inspires our awe and admiration. The ability to improvise requires cognitive flexibility, divergent thinking and discipline-specific skills, and it improves with training.

Children are naturally able to absorb themselves in whatever activity they’re engaged in. The world is still interesting to them. Learning is still their nature state. As a result, they are more often in a state where their minds are in something like this “flow state”. This state is still available as we grow older as long as we don’t allow ourselves to see the world as boring and predictable. As long as we still find ways to find the world interesting and worthy of our attention.

So if life feels like it’s passing you by, find something to be interested in. Engage with the world more fully. Who knows, you might live a little longer.