The Science-Backed Way to Slow Down Time
Why time seemed slower when you were a kid
If this year feels like it has flown by, there’s a solid scientific reason for that. Most of us spent it locked in our homes, doing the exact same thing day in and day out.
It turns out that our brains love this kind of predictability, neuroscientists at Brown told me. The human brain evolved to keep us in the comfort zone of a predictable routine because that improved our chances of survival in our past environments. For example, a reliable routine that helped us regularly find food kept us alive.
Even before the pandemic, our lives were rather predictable. Think: We tend to eat the same meals, watch the same TV, do the same thing at the gym (at the same time of day), and have the same conversations with family and co-workers.
To report my new book, The Comfort Crisis, I traveled 30,000 miles around the world, met with experts ranging from Harvard researchers and Icelandic geneticists to Buddhist Lamas and Special Forces soldiers, and also spent more than a month in the remote Alaskan backcountry.
The book investigates how modern comforts and conveniences are tied to some of our most pressing problems — heart disease, diabetes, depression, and a sense of purposelessness — and how engaging with a handful of evolutionary discomforts can dramatically improve our mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. Leaning into predictability is another way our comfortable environment is altering our bodies and brains.
It’s an evolutionary feature that is now a sort of bug in our overly safe and predictable world. Scientists in the United Kingdom recently found that our brain has a trancelike “autopilot” or “sleepwalking” mode. Once we’ve done something over and over, our mind learns to zone out. Instead of being present and aware, we’re far more likely to be lost somewhere inside our noggin. We’re planning what we’ll eat for dinner, wondering when the new season of that one show comes out, speculating about our office frenemy’s salary. We live in a state of constant mental churn and meaningless chatter.
The fix is simple. Just learn and do new things. Simple but not easy: The brain avoids newness for the same reason it leans into…