How To Slow Time

I live a charmed life. The only thing that really bums me out is when I think, "Oh, look. Twenty years have passed and it feels like 18 months." So I'm always looking for ways to slow time. Not slow the present moment. It's easy to slow the present moment. Put your dick in a George Foreman Grill and the next 30 seconds will feel like an eternity. I'm actually looking to speed up the present moment, because when the present moment passes quickly it usually means good things are happening. 

It's my experience of life and my view of the time that has passed in aggregate that I want to slow and expand. You can say, Tough shit, time is time. You can't make it seem any slower. But that's not quite true. 

Imagine we were in Estes Park, Colorado looking at the Rocky Mountains in the distance. 

"I can make those mountains bigger," I tell you. You disagree. The mountains are the mountains, you can't change their size. 

So we drive to the base of the mountains. "Look up," I say, "The mountains are now bigger. What was once a jagged line on the horizon now towers thousands of feet above and is thousands of miles in length. You now feel dwarfed by something you previously could have blocked out of view with a playing card. I made them bigger."

You would vary rationally argue that I didn't make the mountains bigger, just your perception of them. And that's true enough, but when we're talking about time, your perception of it is all that matters. 

So how do we make time bigger (longer/slower) and more expansive like we did with the mountains? We need to get closer to it. You can't physically get closer to time, of course, but one of the effects of being closer to something is being able to see it in more detail. So to make the life we've lived seem longer and richer we need to see it in more detail. So to slow time we need to create details -- moments that stand out from the constellation of the everyday.

Details are: taking part in new experiences, meeting new people, trying new activities, learning new things. If you pack your life with these you get a much more detailed view of the time that has passed. It seems closer, richer, and slower. We all understand this when we look at time in a micro sense. That day you spent exploring NYC -- seeing the sites, trying new foods, watching a Broadway show -- likely feels fuller and more rewarding and "larger" in your memory than that day you had off from work where you watched a Law and Order marathon and ate a tray of brownies (although that can be great too if it's not the norm).

This is certainly not a new concept. I'm only offering a new way of looking at it that might resonate with some people and some practical tools to help achieve this at the end of this post.

One of the people who put it best, and most succinctly, was Joshua Foer in his book, Moonwalking with Einstein.

Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a long life, while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next - and disappear. That's why it's so important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives.

The problem is that for a long time our culture didn't respect a life full of details. And I would say that many, if not most, people are still in that mindset. "He met his wife at age 18 and then spent 45 years working for Xerox," is seen as a success story instead of what it's at least as likely to be: a genuine, fucking nightmare.

I'm not saying you need to get a divorce or quit your job. I'm just saying society doesn't put a ton of value on those things that create a detailed life. It's almost seen as immature if you're an adult and you seek novelty and adventure. So recognize that perception is working against you.

Here are two techniques that I've used to "stretch out psychological time" and "lengthen the perception of my life," as Joshua Foer puts it.

Easy Mode

If you were leading a more vibrant, varied life, what time of day would you most likely be involved in some new activity or endeavor? Let's say you sleep a normal schedule and have a regular day job. If that's the case, then maybe 7:30 at night is when you have the most potential for varied activities. Go into your phone and set an alarm to go off every night at 7:30. Then, every day when the alarm goes off, you make note of what you're doing and you write it in a journal or put it online somewhere. This isn't a diary. I mean, it is, kind of. But it's just a diary of what you're doing at 7:30 every night. 

Eventually you're going to feel pathetic if you have a journal or a twitter feed or a spreadsheet on your computer filled with the exact same boring thing day after day. At some point you'll start planning some interesting things just so you can write something different. You don't want to die and have your grandkids uncover a foot-locker with 18 years worth of journals in it and for every day of those 18 years you've written the same thing, "7:30 - Watched Jeopardy." Is that what you want your legacy to be? Your family arguing for years to come if you were a psychopath or just feeble-minded?

Keeping a record will just be very gentle encouragement that you might want to plan to have something interesting to write for that day. Thus, making memories, adding detail.

Hard Mode

Think about the moments you remember in your life, the big and small ones. Think about the things you remember from the last week, last month, last year, last decade, and beyond. Now try and bundle them into some very loose categories in regards to what those things have in common. 

For me, my memorable events tend to fall into one of these categories:

  • Doing something for the first time (whether an achievement of some kind or just trying something new/going somewhere new)
  • Meeting someone for the first time
  • Taking part in an activity that could only occur on that specific day (a concert, a sporting event)
  • Interacting with someone I hadn't seen for a long time
  • Doing something related to some celebration or holiday
  • Enjoying some seasonal activity in nature (snowboarding, going to the beach)

Now go get yourself one of these journals. This is a "one line a day" journal which, as you might expect, is a journal set up so you write one line per day. Not only that, but it's a five year journal. It doesn't cycle through the year 5 times. Each page is devoted to a date and there are five entry slots on each page. So you write the entries for 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 all on the same page for April 11th, or whatever. This is a nice way to see what you were up to on that date over time.

Now, here's what you're going to do. You're going to get this book and every day you are going to do something that falls into one of the categories you've outlined. So, for me, every day I do something for the first time, or I meet someone new, or I take part in some day-specific activity, or I interact with someone that I haven't interacted with for at least 6 months, or I partake in some celebration or holiday activity, or I enjoy some kind of seasonal activity in nature. 

I tag every day of my life with a new memory.

If I asked you in December what your memories of 2015 were, you would tell me three to five things (maybe not even that much) and then you'd say, "Wow, that year flew by." But if you asked me, I would have an archive of 365 memories that would blossom out in front of me. 2015 explodes with memories for me -- each line in the book unfurls in my brain reminding me of more moments of the event or the evening it describes. I am at the base of 2015 and see it in overwhelming detail. It's not off in the distance where it seems small and inappreciable. 

I'm not saying you have to have a year of 365 life-altering memories. Just memories of any sort. My book is filled with a number of big events: moving out of my apartment of 10 years, the start of new relationships, new work projects, starting this blog. But I don't need a book to remember those things. Its value is in tracking the smaller moments that get lost or that simply wouldn't have happened if I hadn't been actively pursuing them: visiting new restaurants, contacting old friends, hearing new albums for the first time, going to see an author speak, taking a class, going on a 10 mile walk during the first snowfall of the winter, surfing in the swells of Hurricane Joaquin on Rockaway Beach, sexual conquests, baseball games, and on and on and on.

Is it hard work? No. It requires effort. And I'm not suggesting anyone do this who doesn't see the value in it. I'm just saying it's something that has had a positive effect for me. You don't need to invest a lot of time or money every day. There are plenty of memories that can be made quickly and easily. If trying to do something novel every day is too much, then just try a couple of times a week. Just don't cheat yourself out of the experience by half-assing it. "I've never had ketchup on broccoli. That's my big new experience for the day." No. It doesn't need to be momentous, but it should be something of note. To keep myself constantly in the habit, I just don't let myself go to bed until I have a memory worth committing to paper.

Again, if this sounds like torture to you, don't do it. It never feels like a chore to me. I just think of it as a hobby of collecting memories.

Slowing Time and The Jerx

This actually does play into my magic philosophy as well. I was looking through a draft of the Jerx Book and noticing this trick takes 20 minutes, this one takes 3 hours, this one happens over night, this one goes on over the course of a week. The reason I like these immersive presentations is that they resonate longer with people and that gives them the chance to be memories that last. The sad thing is, if you perform your three best traditional card or coin tricks for a person, and then ask them to describe them a few days later, they will give you the most vague interpretations you've ever heard. "Some cards changed. And there was the one where you dealt them in four piles. Three piles? No, four piles." Okay. Great. But it doesn't have to be like that. For example, I have a trick in the book that starts at night and then concludes when you wake up in the morning, where the trick (supposedly) takes place in your's and the spectator's dreams. People remember the exact details of this effect for years. Partly because it's a simple effect to get your head around, and partly because they live with it for 8 or 10 hours. They don't just remember they saw a trick, they remember the trick.

(One of the most embarrassing things magicians say is, "Oh, I don't do Out of This World with a full deck. It takes too long. I just use 20 cards." It takes too long? So instead of making the process interesting you're going to make it dull for as short an amount of time as possible? That's your plan? My version of OOTW not only goes through the full deck, I actually add two phases to the trick. And one of the phases --the longest one-- isn't even magic! But it gets people's rapt attention.)

My point being, the idea of audience-centric magic, taking your time, and creating engaging presentations isn't something you're doing for you. It's for the spectator. Because magic (and this is something that dumb congressional resolution fails to mention) may be the one art form that is best suited to creating moments that don't blend in to the days that surround them.