We construct the experience of time in our minds, so it follows that we are able to change the elements we find troubling — whether it’s trying to stop the years racing past, or speeding up time when we’re stuck in a queue, trying to live more in the present, or working out how long ago we last saw our old friends.

Time perception matters because it is the experience of time that roots us in our mental reality.

Time is not only at the heart of the way we organise life, but the way we experience it.

MIND TIME:

'Mind Time' is the elasticity of how we experience time. We slow time down when gripped by mortal fear — the cliche about the slow-motion car crash is, in fact, a cognitive reality. This plays out even in situations that aren’t life-or-death per se but are still associated with strong feelings of fear. Hammond points to a study in which people with arachnophobia were asked to look at spiders — the very object of their intense fear — for 45 seconds and they overestimated the elapsed time. The same pattern was observed in novice skydivers, who estimated the duration of their peers’ falls as short, whereas their own, from the same altitude, were deemed longer.

FORWARD TELESCOPING:

As we grow older, we tend to feel like the previous decade elapsed more rapidly, while the earlier decades of our lives seem to have lasted longer.

It is as though time has been compressed and — as if looking through a telescope — things seem closer than they really are.

The most straightforward explanation for it is called the clarity of memory hypothesis, proposed by the psychologist Norman Bradburn in 1987. This is the simple idea that because we know that memories fade over time, we use the clarity of a memory as a guide to its recency. So if a memory seems unclear we assume it happened longer ago.

REMINISCENCE BUMP:

We are most likely to vividly remember experiences we had between the ages of 15 and 25. The big news events that we remember best tend to have happened earlier in the bump, while our most memorable personal experiences are in the second half.

Memory and identity are so closely intertwined, it is in those formative years, when we’re constructing our identity and finding our place in the world, that our memory latches onto particularly vivid details in order to use them later in reinforcing that identity. People who undergo a major transformation of identity later in life — say, changing careers or coming out — tend to experience a second identity bump, which helps them reconcile and consolidate their new identity.

THE HOLIDAY PARADOX:

The contradictory feeling that a good holiday whizzes by, yet feels long when you look back. Like the reminiscence bump, the Holiday Paradox has to do with the quality and concentration of new experiences, especially in contrast to familiar daily routines.

time, identity and memory