How to Slow down Time: The Gorgeous Rule of Firsts


Image via @delhinacarmona on Instagram

If time were a shape, it would be a circle.

In the written work of poems called Body Clock by Eleni Sikelianos, a book documenting her pregnancy journey, she challenged herself to draw what a minute looked like to her. What she drew was quite interesting: a tiny circle, that wasn’t quite a perfect circle, with dozens of freckles scattered inside of it (about the size of a quarter). She writes beside it:

“In this conception a minute is round though not perfectly. You might see the small freckles of scattered seconds in the interior (heart-meat) of the minute. What are the parts between the minutes, the seams between, how to count such silent machinery?”

First of all, Eleni Sikelianos, WILL YOU MARRY ME? The book is gut-full of blooming mindfulness as Sikelianos tries to understand the bodies of the minutes and hours in relation to our own bodies. It’s exquisitely beautiful to visualize time. What’s its shape? What is it doing to our insides and our outsides? What does the curvature of growth and time look like? How can we, in a sense, control it?

I know. Stressful. Time is weird. Talking or writing about time scares the bats hiding inside my chest right out of my eye holes. Maybe time is scary because we have no way of controlling how quickly the minutes pass us. One day we’re twenty-six with no idea what we’re doing with our lives and the next we’re raising a family. One day we’re fifteen and drastic and horny and weird and the next we’re sixty and tired. I’ve spent years and years of my life wishing weekday afternoons away so I can go home from work. Weekends have flashed past my soul in wicked increments. I can’t believe I’m thirty-one. And I can’t help but feel like time speeds up when we get older. It’s science. Or, in this next case, basic economics.

I’ve spent years and years of my life wishing weekday afternoons away so I can go home from work. Weekends have flashed past my soul in wicked increments. I can’t believe I’m thirty-one. And I can’t help but feel like time speeds up when we get older.

Have you heard about the law of diminishing returns? I think I learned this in college economics (when I wasn’t hungover or late for class). The dumb definition is this: the decrease of marginal input of a production process as the amount of a single factor of production that is increased. If you read that five times and had no idea what it said, I’m with you. Let me clarify with a food example. When I eat my first candy bar, it’s the best thing I’ve ever eaten. If I have another one, and then maybe another one, it just gets less…enjoyable? The satisfaction isn’t nearly as great. This same ongoing pattern actually happens with time. Hear me out.

After doing a lot of research about how time moves within us (thank you and may the world forever bless you, Eleni Sikelianos) I found a few ways to actually slow time down. I’m not God by any means. But I’m an emotional and sensitive Leo with a passionately charged agenda. The thing is, we can slow time down. It’s all in our heads.

Think about how sweet time was when you were a kid. Everything was incredible. Why? We were discovering things for the first time. I can recall so many things: my first bite of strawberry ice cream, riding a bike, Christmas when I got my favorite toy horse named Fritz, weeping because it felt good, telling on my neighbor friend because she pooped in the back lawn as a joke. My firsts gave me a childhood that was slow and memorable. Do you remember how long summers felt? How long afternoons felt? How long third grade felt? Some afternoons at daycare felt like the longest stretch of time I have ever known. Christmas Day before opening presents felt like a week in itself. I remember every damn second of high school. I wrote everything down in a journal and firsts were abundant: first kiss, first heartbreak, first time behind the wheel, first period.

As an adult, I feel a little ghosted by time. Summers are short and bittersweet, little blips of happy hours and weddings and “just checking in” emails. I have no idea what I was doing when I turned twenty-five. Could that be ten years ago? Three? I can’t recall how I spend birthdays or professional milestones. I can’t remember what we did last Christmas. Christmas Day could only last three hours for all I know. My ten year high school reunion came and went and I completely forgot about it. How could these minutes and hours, so true in their roundness, slip by me? Especially since a childhood so full of well-baked memories was carefully kept in comparison.

I come to you with an answer.

The rule of firsts.

As we grow older, our brains create new memories. Our judgment of time is based on those new memories we make, stretched out in the beginning of our lives and compressed in the end. Like a road trip seems shorter on the way back, we become used to time passing. Think about it—at ninety-nine years of age, a year is one percent of your life. We go from living 100 percent of our lives when we turn one to the smallest ever percentage when we make it to ninety-nine. Like watching something shrink away in your rearview mirror, time becomes halved and halved and halved and halved. Essentially, as we build more memories, time consumes itself, making time seem shorter year after year.

SCARY RIGHT? I know, I haven’t breathed this entire article. But there’s hope.

Scientists have said we remember our years best between the ages 15 and 25. The reason we remember our youth so well is because this is the period of our lives we have more new experiences than in our thirties or forties. It’s a time for firsts. First sexual relationships, first job, first time living without parents, first time traveling solo. The quality of being new and unoriginal has so much impact on memory. That’s why we remember vacations so well. We are more likely to remember an event if it is vivid, distinctive, and a memory we share on multiple accounts.

We can slow time down by experiencing newness; by opening our minds to create abundant, striking memories. Let me list the ways: travel, write in a journal, try a new painting class, go to a poetry class, try stand up comedy (Writer’s Note: do the things that scare your pants off a little), leave your phone at home for a weekend, write slowly about what you see, try new foods, learn how to cook, physically draw out what a minute or an hour looks like to you. Fulfill your life with firsts.

We will never have complete control of this dimension we’re in, whatever it is. Time is a force that makes us incredibly dumb and vulnerable and human. But time is also a force that makes us beautiful. We can mentally time travel, try new things, hold the past in our arms width however we need. We can control how fast we endure time or slow it down by creating novelty moments in our lives. Moments that strike us as new.

My favorite quote about controlling time is by Claudia Hammond in her book, Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception:

“Time can be a friend, but it can also be an enemy. The trick is to harness it, whether at home, at work, or even in social policy, and to work in line with our conception of time. 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 organize life, but the way we experience it.”

I think the lesson here, above all, is: be a kid. Get outside and touch the grass with your bare feet. Run through the yard as fast as you can. Imagine a different world out there. Take it as yours. Try new things. Build your own fairy garden (Writer’s Note: tiny fairy furniture at Bachman’s gives me LIFE). Time is round. Somehow, it brings us back to childhood anyway.

BY Brittany Chaffee - June 7, 2019

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June 8, 2019 4:52 pm

Good read !

Michelle Madgett
June 11, 2019 9:08 am

Could you do some posts on the writers’ writing processes? The posts on this blog inspire me to write. I’d like to start my own blog one day. I think I get stuck thinking I won’t do it right. I’d love to hear the different ways the writers here write and have grappled with the emotions and notions that come up in the process. Thank you!

June 11, 2019 11:39 am

Hello Brittany,

Thank you for your article. I must say that this sentence meant a lot to me : “Time is not only at the heart of the way we organize life, but the way we experience it.”.


Deborah A Behney
June 21, 2019 7:35 am

Wonderful wonderful wonderful.
I’m still smiling from this article.
You are an amazing writer, truly
you are. Thank you. I have 30 years
on you and I’m going to take your
words to heart.

October 4, 2019 9:32 am

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