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Susan Smalley, Ph.D. Headshot

The Holidays Shouldn't Be A Race Against Time

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We don't need to understand Einstein's theory of relativity to see that time is an elusive construct. Nowhere is this changing perception of time more evident than around the holiday season.

The holidays mark the passage of another year, generally met with disbelief by most adults that such an annual cycle has gone so quickly. The peculiar thing about our perception of time from Holiday Season to Holiday Season is the discrepancy among children and adults. To a child, there is an excruciatingly long period from Christmas to Christmas (or whatever marks that annual fete) while parents and grandparents perceive it as fleeting, growing shorter and shorter with age. I often ponder the irony of this difference - that time would go 'fast' to those who had less of it left, while "slow" to those with so much more to live. Scientists studying time perception have noted the relationship of novelty or stimulus complexity to time perception, the more novel the events, the more time we have. The more I learn about our perception of time, the more I realize that we can increase our sense of time through practicing mindfulness, the regulation of attention to the present moment. Through exercise, we can manipulate our own sense of time. It does take practice, however, as we aren't very versed in its manipulation.

Here's an exercise to see how: make yourself a cup of tea and instead of rushing through the actions of heating the water, finding a tea bag, and gulping it down, slow it all down and carry it out as if in slow motion. Pay attention to the teakettle as you put it on the stove. Use an alternate burner from your usual one to keep your attention present. Slowly open the tea bag (or fresh tea leaves), smell the tea, and then place it in the cup of water. Watch the water change color. Feel the heat of the cup, smell the water. Slowly with all of your attention on the cup, take a sip, inhale the smell and slowly let the tea fill your mouth and swallow. Drink the rest of the cup with the same attention. This simple experiment will show you that you can control time though your attention. You take simple automatic events and make them full of novelty and stimulus complexity, and time expands.

As you attend to the most automatic actions of your day with a methodical full attention, you will discover that time becomes a commodity closely linked to it, and that you can regulate time through regulation of your attention. When you begin to attend to what you are doing when you are doing it, the moments between Holiday Season to Holiday Season are richer, more alive, and full. In this simple action, of shifting your attention to the present, you have the capacity to live longer, through the expansion of your time.

For more holiday season tips, click here for more from Huffington Post's Living!

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