Is Time Really Flying or Are You?


In 2011, Cesar Kuriyama realized he was stuck in time. He was working 100-hour work weeks; when asked he said his whole life was work. Just 5 years earlier, he was in art school studying computer animation and he also dabbled in sculpture, painting, and film. After he graduated, he ended up working in advertising in NYC.

After 10 years, he found his career was less and less creatively fulfilling. The schedule was demanding, excruciating, and soul-crushing. Every day began running into the next and he didn’t like the feeling. As he was nearing 30 years old, he started to think on those years when he was in his twenties. What had his days been like back then? Yes, he’d been in school but how did the hours in each day get filled? How did he actually spend his time? He couldn’t remember. All he knew was time flashing by so fast left him feeling out of control. 

He then thought about this powerful little tool he kept in his pocket … his cellphone … and started recording one second of video every day. He kept that up for a year and then strung all of those seconds together into one video. When he sat and watched it, he realized he had created the sensation of his life flashing before his eyes. In that moment, he began to really FEEL time.

After Cesar started doing this, he quit his job and focused his efforts full time to build an app that allows others to string their own one-second videos together.

Imagine recording yourself on the first day of high school and then again on the last day of high school. You’ve changed so much in that time, but get caught up in living life. You never stop to reflect how life has impacted you so profoundly until you add all of those moments together.

When you begin to view your life in chunks of seconds (seeing 4 years go by in 24 minutes), your understanding of time shifts. This inspired Cesar to want to share his appreciation of how time can get away from us. It gave him a better appreciation of where he was during each year, and helped him to review where he’d been, what he’d done, who he’d interacted with, and what he’d seen.

It brings up larger questions about time. By its very nature, it appears solid, very fixed, regimented. You can count it and count on it. Seconds, add up to minutes, minutes to hours, hours to days and so on. And yet, we all see and feel it differently.

How can something so predictable … time … feel so different depending upon where you are in your life?

Remember when a day at school felt like it would never end? An hour takes FOREVER when you’re five, and yet now that you’re older, don’t you perceive that time seems much more fleeting?

Psychologist Dan Gilbert, professor at Harvard studied older and younger people and determined that those two groups of individuals perceive time very differently, and there’s a very fundamental reason for it. There are simply more recordings in 84-year-old brains than there are in 5-year-old brains. When 84-year-olds are reviewing their past, there’s a lot more ‘tape’ to review. When a 5-year-old views their ‘tape,’ it’s over in minutes. As you age, you begin to get that sense that ‘time flies.’

And yet we persist in thinking of ourselves as fixed in time no matter what age we might be. Time is a powerful force. We only appreciate it in retrospect. We start to believe the present is the magic time … the moment at which we finally become ourselves. Dan says, “Humans are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.” The truth is, we’re never finished. The one constant in our lives is change.

This makes thinking about time really hard for the human brain. It doesn’t know how to classify it. If you ask people which is real, the past, the present, or the future, they’ll say the present. And they’d be wrong. The present is actually just a psychological illusion. It’s a story we tell ourselves. The present is really the wall between yesterday and today.

Here’s a different way to think about it. When you go to the beach you see the water and the sand. Then you look at the line between them and think of it as a third thing. It’s actually not. There’s only water and sand. That line isn’t really there.

You can think of time in the same way. The past is real because it happened. The future is real because it’s going to happen. The present is just a fantasy and it doesn’t exist. Kind of shoots holes in the “Be in the moment” theory, huh?

Time has fascinated both dreamers and doers. It’s the stuff of scientists and poets. It is magical at its core. One of my favorite songs that illustrates the magic of time is by Pink Floyd.

“Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
Fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way

Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun

And you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death

Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over, thought I’d something more to say”

Don’t fritter and waste your hours … make the most of your time! What is there left to do in your life that you perceive you don’t have time to do? Is it time to start that coaching or consulting practice you’ve always dreamed of? Is it time to leave the ‘security’ of a corporate career and venture out on your own?

Don’t get so caught up in your ‘presents’ (not real) that you overlook your futures (VERY real)!

(P.S. – For those Pink Floyd fans who now have that song stuck in their heads … you’re welcome!”)

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