a clock standing on a picnic table

How To Slow Down Time Using Your Sense of Smell

As we get older, the days become weeks and the weeks become years. Before we know it, a decade has passed.

Think about your own experience. Why is it that when we’re children time goes so slowly? Why is it that an experience had by a 6-year-old can feel like a lifetime, while that same experience was hardly perceived by the parent?

 

IT’S ALL IN THE BRAIN

We all have the same 24 hours and 365 days. So, why do we have these warped perceptions of time? Well, the key word is perception and the answer lies in how our brain processes information. 

David Eagleman, neuroscientist and Director at the Eagleman Laboratory of Time and Perception, explains it like this: our brain isn’t just watching time go by. No, it’s constantly, actively, constructing time. 

What we now know about the brain is that, unlike our senses of, say, sight and sound, time doesn’t have a specific place in the brain that controls our perception of it. Time is perceived in a whole complex network of areas within the brain.

Because of this, the more information your brain has to process, the slower time seems. 

This idea seems logical when you think of the life of a child. From birth, each minute of each hour of each day is a new experience, which is perceived by the senses and, then transmitted to our brain.

The brain is wired for survival. Its resources are focused on keeping us safe. The more the brain has to pay attention to detail (which is the case for babies and children, for whom everything is new), the longer time seems to last. The reason is that all of that information takes longer for the brain to process.   

 

I’VE SEEN IT ALL BEFORE

Most of us believe that time seems to go faster as we age. In fact, what’s happening is that our brain isn’t taking in as much new information, and instead creating shortcuts in our brain. 

We go through the motions. We know what to expect. We’ve had so many experiences over the years. Our brain’s on autopilot. It doesn’t require as much brainpower, and time seems to go faster.

The good news is that it appears we DO have some control over our perception of time. We just need to give it lots of new things to process.

 

THE BEAUTY OF OUR SENSE OF SMELL

Our senses give us perceptions of the world we experience. And our sense of smell is one of the most powerful of the senses and is more closely linked with memory and emotion. It allows us to travel back in time simply by smelling something familiar.  

 

Here are some ways to use your sense of smell to slow down the perception of time:

 

1. Use Scent Memories To Prolong Enjoyable Experiences

The Associated Theory suggests that, in our formative years, when we’re experiencing so many “firsts” in our life, we’re creating something called a “reminiscence bump”. As we move further and further away from the bump, the quicker time seems to move.

Our sense of smell creates similar “reminiscence bumps” in the form of scent memories. Most scent memories are created in the first 10 years of life. This is when we have the most novel experiences of our life and the smells we experience become mapped in our brains for future retrieval. 

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Take a piece of paper, think back to the first 10 years of your life and write down what positive scent memories can you recall. Hopefully, they’re scents you can access today, like maybe lemons, oranges, baked bread or pine needles, to name a few. By taking a moment to experience a scent memory, you’re able to reminisce in the past - you’re bringing the “bump” closer, and that slows the perception of time.    

 

2. Practice Mindfulness By Smelling New Things

When the brain is stimulated, time appears to slow down. So, learning something new and taking in new experiences can slow down time. Smelling new odors is a wonderful way for your brain to be engaged, to be stimulated and to keep busy processing new information. 

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Do this mindfulness exercise: find an essential oil you’ve never smelled before (this is important), something novel like maybe myrrh, plai or neroli. Now sit quietly, close your eyes and diffuse that essential oil. Focus in on the scent - notice how the scent evolves with time - is it getting strong or is it getting quieter. Feel how the scent plays in your nose. What you’re doing is allowing your brain to process this new scent information (you’re creating a scent memory). And the more information your brain is processing, the slower time seems. 

 

 

3. Visit A Botanical Garden

Having a new sensorial experience takes your brain out of autopilot. It’s discovering anew. It’s taking in new odors and making perceptions. The brain is taking in new information and, because of that, time seems to slow down.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: We’re used to the familiar flowers and plants in our garden or neighborhood. Our brain is familiar with those smells. By going to a botanical garden, you’ll have a chance to experience new plants, take in new scents and give your brain something to do. Time seems to slow down and you’ve immersed yourself in a new experience.

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