How to "Prolong" Our Life, According to Neuroscientists

How to "Prolong" Our Life, According to Neuroscientists

Do you, like me, constantly feel that as we get older, time seems to fly by faster and faster?

When we were kids, we had nothing to record every day but our brain. But the days seemed slower, and the memories more vivid. I still remember that, at the age of 11, it took me 4 days to master riding a bicycle, and that was after multiple rounds of frustrated tears. And I can also relive many moments from over a decade ago just by closing my eyes – the first time waving goodbye to my parents outside of my university, and the first time taking an overseas flight to do my college exchange program in Canada.  

 a kid learns to ride a bicycle and falls on the ground

Nowadays, we go everywhere carrying a smartphone that is fixed with an ever more advanced camera. We get used to recording everything in photos and videos – food, city lights, smiles of friends, and post-gym selfies. But despite keeping all the memories in our phone, the days just seem to get a lot blurry. Monday, Friday, weekend, repeat. And boom! We’re only a handful of days away from another year. It’s almost as if we’re living in the blurred background of a fast-forwarding movie.

4 smartphones taking pictures of evening clouds

I bet you feel the same way, at least some of you. And no, it’s not just us reminiscing the past or being sentimental. It’s because our brain is tricked by something called “novelty”.


Neuroscientists have found that, when we see or experience something new, our brain pays more attention, processes more details, and thus, creates more vivid and lasting memories. This heightened awareness can make time feel expansive and full – a phenomenon often referred to as "time stretching". In comparison, when we see or do the same thing again and again, our brain gets bored and devote less and less energy to it.

If we think about the first 25-30 years of our life, it’s packed with “the first”. The first day of school, the first kiss, the first job, the first time we get to spend our money however we wish... Every couple of years, we step into a bigger world filled with brand new encounters and emotions. As a result, in our perception, time is “slowed down” in these years.

But as we progress in our job, as we get married (and maybe have kids), life becomes a well-oiled sedan – smooth, well-functioning, fast running, with nothing particularly noticeable. As a matter of fact, we might even secretly wish that nothing extraordinary happens after we reach the 30s.

a woman walking next to fast blurred metro train


Time is irreversible. Does it mean that we’re doomed to be headed into the dark shadow of boredom in the non-stop accelerating train of life, after we’ve seen and experienced enough of what the world has for us?

The answer is NO.

Let me share a bit of my own experience. Many people say that during the 3 years of COVID lockdown (or shorter, depending on which country you were in), time went by super fast. But when I look back in my recent years, it was the summer of 2022 that felt particularly expansive and rich.

That summer, we were locked in Hong Kong and couldn’t go anywhere else, like many others. So we started to explore all the corners of Hong Kong that we’d never been before. We did coasteering – scrambling along rocky coastal lines; we also kayaked out to the sea and went ashore on random human-less beaches and caves. If we went hiking, we would take the less developed “wild” routes.

Already seasoned trail runners, we thought we were quite familiar with being in the nature. But just the small changes, like from mountain to the ocean or from well-maintained official hiking trails to “wild” routes, were able to give us enough of novelty. These new experiences were of course a mix of excitement and “why the f**k am I doing this”. But at the very end, those moments magically expanded the length of that summer, leaving those months in my memory extraordinarily rich and full of joy.


What I’m trying to say is that, no matter which stage of our life, we can “slow down” the time by doing something new. It doesn’t have to be a trip to an exotic country or a grand moment like buying a new house. It could simply be trying a new fitness routine, taking that Muay Thai trial class you’ve been curious about, attempt bouldering for the first time to try and understand why it’s got so popular, or even simpler – take a new route in your daily commute and your neighbourhood run.

Remember, just a little surprise can stretch the time. And that’s our secret of living a “longer” and richer life.

As quoted in one of my favourite books, The Power of Moments[1],

“We feel most comfortable when things are certain, but we feel most alive when they’re not.”



[1] Chip Heath, Dan Heath; The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact; published in 2017. This sentence was originally from the book Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected, by Tania luna and LeeAnn Renninger PhD


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