Some seconds take longer than others

It is a cloudy Friday morning in San Diego, and I have an interview appointment with a scientist at the University of California San Diego in La Jolla. Since I arrived two days ago, my jetlag has not yet fully disappeared and I still have to get used to traffic here. And, last but not least, I am a bit excited about the interview.

The scientist gave me detailed directions how to drive to UCSD campus. However, the entrance to the I5 freeway was a bit difficult to find. When I was on the freeway, I was carefully looking at all the traffic signs not to miss the exit. Meanwhile I was trying to find out the maximum speed limit. It all went well, and I arrived in time, following the planned route exactly. I took a deep breath.

Two days later, my partner and I were driving the same route, to watch the seals in La Jolla. Once on the road we agreed on which exit to take on the freeway. And I said: ‘It will take a while before we are there’. Only to find out that it was actually the next exit.

Then I realised that this drive was different from the other one. It couldn’t possibly have taken less time, but still it seemed so much shorter. It is a commonly known phenomenon in the field of transport that some seconds take longer than others. For example, time passes by slower when you are waiting on the platform than when you are actually on the train.

In this particular case, I was highly focused, which is also known to make clocks ticking slower. It is an aspect of ‘flow’, a state of mind in which your performance is optimal and which leaves you with detailed memories of the event. People experience it as happiness, even when the event is not very enjoyable, like an emergency situation in which you took the right actions.

So, to complicate things, some seconds take longer than others, but longer is not always worse.

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