Change your Perception of Time with Mindfulness

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


 “taking time to be mindful and focusing fully on the present moment — in other words, actively noticing new things — can actually slow down our brain’s perception of time. And just as powerfully, mindless distraction can easily create the feeling that we’re losing whole hours, days and months.” – Carolyn Gregoir


There are times in life when time just seems to wiz by and others when it seems to creep. There are also times when it seems like a minute passing feels like 5 minutes and others when it feels like only a few seconds. In other words, our sense of the speed of time passing and the amount of time that has passed varies from occasion to occasion. One factor that effects the perception of time is the content of the interval and the frequency of events occurring. If the interval is relatively packed with events and stimuli, then the time period is overestimated, suggesting that time seemed to pass more slowly. If, on the other hand, there are few things occurring in the interval, then time is underestimated, suggesting that time seemed to pass more quickly.


Mindfulness training involves paying close attention to the contents of the present moment. This suggests that being mindful would enhance the perception of the amount of things occurring and would thus predict that the interval would appear longer than otherwise and that time would seem to pass more slowly. In today’s Research News article “Dispositional Mindfulness and Subjective Time in Healthy Individuals.” See:

or below or view the full text of the study at:

Weiner and colleagues investigate these issues. They measured adult participants for mindfulness, impulsivity, mood and rumination and asked them to estimate the duration of an interval and the speed of time passage under different experimental conditions of actual duration (32 or 128 seconds) and contents of the interval (number presented every 4 seconds or 16 seconds). They were also asked in another similar task to stop the presentation of numbers when either 30 or 60 seconds had elapsed.


They found that in general participants tended to overestimate the duration of the interval regardless of its actual length and that the greater the contents of the interval the faster time seemed to pass. They also found that participants, when asked, tended to produce intervals longer than the 30 or 60 seconds that were called for and that the amount of error was larger with the 60 second duration and with less content. As has been seen in other research, participants who were more mindful, were less impulsive, ruminated less, and were less depressed. They also found that the higher the mindfulness facets of observing and acting with awareness, the longer the estimated duration.


These results are interesting and suggest that, in a laboratory setting people tend to overestimate the duration of a time interval. It would be interesting to know if this were also true in “real world” settings also. The results also suggest that being mindful tended to make the intervals seem even longer, but that time seemed to pass more quickly. This would seem to fit with the fact that meditators frequently report that they felt like they meditated longer than they actually did. Mindfulness may produce this elongation of time estimation by making the stimuli occurring during the interval more salient and interesting. The fill up of the interval in this way may make it seem that more has happened and thus more time has passed. It remains for future research to clarify this issue.


So, change your perception of time with mindfulness.


“Mindfulness allows people to appreciate their surroundings and can lead to the feeling that time is passing more slowly.” – Steven Meyers


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+


Study Summary

Weiner, L., Wittmann, M., Bertschy, G., & Giersch, A. (2016). Dispositional Mindfulness and Subjective Time in Healthy Individuals. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 786.



How a human observer perceives duration depends on the amount of events taking place during the timed interval, but also on psychological dimensions, such as emotional-wellbeing, mindfulness, impulsivity, and rumination. Here we aimed at exploring these influences on duration estimation and passage of time judgments. One hundred and seventeen healthy individuals filled out mindfulness (FFMQ), impulsivity (BIS-11), rumination (RRS), and depression (BDI-sf) questionnaires. Participants also conducted verbal estimation and production tasks in the multiple seconds range. During these timing tasks, subjects were asked to read digits aloud that were presented on a computer screen. Each condition of the timing tasks differed in terms of the interval between the presentation of the digits, i.e., either short (4-s) or long (16-s). Our findings suggest that long empty intervals (16-s) are associated with a relative underestimation of duration, and to a feeling that the time passes slowly, a seemingly paradoxical result. Also, regarding more mindful individuals, such a dissociation between duration estimation and passage of time judgments was found, but only when empty intervals were short (4-s). Relatively speaking, more mindful subjects showed an increased overestimation of durations, but felt that time passed more quickly. These results provide further evidence for the dissociation between duration estimation and the feeling of the passage of time. We discuss these results in terms of an alerting effect when empty intervals are short and events are more numerous, which could mediate the effect of dispositional mindfulness.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *