How to slow down time

HOW TO SLOW DOWN TIME

how to slow down time
The longest Night - Lake Pukaki, New Zealand. Source: Banker on Wheels IG
“What were your ultimate cycling experiences?”, is a question I get frequently asked. Perhaps some of the shortest. Here is why.
 
We were sitting on a terrace of one of those elevated villas, drinking tea in Nusa Penida, Indonesia. We were recovering after some Vodka (not easy to buy in a Muslim country) to kill some tiny worms in our stomachs that we discovered in Mangoes we ate on a beach. 
 
The conversation with my Japanese friend turned into why our time has slowed down so much when we travelled. 
 
The conventional wisdom is that, given I’m older, her time should run slower than mine. But 2019 was the longest year in my life. Perhaps longer than a few years in London. Now, I know that 2020 was also the shortest one.
 
Does time really speed up as we age? I wasn’t sure anymore.
 
I wanted to share how we look at time, through the lens of three cyclists – Banker on Wheels, his World cyclist friend and a fellow cyclist turned NY Times best-selling author.

Time is WHAT YOU MAKE OF IT

special relativity

Time is a fascinating subject and my first step to understand it started with physics.

Time slows down as you travel. It certainly does for a Cyclist compared to the Banker that stays in the office. 

We have all heard, that according to the twin paradox, the travelling twin will be younger than the one that stays on earth, when they both meet again.

While the outcome has been validated, it’s only half of the story. What I find fascinating to grasp intuitively is the asymmetry in this theory.

Because in Einstein’s Special Relativity, it is equally true that the twin on earth observes his time slowing down relative to the twin that is in the spaceship. How can both be true, at the same time

It took a Coursera course to understand the nuances – thanks for this fascinating journey, Larry. If you are curious, without going into too complicated math, and have spare time in your early retirement it’s definitely something to put on your ‘bucket list’. If you would rather have a fast version, here is the 5-minute video (although less elegant than the one not using General Relativity, I find)

Sit with a pretty girl for an hour and it feels like a minute; sit on a hot stove for a minute and it feels like many hours. That's relativity

- Albert Einstein

Beyond Physics - Time slows in your brain

The asymmetry goes well beyond physics, though.
And it took me much longer to realize the full extent of this during my bike travels.

But we’ve all witnessed this phenomenon – why is it that we remember holidays as lasting much longer than they were, but felt like it past by so quickly when we were actually there

Why do we remember lyrics of music that was playing when we had an accident?

THE LONGEST DAY

Looking back at some experiences on my bike it seems like it took an eternity. Yet, it happened really fast. 

Even that November day when I started cycling before 4am, in light rain, through stunning Taroko National Park, Taiwan.

The road was constructed in the 1950s and did cost over 450 lives. Even today, it’s ranked as one of the most dangerous roads in the World.

I remember every minute of the morning ride, that started at sea level. I heard ‘flying rocks’, falling off vertical cliffs mostly covered with marble, with close to no visibility below 2,000m  (6,500 feet). 

The day finished with one of the best sunsets I’ve experienced, above the clouds and at over 3,200m.

Today, this day feels like one of the longest in my life. Certainly the longest on this trip, where so much has happened.

So many people. So many experiences. So many memories.

the longest day
Rainbow sunset in Taroko National Park, Taiwan. Source: Banker on Wheels IG Profile

HOW CAN WE SLOW DOWN TIME?

Here come two lessons,  I deeply share, from two different cyclists.

The first, from a fellow cyclist and NY Times bestselling author, Jedidiah Jenkins has looked into why, we cyclists, feel like our journey is so much longer and valuable than years or relatively ‘stable’ life.

The second, from a friend of mine that had interesting observations, too. All cyclist share these feelings of meaningful (but short) interactions with people we encounter.

It's not that we have little time, but more that we waste a good deal of it

Seneca the Younger

#1 FEAR IS AT THE CORE OF IT

Our brain works faster when endangered or facing new experiences – on a bike you rarely know where we will sleep, what we will eat, what weather conditions will be thrown at us and what encounters we will make. 

We adapt and take calculated risks. We understand that making plans is vastly over-rated. That’s why cyclists rarely do them.

In Japan, I felt relatively safe to pitch my tent anywhere. In Tasmania you had to watch out for spiders. In Tibet, there was no certainty I would be able to sleep at all (more on that another day) 

Yet, the most interesting conclusion from academic research on this topic is that time slows down when we face experiences that are tied to our personal hierarchy of values, to our identity. And that is a deeply individual matter related to confronting our fears – doing things that stress us out.

Or, as Jedidiah Jenkins (in the video below) puts it: “Knowing that you never arrive to identity, always uncovering and to pursue actionable steps in discovery of that identity, you will make these grounding identity anchors – these memories that make Time feel dynamic, rich, real”

A MUST-WATCH 15-minutes recipe on how to slow down time

#2 IDENTITY-FORGING ENCOUNTERS

Expectations can play their part, too.

When you travel on your bike you are extremely fragile. People appreciate that but also know that the encounters we make are short-lived. That is also what makes them precious.

The fact that both sides know that we will, most likely, never see each other again means the topics are so much deeper and enriching. 

To quote a cyclist friend that spent time looking into this topic: 

‘A few hours encounter, sometimes even shorter, paradoxically, feels to me much more meaningful, than chit-chatting for days with my friends back home. I get to know human nature. What makes us similar and our cultural differences’ 

people travel
Unforgettable faces and unique 'off bike' encounters

Cyclists usually value time and follow without sometimes knowing it, the Stoic principle that the whole future lies in uncertainty – live immediately and make the most of it. 

I think of experiences that illustrate that e.g. when meeting a fellow Italian cyclist in New Zealand, where we both knew that our paths will separate sooner rather than later. Interestingly, some of such connections remained. Perhaps, because of the initial expectations.

HOW CAN FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE HELP?

Compounding value of memories

We are all wired differently and our life circumstances can be vastly different. 

But some things are not relative – the growing value we put on memories as we age.

I may be biased, but millennials have it right by valuing experiences over ‘stuff’.  Freeing up time to capture them can come at a relatively low cost of financial discipline.

FINANCIAL INDEPEnDeNCE MEANs ANTIFRAGILITY

At its core, the Financial Independence movement’s values are aligned with my beliefs in two ways:

  • Happiness, above a sustainability level, is largely uncorrelated to wealth. Spending time on experiences that matter is not so much dependent on money as most people think.
  • But aiming for financial antifragility, to quote Nicholas Taleb, is key to help capturing opportunities.

Wise Savers

Financial fragility is debt. I think that saving money is at the core of Financial Independence – a movement of Wise Savers, not Smart Investors.

By the end of 2018, I ran my idea of cycling the world through a Fear Setting aka Stoic Regret-aversion Matrix. Now, I was ready to cycle the World – a decision I was delaying for some time because of various fears.

Having financial reserves allowed me to grab the opportunity (or, to be perfectly honest – to at mentally secure, at least from that perspective, because the trip itself was one of the cheapest years in my life)

bicycles in beijing
One way of saving - grabing one of nine million bicycles in Beijing

Life throws at us challenges and opportunities and having time to benefit from the latter requires ability (also financial flexiblity) to do so. 

Being financially independent means being antifragile to (most) random events and benefiting from them. 

Identifying experiences that are core to our identity is key. So is discipline around saving money and following the right principles that will end up creating more opportunities for memories that matter. 

And investing may, more often than not multiply those opportunities. 

Good Luck and keep’em* rolling !

(* Wheels & Dividends)

REFERENCES 

  • Twin paradox using only the Special Theory of Relativity, Larry Randles Lagerstrom ‘Understanding Einstein: The Special Theory of Relativity’, Coursera
  • Twin paradox using the General Theory of Relativity, Physics Girl
  • Surviving the Taroko Gorge: In Taiwan, meditative moments numerous on world’s most treacherous road, May 2017, National Post
  • Jedidah Jenkins, ‘To Shake the Sleeping Self, A journey from Oregon to Patagonia and a quest for life with no regret’, December 2019, Penguin Random House

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About Raph Antoine 77 Articles
Raph Antoine is a Portfolio Manager and Institutional Advisor that witnessed first-hand the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and the 2011 European Debt Crisis working for some of the most prestigious names in the financial industry. Raph has experience across multiple asset classes including Fixed Income and Equity products as well as bespoke Investment vehicles in multiple jurisdictions. Raph holds an MSc in Financial Engineering and is a CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) Charterholder. He usually rides one of his two bikes. Rarely, a Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 8.0 (that is currently in family's attic) and most of the time a Gravel Pinnacle Arkose (his favorite) that he used to Cycle the World.
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Michelle @ FireAndWide
9 months ago

Loved this! Can absolutely confirm that it’s true for a much more leisurely cyclist too. I’ve been early retired a couple years now, pulled the trigger at 43. Time defn goes slower now – which is awesome as there’s so much to explore and try. And I think that’s what explains it for me – a life without routine just feels more alive than the old very structured work/commute/cram weekend routine. We travel a lot now too (well, pre covid anyway) and I totally get the whole ‘being stretched/not knowing what to expect’ & how it expands time. And absolutely… Read more »

Matt | Financial Imagineer

What an inspiring post indeed! Time is the one fair thing (more or less) in this world, it’s going into the same direction for all of us, at the same speed. But in the end we all don’t know how much of it we got and it’s up to us individually to make the most of it! Take care of your time, it’s YOUR most important ressource in this life of yours! Cheers