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12 Jun 2023

Does creative activity allow you to bend time?

By Dr. Jeremy Mayall
Creative Waikato, CEO

It is wild to realise that it is already June in 2023. This year seems to be rapidly flicking through like an animated flip book. It is so easy for us to get stuck into the everyday processes and forget to find moments to pause, look up, and reflect on the world around us and the nature of where we are and how we are connected to one another. It is in those moments of awe that we find meaning in our lives – and that is an important part of our wellbeing. 

But, with the rapid passing of time, it is my pleasure to share a little secret that so many artists know – creative practice can control and shape time! By embedding some daily creative activity into our lives, we can take control of our experience of time and feel like we are gaining a few extra moments in each day. We can become time travellers, creative wizards who shape the world around us through imagination, innovation, stories and creativity.

This realisation is not just some wishy-washy conceptual ploy – it is research-backed and tried and tested, whilst also being a little bit of everyday magic. Ultimately the perfect combination of elements for people living and working in 2023 in the mighty Waikato. 

So, with all that being said, here are five ways that creativity can help you to alter your perception of time:

1.  Experience informs our predictions of the future.

The way we perceive the world and make sense of all the information coming at us from various sources is through a combination of sensory stimulations, and mental predictions. We used to think that our experience of the world was purely shaped by the sensory information we receive – but new theories suggest that our brains actually predict much of what we experience and then the sensory elements either confirm or alter those predictions. So, if our brains are predicting our experiences to shape our movement through the world, it is beneficial for us to include a range of novel experiences to inform richer and more varied predictions to enhance our experience and understanding of the world around us. So perhaps, if we aim to have new creative experiences on a regular basis, we can transform the nature of our predictions and reshape our experience of time in the movement. 

2. Music is how we decorate time

In a quote often attributed to American artist Jean Michel-Basquiat, we get the interesting observation of “Art is how we decorate space, music is how we decorate time.” Music becomes the soundtrack to our lives, and specific pieces of music can have immediate and powerful links to our memories, our connection to specific places and times in our lives, and how we can travel through time to relive those experiences as soon as we hear the first few notes coming through the speakers. It is amazing how listening to music can quickly change our perception of time in an instant. If you are listening to something that you love, time will fly by, and you will get lost in the resonance of the sounds around you. If you are listening to something you despise, time seems to halt and you become stuck in that moment. It is something that we all encounter in different ways. Composers have a magical power to shape how our emotions unfold through time – to take us on a journey through musical notes and sounds to create states of joy, sadness, anger, fear, euphoria, and wonder, sometimes within a single piece of music. There is evidence that supports music as a pathway to stronger learning outcomes, as treatment for brain and memory issues, and as a way for us to feel more productive in our daily lives. Listening to music we have an emotional connection to can have a profound impact on our experiences each day

3. Flow state and time expansion

Flow state is an experience that many of us have had, but perhaps we haven’t had a name for it, or an awareness of how to get into it. Creative people often find a pathway into flow through their regular creative practice. It is the state that describes a feeling where you are fully immersed in whatever you are doing.  

When you are in flow state, you are so absorbed by an engaging, enjoyable task that your attention is entirely held by it. In that moment, you generally lose sense of time, self-consciousness, and anything that doesn’t have to do with the task at hand. This is a powerful thing. 

Hungarian philosopher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term and said “There’s this focus that, once it becomes intense, leads to a sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity: you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other”.

By having a daily creative practice that you can immerse yourself in, you can more regularly get into the flow state to find a zone where you can change your usual experience of time – it almost stands still in the moment, and our usual internal chatter can fade away. Our hunger, fatigue, embarrassment, inner monologue and even aches and pains can slip away as you become singularly focussed on your craft. This becomes a form of mindfulness – another great contributing component of wellbeing. 

4. Storytelling to connect through history

Creativity and stories are fascinating things in that everything we create is informed by everything we have previously experienced. Nothing occurred in a vacuum. All our creative ideas emerge in response to our lived experience, in reaction to other things we have engaged with, and in a unique combination of components filtered through the transforming prism of the human mind. Everything is a remix. So, if everything we make is a version of things that come before us, the stories we tell connect us to our past in the same way that they help us to create the future. The creative act is one that acknowledges where we come from whilst also encouraging us to craft a new future informed by the information and understanding that we have. Humans have always created meaning and understood the world around us through stories. Storytelling in all its forms is a gateway to our past and our future – so in engaging with stories we can freely move through time to bring different timelines together in an ever emerging multiverse of creative possibilities. 

5. New things create new memories

The final point is one that links to a theory around how we measure time through memories. When we were kids, the years seemed to last longer, and as we age our experience of time seems to speed up. One idea with this is that when we are young we are having more new experiences, and so we are committing more things to memory. If we think of those memories as photos in a slideshow, there are more photos of the different things in our earlier years because we were experiencing them for the first time. As we get older, we need fewer of those photos, because we are having similar experiences, so when we look back over the time, it feels like it has moved faster because there are fewer photos to look back on. If that is indeed the case, then the opportunity here is to encourage more new memories through engaging with more new experiences. Creative activity is a powerful gateway to new experiences. Volunteering time with local creative community organisations. Trying new things like art classes and theatre performances. Experiencing new experimental work and hearing new stories from new perspectives. Engaging more regularly with moments of awe. All of these things can contribute to the creation of new memories and the expansion of our experience of time. 

Why not set yourself a challenge of at least 30 minutes a day of focussed creative activity. Perhaps write a poem, draw a picture, join a choir, watch some live theatre, have a family dance party, create a shared playlist of new music with some friends or work colleagues, or learn how to play an instrument. There are a range of different online prompts and challenges you could try. Engaging in creative activity is good for our wellbeing, it can help us feel more connected and more productive, and it can enable us to control time. What more could you want? Do something creative today.

Share your daily creative activity with us by tagging @creativewaikato on social media. 


Image: Ka Pō Ho‘iho‘i by Dr Nālani Wilson-Hokowhitu