Does it feel like the past five pandemic-filled months have been an entire year? Or is it hard to even tell what day it is anymore? There’s a psychological reason for that mistaken perception of time.
It turns out that the idiom that “time flies when you’re having fun” is not all that far off — except more accurately, the idiom might be that “time flies when you’re accomplishing goals.”
Dr. Albert Tsai, a psychiatrist at Overlake Hospital in Bellevue, said when we keep busy, get things done, and have structure in our day, our minds perceive time as passing quickly.
“Structure is really important in regulating our moods, our anxieties, and certainly the perception of time passing changes with that structure or lack of structure,” he said.
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But when our days don’t have much in the way of structure or goals to accomplish, we can become bored and can feel like time is standing still. People who have been furloughed or people who were prevented from doing what they planned this year by having to stay home may experience this feeling of time plodding along.
“Most people can experience that if they’re bored or don’t have structure, time seems to slow down,” Tsai said.
He pointed to a 2012 study that used the term “approach motivation” in reference to planning for a goal. In the study, people were shown shown images such as flowers and desserts for the same amount of time. Participants who were

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