You know there’s a catch…
I bet you never thought the way you slice zucchinis before your cook them can have a meaningful impact on your life.
In your defense, I didn’t think of it either until minutes ago.
The funny thing is that my initial claim is backed by science.
I’ll explain how.
Thinking Of Our Life As Meaningful Is Linked To Our Perception Of Time
When we look into our past and ponder about the life we’ve lived so far, trying to figure out — roughly — whether it was a good one or not, the memories we carry determine our conclusion.
Both quantity and quality of our mental images from the past contribute to the way we label our satisfaction with our overall life experience.
A fuller, meaningful life would therefore be linked to as many good and interesting memories as possible.
Scientific studies have shown that while it is rather easy to acquire those mental snapshots during childhood, the more we age, the fewer “frames-per-second” we record.
This explains why when we were kids days seemed longer than what they seem to us as adults. “Is it Sunday already? When did the week pass?” —Do you relate?
So now, as grownups, not only do we have to work with slower neural connections — electrical signals take longer to travel an increased network of neurons — that have to take the mental photo of our experiences, but we also need to make sure that the photo is one worth taking and we don’t waste the film, so to speak.
You don’t see the zucchini connection yet? That’s fine. Let’s move closer.
The Oddball Effect And Why Your Zucchini Slicing Method Matters
In retrospect, routine activity leads to the perception of shorter time intervals. It’s the same thing over and over again.
You take the same photo all day long. Nothing to write home about.
On the other hand, novel activity triggers more mental images. It’s something new, so it’s photo-worthy.
While going through a routine activity, it seems to take forever. But in retrospect, you don’t have that many things to say about it.
The opposite is true for novel activities. Good times seem to pass in a second as we go through them, but when we remember them, there are plenty of elements to recover and share.
This phenomenon is known as the oddball effect. In which the strange stimulus hidden in a repetitive series of elements, is remembered as having a longer duration than the other ones.
Even more, there is evidence that shows that if rewards are linked to the odd object — the one that is different from others in their environment — we tend to expand that perception even more.
This means that positive odd elements — value assigned by each individual in connection to the reward— will get us the longest pleasant memories.
This is why it matters how you slice zucchinis.
Changing the way we do even the simplest of things can trigger our brain to record more and more memories throughout the day.
Adding more spice to already positive events — I am going to suppose you like zucchinis in your food but don’t worry, it works with just about everything else — will cause you to create an impressive collection of memories that in retrospect will make your life seem longer and more pleasant.
These tiny elements contribute significantly to a beautiful life.
Yes, little things matter. We say it all the time.
So, how about you try the method in the future? See how many ways there are to slice zucchinis, or how many different routes you can take to your office, or make an intentional effort to discover new music, new movies, new books.
Chances are you’ll be adding years of fun to your life’s history.
I’d say it’s worth it.
- Adrian Bejan. Why the Days Seem Shorter as We Get Older. European Review, 2019; 1 DOI: 10.1017/S1062798718000741.
- Avni-Babad D, Ritov I. Routine and the perception of time. J Exp Psychol Gen. 2003 Dec;132(4):543–50. doi: 10.1037/0096–3422.214.171.1243. PMID: 14640847.
- Failing, M., & Theeuwes, J. (2016). Reward alters the perception of time. Cognition, 148, 19–26.
- Tse, P.U., Intriligator, J., Rivest, J., & Cavanaugh, P. (2014). Attention and the subjective expansion of time. Perception & Psychophysics, 66, 1171–1189.