As a child I remember hearing adults complain about how fast their lives flew by. “Appreciate your youth” they would say, “because in a blink of an eye you will be my age and wonder where all the time went.”
I am not going to lie. The thought scared me then and still scares me now. I do not want to look back on my life and feel like it passed in the blink of an eye.
I thought a lot about what they were saying and tried to understand how it could happen. I reflected on my own limited experience with the passage of time and I started to see a pattern emerge.
I had also experienced long periods of time that seemed short in hindsight. But I had also experienced the exact opposite. Short periods of time that felt much longer in hindsight.
Over the years I have continued to think about this, collect more data from my own experiences and I have developed a theory about how we perceive the passage of time.
How to Live a Short and Empty Life
Think about when you are in a routine and every day you do the same basic things. Do the same type of work. Eat the same types of food. See the same people. When you reflect back on a week, month or year of days like this what stands out to you? Are there 365 unique days? Or are all of those similar days mashed into one big memory?
What if you did the same routine for 5, 10 or even 30 years. Imagine looking back on your life and it has all merged into one combined memory. Life would seem so short.
When you are in a routine time goes by very slowly in the present but feels short and empty in hindsight.
How to Live a Long and Full Life
Think about when you go on a sight-seeing vacation to a country or place you have never been. It seems like every minute of every day is unique and different. Your eyes are taking in new sights. Your ears hearing new sounds. Your mouth tasting new flavors. When you reflect back on a trip like that you will be able to recall hundreds of unique memories.
What if you regularly filled your life with a variety of unique and memorable experiences? Imagine looking back on your life and being able to recall each of these memories. Life would feel long and full.
When you are doing unique things everyday time flies by quickly in the present but seems very long and full in hindsight.
What’s the point?
I don’t think it is possible or desirable to live every moment of your life in a unique and memorable way. There is a time and place for periods of both routine and unique experiences.
The challenge that most of us face is that it is very easy to fall into a routine and very difficult to break out of it to do something unique.
If you look back on your life in 30 years and feel like it passed in the blink of an eye… you can’t say I didn’t warn you.