Monday, June 22, 2009

New Experiences Lengthen Your Life

From the title of this post, you might think that I'm suggesting a way you can add years to your lifetime. In a sense that's true, but I'm not talking about quantity here, I'm talking about quality.

I'm sure you've heard the saying, "it's the journey, not the destination, that matters." I'm a big proponent of that kind of thinking, because the ultimate destination for all living things is not much fun to contemplate. Even if you believe in some kind of afterlife, there's that moment of "transition" to which few people look forward. Regardless of what you believe, you have a very limited amount of time to exist in this form and in this time, so you might as well make the most of it.

I developed a theory many years ago about the sense of time compression that comes with repeated experiences. I noticed that all of the time I spent doing the "same old, same old" got compressed into a single chunk of memory with few distinguishing moments. At the same time, every truly unique experience seemed to produce a separate memory with many distinguishing moments.

You can see this theory in action when you look back over the past year of your life. What can you say about it? What moments stand out? Does any moment you spent on day 90 at work compare to any moment you spent on day 2 of your vacation? I'm guessing not.

The flip side of time compression is time expansion. Every moment you spend doing something new and different expands your perception of the time involved. I know, this theory seems to fly in the face of the saying "time flies when you are having fun." But again, I'm talking about quality here, not quantity. For example, I noticed that virtually all of the time between vacations gets compressed in my memory into a single uninteresting block of time labeled "I worked." Sure, a few work moments stand out, but they are when something unique happened.

If you doubt my theory, try this experiment. At least one day of each weekend for the next month (rain or shine), go somewhere you've never been before, or do something you've ever done before.

At the end of the month, look back. What memories stand out? Even in such a short time period, where all memory is still relatively fresh, I'll bet your memories of the unique weekend experiences will be sharper and more interesting than anything that happened while you were attending to everyday responsibilities. The discrepancy becomes even more pronounced the more time that passes. In three months, only the weekend experiences will stand out at all.

So there you have it. If you want to feel like you're living a full life, you have to break out of your routine periodically. Routine is great for efficiency and consistency, but it steals precious time from your experience of life.

You don't have to spend a lot of money, and you don't have to do a lot of planning. Just get out. Do something different. I doesn't matter what it is.

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