Life in sections

“Well it’s a short life and if you keep repeating your success, you’re living a shorter time. In other words, you’re going to end up looking back on your life in sections, not in years.”

-Louis CK, in conversation with Marc Maron

Here’s an illustration of how perception and memory work. Read these two 9-digit sequences:

400500600

732134906

Wait 30 seconds and try to recite the sequences without peeking. The first is far easier to remember because we detect an obvious pattern – four hundred, five hundred, six hundred. We can reduce nine digits of information into three ‘chunks’.

Our experiences work the same way. We don’t remember every moment of every day. We chunk batches of moments together: the time spent making and eating breakfast, sitting in the car to work, checking email, the first meeting of the day, etc. The more varied our days are, the fuller we perceive them to be; nevermind that each day consists of the same number of moments.

The temptation, as we age, is to hew closely to the experiences we find most agreeable. We stick with the easy, the comfortable, the stable. The job we’ve figured out. The neighborhood we can map out in our head. The familiar shape of our Saturdays.

Routine is an opioid, not a stimulant.

Warm in its embrace, we startle awake decades later, wondering “where did the time go?”