Have you ever had this feeling that life flashes in front of your eyes and time is just… gone? You blink, and suddenly it’s ten years later. All you can think of is that you are still working at the same place, dreaming of the same goals and adventures, while your passport has had no new stamps since you got it. Frustration starts piling up in your head while your mind is still stuck thinking about the things you haven’t done yet. So you clench your fists and think, “OMG, I lost 10 years of my life. How did that happen?”
What’s up with that?
We Don’t Know Anything For Sure About The Mind
It’s hard to pinpoint why this happens. After all, the mind is the most complex object in the universe, and the concepts of consciousness and time are still something we know frighteningly little about. Yet we know that somehow, for some reason, consciousness seems to come bundled with a faulty time sensor that slugs on the most inconvenient times and flies without our consent.
But why does this happen? I mean, not why time moves ––that’s a subject for a physics class. Why does time seem to flash and vanish in front of our eyes? Why is it that we suddenly wake up one day, and it feels like 10 years have just passed without us even noticing it?
Well, in short, it seems to be related to aging and the quirks of how we structure our lives. Still, nobody knows for sure why we experience this phenomenon. Heck, it could even be a condition for some.
However, I have a theory.
The Illusion of Memory and How it Shapes Our Perception of the Past
You know how everything is always clearer in hindsight? How you had no clue how to get to where you are now, but now that you are here, you know the steps and decisions you had to take, the sacrifices and hurdles you had to overcome to become who you are? Well, what if I told you that that’s just another illusion, another fabrication of your mind.
What if I told you that, despite being aware of your past, your mind is still lost as to the details of how it got here.
I have some explaining to do.
The Mind’s Complex Relationship with Time and Consciousness
As you are probably aware, the human brain can only remember so much. This is because the brain can only store a certain amount of readily available information ––2.5 million gigabytes, apparently. And when it comes to long-term memory, not only is the brain limited, but very unreliable.
Our most vivid memories are events and experiences that leave a strong imprint on our persona. Those events are commonly moments of joy, trial and effort, tremendous pain, and sometimes trauma. These are moments when our awareness is at its peak, and our senses are in high gear, registering and hardwiring what we are experiencing in our psyche.
Whether it is the highlights of our wedding, a challenging study session, a hard break up, or maybe a painful lesson from playing with electricity. These experiences stay with us and become part of who we are. They literally change our brains’ wiring and become our character’s building block.
It’s the closest thing to changing the framework that informs how we experience the world.
Now, as you might have guessed, these imprints are the clearest memories, the individual steps you put together as a roadmap that got you where you are. The day you got accepted into uni, the difficult test you aced in a particular class, the job interview you nailed, the time you broke a record at work. All these moments are clear in your mind; if you close your eyes, it is as if you are there again. You can recall the room’s smell, the cramp in your hand, the cold feeling in your lower back, and the liberating sense of accomplishment and success.
But there are infinite other small, seemingly unimportant choices and decisions you have made and have a hard time recalling. These are the gaps in your memory, the missing steps you unconsciously took, and I would argue these are the vehicle that brought you where you are now.
The Role of Trauma, Joy, and Pain in Shaping Our Perception of Time
Now don’t get me wrong. I absolutely believe that the most consequential decisions and experiences in our lives, the most joyful and painful ones, carry a significant amount of weight in who we are.
In those pivotal moments, we demonstrated who we were and decided the path we were going to take. We exercised our will over our circumstances and molded our future.
But, if we could document every moment of a person’s life, every single decision and experience they have lived, we would realize that, ultimately, the small and most mundane decisions we take daily are the most formative and consequential events of our life. These experiences inform our personality and mold our character and views. They are the reason we become capable of asserting who we are in the first place. And they also happen to be the majority of your life.
Think about it. Choosing to wake up early, go to school, eat a certain way, be kind, do a little more, carry yourself a specific way, hell, even just how you give a handshake. All these decisions compounded are what make you, well, YOU.
They are the individual strokes that create the work of art.
Yes, you might think you decided to be hardworking and kind. But in reality, you just were hardworking and kind in the first place. It was an action that came naturally to you or just made sense because of how you lived your life in the first place.
Maybe you lost a loved one and bowed to carry their wishes to educate yourself or be a better person. Maybe you suffered abuse and trauma and promised you wouldn’t let that happen again. Or you just got your heart stolen by an individual you now look up to and want to emulate. These memorable moments shape every other decision and experience in your life. But it is the carrying out of the journey, the minor adjustments, and corrections towards what you believe yourself to be that make the bulk of your life and who you ultimately become.
How I Lost 10 Years of my Life
OK. So hopefully, now you are starting to understand my point. But what does this have to do with our lives suddenly flashing away?
Well, think about it.
We are creatures of the present. We are forever concealed in this small island of consciousness we perceive as the present. So despite our incredible capacity to remember the past, make informed decisions based on our experiences, and make an identity out of them, we can only see part of the journey.
Yes, we can see tiny correction points, but we can’t grasp the path in between. In a way, we are as lost for the past as we are about the future.
The experience of our lives suddenly flashing in front of our eyes is but becoming aware of this reality.
We suddenly become conscious of the fact that we don’t really know how we got here. We wonder where did time go. After all, we can’t really remember the individual days, only the memorable moments shuffled within them. So we grieve for the moments we didn’t live, the experiences we expected to have but didn’t.
These missing steps are why you may feel like you’ve lost 10 years of your life. While you may have clear memories of significant events, the day-to-day choices and decisions that led you to where you are now are harder to remember.
Why Time Seems to Slip Away
We can only see so much when we think about the person we want to be and the things we want to do with our lives. We have an idea of the direction we have to take, but that’s it. And yes, the most meticulous and prepared among us might even have an actionable, detailed roadmap of how to get to where they want. But in reality, this is no more than a series of way posts that can help you stay on course. Your character, your resilience, and heart are what pave the path. They are the catalyst of your continuing transformation.
The feeling of losing time is a common experience that may be related to the quirks of how we structure our lives and the illusion of memory. While we may not fully understand the complexity of the mind and consciousness, we can take steps to build a fulfilling life, one day at a time, and appreciate the choices that led us to where we are now.
Ultimately, we should not grieve for our lost time. If anything, we should celebrate the fact that we can remember the important things in our lives. The path we can’t see is still there. We just can’t see it. And maybe it’s for the best. That way, we can have our important memories, those that matter, be the center of attention.