What happens when you stop thinking of time in years?

How old are you?
I’m 27.

This is the answer I’ve been giving people so far but when April rolls in I’ll be 28 years old. And there’s a massive problem with that.

Reframing Age

A few days ago I watched a video by Nas that made me pause and rethink my life. He mentioned that 32% of his life was already over and went on to explain how everyone should think about their life completion percentage.

Here’s the math of it.

Credit: Sartaj Anand

1. Enter your age in decimal years.
If you need help in calculating this then use this link.

2. Plug in your national life expectancy in decimal years.
This depends on your birth nation and gender and can be found at this link.

3. And you’re done!
I ran the numbers for myself and sat back.

Credit: Sartaj Anand

WHAT?! I am already done with 41.4% of my life.

Accepting Fear

Yes.

I didn’t expect it so soon but the fact is when you recalibrate your sense of time from months and years to a percentage, a lifetime turns out to be not long enough. My mind rounded up 41.4% to 50% and to suddenly become aware that I was half done with my life filled me with extreme anxiety and unfulfillment. None of my achievements seemed to matter; not because they weren’t worthwhile anymore but because I had taken too long.

Credit: Sartaj Anand

When I jumped from 27 years and 9 months to 41.4% I realized the goalposts had moved because the last 33.1 years of my life were suddenly missing. This period may have never actually existed but this loss pushed me much closer to my death and exposed a few biases that had been developing all my life.

Flight of Time Bias

Our perception of time is logarithmic and so the initial part of our lives are relaxed while the latter sections get increasingly compressed. This is because we perceive time by comparing it with our life span. Consequently, half of our perceived life is over by age 7 and if we factor in the fact that we don’t remember much of our first 3 years, then half of our perceived life is over when we turn 18. This speeding up of time as we get older requires a great deal of mindfulness to reverse but should be considered an essential step to aging gracefully.

100 Year Life Bias

Millennials and Generation Z are wired differently because of constant exposure to digital technologies such as the internet, cryptocurrency and virtual reality. Their artificial ability to be instantly present or productive influences them to assume that they have have plenty of time, close to 100 years, to live. However, this optimism is a specific manifestation of the Overconfidence Effect and isn’t grounded in reality because even today expected lifespan in developing countries such as Sierra Leone is as low as 49 years. We do not have excess time.

Temporal Doppler Effect

This bias seems to suggest that as events approach us from the future they feel closer, compared with events in the past, which feel further away as they recede. Thus a week in the future seems closer than a week in the past and can lead to Hyperbolic Discounting which causes irrational decisions everyday. It favors actions that lead to immediate rewards versus those that are realized over the long term. Consequently, we must make conscious efforts to combat this effect and minimize its impact on our critical thinking abilities.

Embracing Mortality

“Our logical, rational mind tells us that we will die, even as we act like we’ll live forever.” - Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

Our mortality is an essential part of our humanity because unlike other living things we are able to comprehend death and its significance. This does not make us less fearful of it nor does the knowledge that all of us, without exceptions, are subject to it brings us peace. Death remains a terrible void that swallows us whole and we die hoping our work or some artifact of our existence remains. I know that if we need to live fully in the present we must embrace death but the way escapes me. Luckily, I still have 58.6% of my life to figure this out but, in the meanwhile, tell me how will you thrive today?