Meta-Memory, Meta-Me – Self-confusion and Clarity
Some say our memory is “us”, that we are the core of what we remember. Our achievements, friends who have always been there for us and the people and activities and things we love.
Study after study proves we can’t trust our memory. Yet most of us trust our own memory even more than the cameras at an eventual incident. Are you sure you know who you are?
I think you’re responsible for making sense of your memories, not your memories as they are (as much as possible as noted below, we don’t have any brain memories from our most formative years but might have “body-memories”).
It’s what you decide to do that defines you more than your memories. Just like Aldus Dumbledore tell Harry in the second book in 1998:
“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities”
I claim it’s the exact same thing with our memories and in many other things. People with traumatic pasts can overcome their memories and create wonderful futures, people with wonderful upbringing can still get stuck on a memory, immobilizing them.
Life is mostly about taking actions for a better future, not about reliving the past.
Harness your memories, understand them and their origin but don’t let them control you or get you stuck – a terrible waste if the memory itself proves to be false. (And of course the opposite, a wonderful gain if it boosts your confidence.)
Studies show that our memory is something highly rewritable. Something we potentially adjust every time we retrieve it, for the duration of our life. Your brain develops throughout life.
Your life is NOT about the life you had, but the life you will have.
Sure, we can always blame the misfortune that has befallen us. The choice is yours. But embracing reality for me is about embracing what is, focusing on making a better future for myself and those around me rather than settling for what’s been.
Studies also show that people who have had a tough time but can make a narrative that makes sense, or at least connect the dots of how their existence used to be is by far more likely to create a better future for themselves than those who are still fighting old memories, trying to change what’s been or changing a person at the moment based on what happened long before. Instead of focusing on what they want today and what they want their future to become. It’s important to learn from our past. Our past is a gift into creating our future, although it sometimes doesn’t feel like that.
The narrative we tell ourselves is important because it affects our memory. I often talk nostalgia with my childhood friends, and we often love going back to old challenges, fears, and celebrations. That builds our relationship and deepen our connection. Still, it can happen that the fish we caught wasn’t anything near the size at what the story is now told to be, without any one of us realizing the change. Or when we revisit an old trail we used to meet up at when we were kids now appear totally different, when in reality, it’s our memories that have changed rather than the place itself. (Based on looking at old photos).
Likewise, I often have to remind my childhood friends when fake memories appear. Such as “Ric, you’ve always had it lucky and easy with women” whenever we’re lucky to have a female waiter give me a free bun or some other freebie and I admit, now often happens. Yet I remind them that when I was a young kid, I was an awkward nerd towards the ladies. I rather hid in a book whenever a beautiful girl approached me in a connection-seeking manner or I endlessly start searching for something in my bag when I notice being noticed by a girl on the bus until the moment passed.
That’s how my life used to be then. But that’s all overwritten by the countless experiences I’ve had the last 20 years with freebies and approaches. My friends now have forgotten about the cowardly character I used to be. Now it brings a nostalgic smile to my face. Yet at the time I felt like I was imprisoned in my own mind, berating myself that I chickened out again and again when the opportunity was there. And I think that’s the key to our memory, the key to our growth. That I can understand where my fear came from and I can understand why I opted out from creating that connection back then, and today comes so easily. I can forgive myself for not taking the leap then.
Can you? I’m sure you can relate to the same fear, perhaps for different things. Perhaps what was fearsome for me then was easy for you. But I’m sure you too have opted out from taking initiatives you secretly wish you had taken. Perhaps kindness toward yourself in that moment can help you dare to do something different next time opportunity arises?
I think it’s very important to note that we don’t remember our most formative years. Yet some of us deeply believe in those memories. How come? What do you remember? Me, I believe in a few stories retold a thousand of times from caring relatives. It’s really hard to “know” what are my own honest, actual memories and are reconstructions from the well-intended stories. In this case, it might be harmless, in other cases it's surely not. Ensure you think about the moments you treasure more than the ones you fear.
Most of the really awesome people I know journal. I’m not doing it that much myself but whenever my life doesn’t go my way I do that. It’s an amazing way to learn about our own patterns. To go back and realize “oh my” we DO this X every week, I thought it was much rarer than that. Or the opposite. I now realize I don’t do as often as this and that. Once again, embracing reality for what it is is asking ourselves the question. “Did I accomplish what I intended?” It’s so easy to fool ourselves into saying it’s not that often X or Y happens when the reality is quite different. Give it a try.
Life is subjective. We’re very persuadable, all of us. Studies show that memories of events can be changed by just replacing ONE word when asking a question. A very dangerous fact when for example, interviewed after a scary incident. The interviewer has a very big responsibility to NOT create new or false memories of the scenario, something easily done when trying to dig to understand what happened or what not happened.
Like with memory we can also easily fool ourselves when we’re working with Business Intelligence. For example, let’s say we have a statistics called “PlayTime” on STEAM. We’re actually aware and know that this metrics isn’t “Active PlayTime” but instead just the application running, including “Away from Keyboard” time – yet when it comes to decision-making on this metrics we easily forget it. So naming things is very important. The narrative you tell yourself every minute of your life is very important. It’s not easy though because life IS subjective. Yet archiving or failing results based on the wrong definition builds the wrong impression of what works. Both in life and in business.
Another “meta” business intelligence challenge I’ve faced with many different clients is the term “price” – is that the tag of the printed price-tag? Is it the amount paid by the customer including the discount tag overwriting the physical same tag? Is it the minus a virtual or cyber discount paid if via social media or another campaign?
It’s not easy to make a decision without knowing what the person you’re talking to define as “price”. It’s very easy to forget they’re not meaning the same thing as you are when you use the same word as them. And as most often, what we’re unaware of controls our options, so if you’re not even aware that there might be different definitions floating around, you can both come to VERY different conclusions. It’s the same with our memory and mind. Be mindful and kind of the words you choose to use when talking to yourself. Your emotions change with your perceptions, thus your memory change too more than you think!
Likewise, with a big data, you might encounter revenue on statistics you previously thought a waste. It's the same with your own brain. For example, we recently discovered we have brain cells in our heart. And many people believe in body-scanning as part of treating trauma, and in using quick movements to change emotional states.
So be kind to yourself in what you can manage to get input for.
I recently visited a Psychosynthesis event where I only went to the first presentation of the day, then chose to invest my day in other things (just due to prior prioritizing, it was a great event).
I get updates from some friends attending the full day and they marvelled at the number of facts I got from the one presentation, making them wonder if they slept thru parts of it. My belief is it was their whole day felt like a blur because they had a presentation after presentation making it hard to remember it all. But for me, point-purposefully going into a well-chosen presentation and just attending that one made it a lot easier for me to post-process and make it stick. I also aimed to apply some of the theories presented in my own mentoring and surely helped to make it stick.
Thus be kind to yourself. All of us embrace different parts of the reality we share. All of us carry different things forward. Your way is unique and worth living, worth expanding worth bettering.
Your brain can always develop more. It’s NEVER too late to change your brain, to take initiative for levelling up. Research shows that your brain develops in those areas you use often, and is highly affected by the words and emotions you choose.
Remember that memory works both ways. Life is about your future, about taking actions right now to ensure you better it for yourself those around you. In Psysosynthesis we use a lot of Imagery Exercise to retell, listen and embrace a memory to make a better future. As well as imaging the future and the actions needed to get there. This too has been studied to reshape the physical brain in measurable ways, just like meditation.
Believe in your own memory, aim to learn to see when you can trust it, when you really shouldn’t, and when to use it to become better or just in more harmony with where you already are.
Links in this article:
Liked this article but no time for reading or wanting your hands free for other things? Try the podcast version, it elaborates more on psychosyntesis but convers the same thing
- The Memory Illusion by Julia Shaw
- The Whole-Brain Child
- Unlocking the Emotional Brain: Eliminating Symptoms at Their Roots Using Memory Reconsolidation
- Start of the Harry Potter Series
Articles and presentations
- Why you can't trust yourself - by Mark Manson
- Your Body language shapes who you are by Amy Cuddy (video)
- Second Brain Found in Heart Neurons - Trust your Gut Feelings
- How not to be ignorant about the world | Hans and Ola Rosling