What we remember is largely based on perception, perspective and attention.
Have you ever been reading a text while walking down the street when a lamp post jumped out in front of you? Clunk! Yeah... me too. Frigging hurts! (My ego, mostly.) We are far too focused on the little tidbit from a friend to notice we are walking blythly into an immovable object.
Before reading the balance of this post, check out the one and a half minute video in the link. Really try to do the exercise. It will help explain what I'm about to subject you to surrounding selective attention. ~grin~
~whistling, shuffling papers, checking out websites~ “Oh! I want one of those!”
Ah! You're back.
Firstly, did you see everything while doing the test? Fifty percent of you did not. In fact, if you did happen to notice what crossed the screen, you probably lost count at the same time. It's called “inattentional blindness”. What it means is, you cannot focus on one thing and register everything else around that event even if it seems it should be blatantly obvious. If I had you do another test, some of those who noticed what happened in the last video would miss things in the second video.
None of this limited perception has anything to do with intelligence. It has everything to do with focus.
That which we focus on grows (we see more of it) and that which we don't focus on shrinks (we don't notice it as much). I have talked about a similar vane in the past when I mentioned in a previous post that we see 4 million bits of information per second yet we only register about 2 thousand. Which of those 4 million we choose to focus on is what we will register into memory.
Which pretty much explains why some people see an event one way while others see another.
Are we really listening to what Aunt Polly is saying about her new fuchsia doily collection while having cinnamon tea at the bistro or are we focused on the really cute human who just happened to walk by outside the window. In the future, Aunt Polly will smell cinnamon tea and remember a lovely day at the bistro. You'll smell cinnamon tea and remember the hot commodity that just wandered by. Same event... different memory.
What we see is what we focus on and our unique perspective. We have to consciously change our minds before we can change our minds.
Interestingly, this can happen with long ago stored memories as well. We tend to drop some of the details of an event and skew the memory toward a better outcome for ourselves. It's a form of self preservation. Over time, we don't even realise we have altered the memory. The only thing that can change the way we see it is to have facts thrust upon us.
Have you ever compared the same story with a friend years later only to realise your version isn't the same? “Dude! You weren't even there!”
Experiences from our past can alter our memory of current events as well. This comes back to what we focus on. If I've had a bad experience in the past – perhaps several times – the odds are pretty good if a similar experience comes up, I'm going to look intently for those same hints of negative experience and see only those. We eliminate those things that do not jive with our memory and, in turn, our expectation. Even if the negative experience doesn't happen at all, I will invent it in my mind just to prove that this is the way it is for me!
So... what to do about it?
Recognising this is not the same experience and the person or event does not have the same intent or outcome as those which have come before is a good start. Knowing what we are focusing on and why is also important. I cannot change my mind until I know what it is I wish to change. I cannot integrate new behaviours and beliefs until I know what my current behaviours and beliefs are.
Why do I cut the ends off a ham before cooking it?
If I enter into a situation with a predetermined idea how it will turn out, that's very, very likely the experience I will endure. That's what my memories do. They predetermine how this particular situation is going to shake out because I know I've seen this before. And, if those memories are skewed, then the reality of the situation will likely elude me as well.
I will create my experience to prove that is my experience because that's exactly how I remember it from last time.
Have you ever gone to a party believing you were going to have a bad time... and did... while everyone else was having a hoot?
I once had someone tell me several times she couldn't see how she could last more than ten years in a relationship. Guess how long the relationship lasted. It became ingrained in her perspective and was based on how she integrated her memories into her current situation.
After checking out the video, I mentioned I was surfing through websites and wrote “Oh! I want one of those!” What do you suppose it is I wanted? Does it matter? Each of you will have had a flash of thought regarding what website I was looking at based on what you know about me. Even if our contact has been limited, you will have formed some sort of opinion based on your collected memories of me and situations we have been in together.
Odds are pretty good none of you are right.
We have to be careful how we judge people when what we are basing our opinions on are likely a limited portion of who that person really is and on our memory of them... or our memory of people from our past who are similar to them.