The paradoxical relationship between experience and memory.
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“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” — Leo Tolstoy
Life is a fragile combination of fleeting and everlasting moments. To identify the culprits of this distinction, look no further than the two houses of time we claim to know exceptionally well: experience and memory.
Now more than ever, exists an irrepressible level of social pressure to “live your best life”. Standard operating procedure suggests you spend money on experiences and not things, worry less and travel more, hang out with people whose emotional coffee cup is cascading with happiness, be bold as shit, and take lots and lots of pictures.
Alright, a bit of an exaggeration there, but you’ve got an Instagram. You know what I mean. The self-imposed trap to impede time just long enough to crack a smile or shed a tear, only to look up and realize perfection evaded you yet again.
Which is where the pictures come into play — if I can’t truly relish in the peaceful bliss of a moment I should be overwhelmingly thankful for, let me at least snap a Polaroid so I can re-visit later on when I’m in a better frame of mind. But is it even possible for experience and memory to be on the same page? The short answer? Yes — but they’re usually not.
Allow me to explain.
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The inherent disconnect between experience and memory can be attributed to a slew of nuances, but for the sake of time (pun) and your attention span (another!), we’ll keep it to three.
First, what we actually experience is more objective than we’d like it to be. Yes, it takes into account what we’re doing, who we’re with, and the heart-rendering underpinnings of the moment. But it also is considering how you’re feeling at that time, if you have a headache, any joint pain, what’s happening in your life altogether, the stresses and challenges imposing on your overall mood, what you want but still don’t have in your life, and so on.
Second, so much is deleted during an actual experience that to truly experience joy, you have to rely on art and not science. After all, if your brain didn’t throw out most of the information available for upload, your mental dexterity would be withered down to its ashes. There’s far too much going on in a given moment to take it all in at once. Because of this distilling process, you need a little luck sprinkled in to elevate all the way up to Cloud 9.
Finally, your memory can be a little biased. Everything’s clearer in hindsight, meaning lots of experiences you didn’t actually appreciate as they were happening, all of sudden look a lot sexier in the rearview mirror (i.e. nostalgia).
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The Value of the Photo Album
We retain less than .000001% of our experiences over a lifetime. It’s hard to wrap your head around at first, but once you do, you might not shriek as loudly the next time one of your social media accounts gets hacked and you have to start from square one.
Before we get the car before the horse, I’m all for taking pictures. Capturing a moment in time that’s worth capturing — or attempting to, at least — is an experience within itself. Take them, post them, feel good about them — just don’t get sucked in too long. The filter you view the picture through is just like the filter used to make the picture look better, distancing you further from reality while the clock continues to tick.
Memories are important. They’re part of the small fortune within ourselves we’re able to take with us when it’s our time for the next stage of existence. All I’m urging you to consider however, is allow them to be created on their own volition.
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The Inverse Effect
Experience and memory are separate phenomena. It takes a different level of intention to make the most out of one versus the other. Unfortunately, a lot of us fall victim to trying to appease both to the maximal degree.
Trying to have a fulfilling experience for the purpose of it becoming a wonderful memory is like to trying to become a Hall of Fame baseball player on your first Major League at-bat. If you’re eye is that far off into the future, there’s no way you keep your eye on the ball long enough to actually hit it.
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Here’s where I don’t have an answer for you. The choice of what to focus on is yours and yours alone. Some people’s experiences are created from reviewing those old scrapbooks and feeling warm inside. Some people get so dialed in doing certain things for their own sake, they don’t mind not having a printed or digital recollection of them.
Like anything in life, I’m sure it’s important to have balance. We go through various stages in life, and our picture-taking tendencies are no different. We’re very much focused on wonder when we’re young, experiencing and capturing those experiences when we’re maturing, and reminiscing on the good times as we grow older. I’m not saying this is the way to do it, but it’s a logical explanation for how the stages naturally occur.
In closing, I’d like to revert your attention back to the first line from this post: Life is a fragile combination of fleeting and everlasting moments. The key word of emphasis from this sentence is fragile. If life is anything, it’s that. And it deserves to be handled with care.
Whether you’re focused on truly living your best life, or merely documenting it, just do what makes you happy. Not for some extrinsic or superfluous reason, but because you truly get lit up inside.
These fleeting, yet everlasting moments are ripe for the plucking — it’s not worth letting anything get in the way. Your patience determines your experience. Your time spent determines your memory.
But enough gospel. At the end of the day — if there’s one thing that links the two together — when both your experiences and your memories are appreciated for what they are, it means you’re leading with your heart.
And should whatever you do be led by your heart, I have faith that when it’s all said and done, you’ll have effectively rendered to the world…your best life.
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