Experience vs. Memory – How your mind trims your happiness

By Linnea Gannon

The Riddle of experience is based on two selves, the experiencing self and the remembering self. To make a clear distinction between the two selves the experience/present self is preset in our conscious life but does not store all information we process; as we cannot remember every moment of our lives. Instead we remember significant or memorable moment due to the Remembering self. The remembering’s self though not seemingly continually present keeps score of our life with specific memories stored. This is collated to create our life story.

The experiencing and remembering self work together as Mr Kahneman shows in this Ted talk with diagrams that depict patients’ real time experience versus what they remember after a procedure. 

Patient A had two spikes of pain but Patient B had more recorded pain over time. Patient B had the most amount of experienced pain, however patient A had a more painful remembering self as the last register of pain for Patient A was higher than that of patient B. The remembering self is more complex than the experiencing self as it tells the story of our life and it makes our decisions. While we look back to make decisions we also have to look to our future to our ‘anticipated memory’.

The two selves, due to their complexity are hindered by three cognitive traps. Firstly the human reluctance to understand the complexity of happiness; it is the over usage/simplification of words like happiness that have led to the term being un-descriptive and needing a more complex word to explain happiness. Secondly is our confusion between experience and memory of our two selves. The experience self is being happy with what you are doing in life, but the memory self is questioning if you are happy with your life? These are two distinct questions that are easily confused for asking one in the same thing. There is a low correlation between happiness for the two selves they must be distinguished separately. Thirdly is the focusing illusion; we distorted a situation so both the experience and remembering self are not given representative information to form a clear emotion on the experience or later the memory.

A further strength of this argument for the two selves being divergent is that Mr. Kahneman explained through the Gallup Survey how happiness for the remembering self could vary due to income. Where as the experiencing self there is a “flat line” suggesting that money does not have a great effect on ‘happiness’ to the experience self compare to the remembering self.” He says “Money does not buy you experience happiness but lack of money certainly buys you misery. “

The riddle of experience vs. memory

Pop Stress

What if someone told you that stress is a good thing? Stress can build your self esteem, and sharpen your character and make you successful. Over the years in her practice as a health psychologist , Kelly McGonigal has promoted that stress is an enemy to be fought against in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Today, ten years later, in her milestone TedGlobal Talk on How to Make Stress Your Friend, Kelly admits that she was completely wrong all this time.

She realised that one’s belief that if stress is a good thing, it changes your physical and mental state thus allowing you to live longer. How is that possible? During a 8 year research in the U.S. following a group of 30,000 people on how they deal with stress including death from stress, 182,000 people had died prematurely not from stress but from the belief that stress was bad for you. That study also showed that one group of people who chose to believe stress was positive, tests showed their heart vessels would reflect a state that emanated joy and courage.

“TAKE AWAYS: First, change your mindset in order to experience stress as your body’s way to prepare you for the challenge. Second, help and care for others in order to manage the risk of death due to stress.”

Furthermore, though you often encounter your adrenaline running high under stress, your body also releases oxytocin, known as the love hormone. With both your adrenalin and oxytocin running not only would you be elevating your life’s perspective, taking on a different path, you want to do anything and everything in your power to achieve the best and stress becomes a more pleasant and enjoyable experience. Choosing to understand and accept stress as a friend rather than a foe will change your approach to everyone in your life and in everything you do. You would then welcome any thing that came your way as an opportunity, exert a new found excitement of new possibilities and take you to live a life of success, whatever that may mean to you.

Kelly also refers to another study which found that major crisis events have no significant impact on the risk of death due to stress for people who are involved in activities around caring and helping others. Once again we seem to find evidence that self-awareness of body and mind and the subsequent change of mental and physical strategies within ourselves – applying kindness and compassion amongst others – are key to well-being and longevity.

Tropical Depression

Inside the airport express you still felt refreshed und summery – motivated again to attack work, restart your workout routine and reanimate your social life. Then the disenchantment hit you. The moment you stepped outdoors, the heat and humidity coated you like a heavy fur. Pollution levels at 10 “very high” colour the sky yellow. Here we call it “haze”. The jackhammers in your street remind you that you better be vibrant. Everything in your apartment is hot. Hot glasses, hot plates hot walls. Hot water comes out of your tap no matter which way. And when the cockroaches fly … Wondering why you feel a bit low? A bit much low maybe? 

“Hot town, summer in the city, back of neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity, doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city
All around, people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk hotter than a match head …”

    Summer in the City by The Lovin’ Spoonful – John Sebastian, Mark Sebastian, Steve Boone. 1966

    Coming back to the city after a vacation or a longer break is a challenge for most people I know and I work with. And quite a few develop a depressed mood and bring it up with me as they see this getting in the way of their well-being and performance.

    One of the main reasons we can give for the shock of re-entry is the sudden and extreme change of climate for most who come back from other continents. Heat and humidity are hard to deal with when you found yourself cycling through Hyde Park with a fleece on or had a pint under a mushroom heater on Pony Island just a day before. Of course coming back from leisurely activities, fresh air and your own holiday swing to find yourself back at work and duty does not help your mood. Neither do commuting and rushing for lunch. The downward trend of your sentiment often amplified by the accelerated pace of this place. It’s likely some of your favourite eateries, bars and shops are gone and replaced or under construction.

    But then again one more aspect is often overlooked: The emotional baggage that you have brought back with you. It did not show up as weight at the checkin counter, but surely can weigh heavy on you now that you have unpacked and washed all the other dirty laundry. Maybe you come back from a family visit, an alumni gathering or just met some friends or even strangers. It is likely that you have witnessed age and ageing including your’s. It is likely that you had time to reflect on life or were forced to do so by places, people and situations. It is also likely that each time you travel you gain more insight, more maturity and more perspective – not always in a good way.

    Your emotional baggage of sadness and grief, anger and frustration as well as self-pity and apprehension reacts inevitably with this fragrant and sultry Mos Eisley like chemicals. Tropical depression gets you when you suppress the above and try to move on without processing, acceptance and integrity.

    Borderline-Narcissistic Couples – why so much drama and attraction?

    Personality disorders occur along dimensions of behavioual, emotional and cognitive characteristics. A person can be evaluated as ranking higher or lower on a continuum (i.e. spontaneity: from boringly and routinelike sticking to plans to being overly impulsive and unpredictable). There is no clear cut to decide if someone is a certain way or not. We can merely measure if someone shows more or less of typical characteristics and symptoms. Main challenges for most of them are found in their lack or messed up sense of self and their unability to build and maintain secure and enduring relationships and sexuality.

    People diagnosed with NPD generally have a stable but false image of themselves and often believe they are of primary importance in everybody’s life or to anyone they meet. They are often arrogant, display snobbish, disdainful, or patronizing attitudes and are needy specifically for the admiration and envy of others. They hold persistent fantasies about attaining success and power and exploit other people for personal gain with a lack of empathy for others.

    Whereas people with BPD often demonstrate and present with: Overpowering emotion with rapid changes in mood and trouble regulating the intensity and onset, intense unstable interpersonal relationships, fragmented sense of self, need to be attached with abandonment anxiety (actual or perceived) with tendency to feel shunned and abused and engaging in impulsive behavior. They can be Chameleons who adopt an “identity” that suits the moment to make others accept them. They can exhibit empathy, feel remorse and guilt.

    Both have had issues building an identity in early childhood and often suffer from an injured sense of self. Each with a tendency to lie, manipulate, acting out destructively to themselves and others and to easily feel offended. Frequent internalised or externalised anger.
    What is the attraction and why is it so strong?

    A nacissistic person presents as very confident and charismatic thereby very appealing and attractive to the borderline’s lack of self-esteem. The colorful exaggerated successes attract a person with a fragmented sense of self who idealizes a strong sense of self. The narcissistic manipulative controlling nature will be attracted by the borderline’s fear of being abandoned. The NPD’s embellishments of power are attractive to the BPD’s need of stability. A person with BPD is emotionally energized and positive which matches the NPD level of energetic ambition.

    Unfortunately the mutual attraction can be played out as a Trauma Bond – based on shared traumatic experiences and an underlying readiness for abuse and to be abused. Also based on the borderline’s dependency which matches with the narcissistic need to feel important. The attraction is based on reciprocal and complementary patterns and often turns into resentment and even repulsion over time. Each partner can evoke unconscious unfinished developmental business in the other. Both types are similar in that both are self-centered and self-perception based.

    Most likely people wish for their partner to have traits which they lack to fill their needs and also to have compatible traits and to be similar to them. In this case, the likelihood of these two personalities attracted could very well be successful or unhealthy based on how self-aware they are on their own condition and how they manage their issues.

    Best chances for treatment progress and success:

    1. Both are willing to work on themselves
    2. Both stand up for the relationship
    3. Professional help is prepared to work with couples and individual disorders

    Why we procrastinate and what to do about it.

    Procrastination leads to negative results and can negatively impact yourself and your environment and your relationships. So why do we procrastinate? According to Tim Urban, blogger and speaker on psychological shortcomings says we tend to gear ourselves to instant gratification. We tend to get on a habitual cycle of putting it off, avoiding a deadline or just ignoring the importance of the issue and feeling no pressure at all by choosing some sort of a more immediate gratification. Where situations require no deadlines, procrastination can lead to avoiding a situation for a long period of time and very likely leading to suboptimal outcomes. Two forces are at work. “The monkey” as Tim describes, prefers to play, have fun and engages in a tug-of-war with the “rational decision maker”.

    This ‘rational decision maker’ will remind you there is a much better solution if we put in some ground work, a good long term result can happen. You can be completely guided to a better and different ending. The positive reaction would be to bravely confront the situation, see that to completion and take your life in a entirely different direction and open yourself to unmentionable great opportunities. What would we be missing out on if we didn’t procrastinate? Fear of anything like failure, of success and trying to be perfect can paralyse your life decisions and then affect those around you.
    How do we make situations more pleasant to motivate us away from procrastinating or delaying the outcome?

    • Self-awareness is the initial change to any habit. You may tend to procrastinate and are on the verge of taking the shortcut when you know conscientiously there is another better way around that issue.
    • Your perception of the matter could be skewed – and hence lead to resistance. It may be you who is the obstruction to achieving the goal. Was your boss being insensitive when she piled more work than you expected right before the weekend and caused negative feelings? Was your husband barking an order rather than politely asking you when you had a long day and you just didn’t want to do anything anymore? There could be situations where you just were not in the right frame of mind and you felt unhappy and in turn not motivated to do anything about it or even make an excuse.
    • Any bad perpetual habit can be dropped and replaced with a more helpful and healthy habit with practice. People with low self-belief – a subcategory of self-esteem – don’t t believe that they deserve the good things in life and tend to stay in their comfort zone. If you want a good outcome, good choices need to be made, even if that means ‘sacrificing’ the old self for a new self, a new comfort zone.
    • Before you start working on a task, befriend it first. Analyse what needs to be done and break the work down into smaller steps. Best if you can then tell others about your project or ambition. Set reasonable milestones as mini deadlines. Get someone to hold you accountable. Cater for the “monkey” by planning little treats on the way. Always and only treat yourself after you have completed a task or milestone.

    Watch the video to learn more about Tim’s procrastination identifiers. We can avoid ‘The Dark Playground, leave the ‘Panic Monster’ behind and try to make the ‘Hard Things’ become just as ‘Easy and Fun’ because your choices today will impact your tomorrow for possible greatness. 

    Inside the mind of a master procrastinator

    Couples Skill Building with Alain De Botton

    Here is a nice read . For 200 Hong Kong Dollar I bought Alain De Botton’s latest Novel and found it entertaining, therapeutic and insightful. Well worth a read for anyone in a committed relationship with many references to marital counselling, relationship skill building and couples therapy.

    De Botton describes a marriage over the course of 16 years with typical ups and downs and how the individuals who form the couple are dealing with the challenges of married life. Developmentally speaking we are following the couple through symbiosis, differentiation of self and other, practicing and (maybe) rapprochement. At the end of the book Rabih has solidified his being ready for marriage and thereby able to move closer to Kirsten without losing his ability to move apart, to give even when it is inconvenient and to deepen their bond with emotional sustenance.

    We don’t have to be constantly reasonable in order to have good relationships; all we need to have mastered is the occasional capacity to acknowledge with good grace that we may, in one or two areas, be somewhat insane. De Botton

    The author explores possibilities of mindsets and behaviours when the couple faces a crisis of infidelity. “…, she might have revealed the vulnerability that has lain all the while behind her annoyed demeanour: ‘I wish I could be everything to you. I wish you did not have those needs outside of me. I don’t really think your fantasies about Antonella are repulsive; I just wish there didn’t have to be – always – that imagined someone else. I know it’s madness, but what I want most is to be able to satisfy you all by myself’.”

    Every couple in a long-term relationship will pursue one of three possible pathways. Two lovers can intensify and prolong their symbiosis, they can move forward into differentiation and beyond or facing a separation of some shape or form.

    Learning how to be more curious, open minded and able to identify and deal with one’s own emotional reactions – not independent from the partner, but separate from the other – is the only skilful way forward. When Kirsten is labeled “materialistic” she could have reacted with a sense of ease and the willingness to find out more about what drove Rabih to such statement. She did not – for reasons that lie in between attachment figures.

    “(Rabih”s) chosen technique is distinctive: to call Kirsten materialistic, shout at her and then, later, to slam two doors. … Had Rabih picked up some better teaching habits, his lesson might have unfolded very differently. For a start, he would have made sure both of them went straight to bed and were well rested before anything was tackled. The next morning, he might have suggested a walk, perhaps King George V Park after they’d picked up a coffee and a pastry to have on a bench. …

    … Then, rather than accuse her, he would have implicated himself in the behaviour he wished to focus on. ‘Teckle, I find myself jealous of some of those types we know”, he would have started. “If I hadn’t gone into architecture, we could have had a summer villa, and I would have loved it in a lot of ways. I am the first one to adore the sun and the Mediterranean. I’m so sorry for letting us both down.” … “What I also want to say, though, and it is probably a lesson for both of us, is that we’re very lucky in a host of other ways that we should at least try not to forget. … and that we know how to have a lot of fun on our rain-sodden summer holidays in the Outer Hebrides in a crofter’s cottage that smells a little of sheep dung’.”

    The challenges arise between the partners when they communicate and produce infinity loops of unhelpful and unfortunate mutual triggering of disappointments and trauma:

    “… Throughout their relationship the two of them fail comprehensively at both tasks, teaching and learning. At the first sign that either one of them is adopting a pedagogical tone, the other assumes that they are under attack, which in turn causes them to close their ears to instruction and to react with sarcasm and aggression to suggestions, thereby generating further irritation and weariness in the mind of the fragile ‘instructing’ party.”

    Quotes from De Botton, Alain. The Course of Love (2016). Penguin Random House. UK.