If I look back over my life, or at least the past 25 years, one thing becomes immediately clear: I have lived from one problem to the next, and I bet you’re the same. Whether they are little issues or big life changing events, it is almost impossible to look back over our lives without all those Problems jumping out at us as if they were the most important things to ever happen.
If I look a little closer or dig a little deeper I find there are many great things that happened, of course – and you would find those too if you were looking back. But they are harder to recall, they don’t have the same intense feeling as when things went wrong. Any regular readers to my blog know I’m fairly positive, so why is it so easy to recall the bad times in my life?
It’s because of survival, the fundamental foundation of all life. Humans, just like any other living organisms, will do everything within their power to adapt to their circumstances and environment, do everything they can to survive. Granted, modern life brings vastly different threats than those humans had 150,000 years ago. And, at that time I’d imagine failure had substantially bigger consequences. Whereas in prehistoric times, failure often meant death, today failure ranges from a Facebook post with no likes, or an audience falling asleep during your speech, to being filmed throwing up on a rollercoaster. Of course there are bigger failures – for me, I could list bankruptcy, a failed business, a failed love life and of course my broken neck. But every failure that we survive in our modern lives contributes to a ‘loser’ thought pattern.
Our ability to burn indelible marks into our memory with an amazing amount of accuracy and detail when things go wrong is not a design flaw; it is an almost perfect way for us to prevent future pain and to ultimately survive. It is our brain’s way of reminding us not to do that again.
Here’s the downside. In the modern world, many failures are not important enough to warrant such a long and embarrassing memory. A failed speech is unlikely to kill you, and that time you told a bad joke and nobody laughed is not worth remembering every time you reminisce about your life. We need to balance out these memories; otherwise we will be defined by, and haunted by, these moments in our past. Your brain is trying to protect you from repeating your mistakes, to keep you humble and grounded and a little bit scared so that you don’t take too many risks – but in doing so, it might be preventing you from achieving the next big step in your life.
We need to focus in on the successes. You need to sit down and spend some time truly feeling how good it is when something goes right, and burning that into your memory. Do you remember the first time you got a higher grade than you expected in school? I don’t, not because I didn’t, but because I simply did not hardwire that event into my brain so that I could recall it if I needed to in the future. It didn’t seem important at the time.
Imagine if we could recall every success as easily as we can recall our failures. How much different would our lives look?
From today, every time you get a little ‘pick me up’ moment, any success at all, take some time out to celebrate, phone a friend, post on Facebook – but also include some detail of how you feel and the circumstances. Make a memory of it.
If I could tell my 15-year-old self something, I believe it would be to hardwire every success into my memory and not dwell on every little mistake or failure.