Monthly review: Experiencing self vs remembering self

One of my habits for this year I am focusing on to help me achieve my goal, is to do something new each month with the family. It doesn’t sound like it should be too hard, but I have found it a little more challenging than expected.

A key issue has been logistical – with three teenagers with full social lives, getting everyone together to do something new on top of other family commitments that happen on weekends has been difficult. After a couple of months where I missed doing something new because I couldn’t get everyone together, I decided I would organise something with as many members of the family as I could and just do it. This is far from perfect, but I didn’t want those of us who were around to miss out on a fun adventure just because it didn’t fit my perfect ideal.

Another issue had to do with a cognitive trap we can fall into, a concept known as experiencing self vs remembering self.  I watched a Ted Talk by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel laureate and founder of behavioural economics. Using examples from vacations to colonoscopies Kahneman reveals how our “experiencing selves” and our “remembering selves” perceive happiness differently.

Our experiencing selves live in the present and know the present. Our remembering self is the one that keeps score and maintains the story of our life.

Most of the moments of our life – the psychological present, is said to be about three seconds long. Most memories don’t leave a trace and are completely ignored by our remembering self. The stories that our remembering self delivers to us (and those that we make up) are defined by changes, significant moments and endings.

The problem is that our remembering self is the one that makes decisions. It makes decisions based on our remembered stories which as I just noted will highlight any changes, any significant moments and how something ended. The experiencing self doesn’t have a role in the decisions we make. In reality we don’t choose between experiences, we choose between memories of experiences. We think of our future as anticipated memories.

So how does this trap of experiencing self vs remembering self relate to doing something new each month with the family? Well I realise now that I have sometimes made decisions based upon the stories that my remembering self has told or is telling me. For example, there definitely would have been times over the year when I had everyone at home and we could have taken off for a few hours to try something new. But when I thought about organising it with the family, my remembering self told me a story of:

  • waking up an adult child early on a Sunday morning with rather disastrous results
  • waking up other teenagers with significant complaining
  • getting us all in the car with siblings fighting and my patience fraying
  • getting to the activity to have a couple of the kids only half heartedly to do it
  • drive home wondering why I bothered

My remembering self was focusing on significant moments of pain! It was not telling me a story of other outings which were much less stressful and much more fun. The reality of family life is that there will be times when we head out and it isn’t a fantastic time for all, but there are also many times when we do head out and even if they aren’t jumping for joy at the start, we have a great time by the end of it.

So in October, one Sunday morning I was thinking about a new activity we could do for the month and I really wanted to take the younger kids somewhere they could climb rocks and explore in nature. I did some quick research and decided upon Werribee Gorge. Werribee Gorge is 80km from home, so would be close to an 90 minute drive. My remembering self started to creep in and decide that this was too long and the kids might complain about the drive, but I ignored it and got myself and the kids that were available to come.

We listened to a great audio book on the way and once we got there, I handed it over to the youngest two to decide where we went, what we did and how long we stayed for. Had I been deciding I would have set out on one of the marked paths. The kids however wanted to make their own paths. So I:

  • followed them up and down rocky terrains
  • skipped rocks with them on the water
  • narrowly avoided a snake with them
  • ate lunch when they were ready
  • got moving again when they were ready to go
  • went back over tracks we had already travelled to try climbing higher
  • headed back to the car when they said they would like to go home

We had such a great time. We were only at the gorge for about 90 minutes and if the choice was up to me, I would have stayed for double that, but this activity wasn’t about me. It was about doing something new and doing it together.

As we drove back home, listening to the remainder of the audiobook, the 12 year old said:

I thought this was going to be really boring, but it was actually really good fun.

I have no doubt had I determined the path we were to walk, had I determined when we stopped for lunch and when we left, he would not have said that. This short experience taught me quite a bit:

  • there are times when I need to take over from my remembering self to make decisions
  • giving the kids input and control of these activities means we all enjoy them much more
  • it is okay to only spend a short time at places/activities even if we spent a long time getting there.

My monthly review for October

HabitConnection to goal - Detach from the old and embrace the new to nurture a family spirit of adventure.Poem quoteOctober Review
Practice detachment dailyMy attachment comes from the right place in terms of wanting the best for my family and myself, but it can be founded on beliefs that I hold that are not necessarily true or helpful. Letting go of this belief and creating a new one requires me to detach.

Detaching doesn't mean I stop caring or give up but it means I acknowledge it, explore it, process it, take action to move on and let it go.

Letting go of old or untrue beliefs will mean I can focus on being more supporting and encouraging to the kids.
"For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business."
~ T.S. Eliot
In October I focused on some particular situations that I find it challenging to detach from. From focusing on them I found that my body language gives me great signals that I am holding on - my jaw tightens, my brow furrows and my shoulder raise slightly.

The physical act of loosening my jaw, relaxing my brow and lowering my shoulder helps with the mental act of letting go!
Develop the practice of mindful listeningSometimes listening can be hard. I think I know what the kids or others are going to say, I have things on my mind, I have something I want to say or I have things I would rather be doing than listening then and there.

Mindfully listening to others shows that you value them and it empowers them to share exactly how they are feeling. I want my kids to tell me about their dreams, their hopes, their fears and their crazy ideas. This won’t happen if I am not really listening.

“We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”
~ E.E. Cummings
One of the kids pointed out to me that I have some standard phrases/comments I make at times to the things they say and upon reflection, this is indeed true. I use these phrases when I haven't been mindfully listening.

While I have improved significantly, this is still an area I am continuing to work on daily.
Do something new each month with the familyI love routine and being organised and sometimes I will take the option to spend time on these activities and not leave enough time for exploring something new.

This year I want to try some big and little adventures with the family.
"Dust if you must, but there’s not much time,
With rivers to swim, and mountains to climb;
Music to hear, and books to read;
Friends to cherish, and life to lead."
~Rose Milligan
As noted above we took a trip to Werribee Gorge, climbing and exploring.
Use deliberate daily practice to learn something new each monthK. Anders Ericsson, a professor of Psychology at Florida State University, is a pioneer in researching deliberate practice. One of his core findings is that becoming an expert at a skill has more to do with how you practice rather than with just performing the skill many times.

To really embrace a new skill I need to intentionally practice, not just do the skill to tick the box to say I have done it. This is a practice I really want to develop and role model for my kids.
"Submit to a daily practice.
Your loyalty to that is a ring on the door.
Keep knocking, and the joy inside
will eventually open a window
and look out to see who’s there."
My work is still the area where I am focusing my attention for this area.
Develop a monthly decluttering habitOur house is relatively uncluttered but we really do have too much stuff.

All this extra stuff takes up space, time and energy - all of which I can reclaim and redirect when I declutter.
"The open space surrounding me
Clears my lungs
Makes me breath
I feel light
Vividly bright and empty
A room to dance in happily"
~Anna Elise
I didn't get to the kitchen pantry in October as planned but I did paint my daughter's bedroom and help her declutter it when we put everything back in it again.

November I will aim for the pantry.

Is your remembering self dictating your decisions?