Try an experiment. For the next 5 minutes write down every memory that comes to mind. Don’t overthink it. Just write down whatever pops in your head first and allow your mind to wander and jump from memory to memory. Be sure to write it down as we’ll be using that list in just a moment.
Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Ready? Okay. Here’s my list:
- Holding my nephew’s hand as we walked through the Georgia Aquarium
- Having to tell my sister our Mom had passed and holding her as she cried
- Walking on a sandy beach in Subic as I consoled a dear friend
- Watching the sunrise over the rooftops of Prague with friends
- An amazing pork loin and roasted potatoes in Warsaw with my boy B then going back and having that exact same meal again the next night
- Walking along an abandoned part of the Great Wall of China
- L.A. roadtrips with my bro L
- Ghetto points with my bro S
- An epic water gun fight between the Deskers and the Foodies
- Giving my first Developer talk
- Losing 100 lbs in less than a year
- Reading the newspaper in my Dad’s lap when I was 3
- Riding my bike all over NAS Lemoore and surviving the ride down the insane gravel mountain in the jack rabbit field
- Summers with my Lola in Hanford
- My Lola A’s fried chicken
- Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles with my bro S
- High school dances and battlin’ with my bro J
- My first all-night hackathon
- Flying to my girl L’s wedding in New Zealand and ringing in the New Year
- A mad dash to get away from a brawl on the Vegas strip just as the countdown to 2000 had just begun
- Watching Quantum Leap with my girl M
- All night cram sessions with my girl M
- Always ending each phone call with my sis with “I Love You”
- An emotional group hug with my Mom, Aunts, and Lola after 7 years apart
- Standing in St. Peter’s Square
- An epic evening in L’viv involving a drunk dial with my 3-year old nephew
- 15 Belgian beers in 13 hours
- My first snowball fight with my bro S
- Partying in Albuquerque with my boy P
- Eentjes at Dauphine with my Dutch friends
I had 30 memories in total. Now consider this:
- 26 involved family or friends
- 15 occurred in the last five years
- 9 involved travel
- 2 involved work
Incidentally, 10 involved food or alcohol. Not sure what to make of that but I’m surprised it wasn’t more 😉
How did you do?
Of the memories that first come to mind I would venture a guess that most of yours will not be about work. Now, if I asked you to recall all the things you did yesterday and today I would guess it would be filled with things from your busy work day, errands, or chores around the house. But given free reign to think about whatever comes to mind, the most powerful, the most memorable moments are likely to be things that have a deeper emotional connection for you. Of course, that should be no surprise.
What is surprising is given how much significance these experiences hold for us how easily we let moments for creating meaningful memories pass us by. Well, perhaps not so surprising but certainly a bit troubling is our complacency when we do so. In my case, only three of those memories that first came to mind were in the past year. Just three! Not exactly where I want to be.
Consider for a moment that the essence of our lives are our memories. It defines who we are and how we experience the world around us. I’ve always been troubled by the phrase, “live in the moment,” because when you think about it, it’s a bit nonsensical really. The suggestion of the phrase is to live and appreciate life in the present without regard for the past or the future. But in order to experience or appreciate anything it requires us to perceive, process, and make a judgement about that experience. These things may be done in the moments immediately following the experience but by then the moment already exists in the past and what we actually process is a memory that has just taken place.
Even at the quantum level everything we experience in life is in the past. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle places a limitation on our ability to know with precision both the exact position and the momentum of a particle. Our perception then is fraught with imprecision. Even the Observer Effect suggests the mere observation of a thing has an effect or alters its nature. The neurons and synapses that form our perception and memory of an experience are not able to capture the exact true nature of the thing, just what we are able to process in observing it.
So what if you looked at the entirety of your life in the context of it being merely a memory? Each cherished friend and loved one in your life is so because of memory. Think of a loved one. Now explain why you love him/her. Is it the way she laughs? His zest for life? Long walks together? Their strength? These are all things based on an experience you’ve had with them. A memory.
When we lose a loved one and we say we miss them, really think about what you mean by that. You don’t miss them per se. Not in an absolute sense anyway. You miss the moments you had together. You regret not having the chance to share more moments together. You lament the loss of how that person affected your life. Don’t take what I’m saying the wrong way. It does not trivialize or dismiss these relationships. I’m simply suggesting a different way of looking at and understanding what those relationships mean. Everything you value or hold dear is just so because of the memory it holds for you.
So then, if the essence of your life–of everything that matters to you–is a memory consider how much of your life you choose to dedicate to lesser memories. I’m not going to sit here and suggest that there aren’t practicalities to life, that we don’t have obligations and responsibilities to fulfill. We all must do things that may not be our favorite things to do. I am simply asking you to consider how deliberate you are in those choices. On occasion, take a moment to reflect on how far you drift away from the moments that hold more meaning for you. Acknowledge when your memories grow too distant and that newer, treasured memories are growing too few and far between.
Try this. Twice a month, take 5 minutes to write down your memories. Decide if that list is reflective of where you wish to be. If the answer is no, take decisive action to correct it and make more of the memories that are important to you. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how just the awareness of where you currently stand will have a profound effect on where you will find yourself tomorrow.