In this brilliant TED talk, Daniel Kahneman talks about the tensions between our experiencing self and our remembering self.
He says that our memories of the past inform our expectations of the future and determine our decision making.
The problem is that our memories are inaccurate. We fail to notice so much of what is happening in the present moment. Our memory of whether we enjoyed something is overly influenced by how the last few minutes of the experience went (Kahneman explains that it is the last minute of a colonoscopy that determine how we view the experience – good to know!). Each time we tell the story of what happened (even just to ourselves) we unconsciously slightly change the story.
Daniel Kahneman suggests that this causes us a significant problem. Our remembering self forces our experiencing self to do things that aren’t really in our best interests. We work to earn more and more money (even though, once we are comfortably off, it won’t make much difference to our happiness). We spend our money on long, expensive holidays (even though a longer holiday doesn’t actually make us much happier than a shorter one). We avoid doing what matters (calling Grandma; expressing our view in a meeting; doing our exercises) because our memory of the last time we did it suggests it will make us feel bad.
So how do we manage this tension? How do we make wise decisions?
The research evidence is growing that a helpful approach is to:
- Hold the stories our remembering self tells us lightly – sometimes they are useful and sometimes not so much.
- Clarify our values (what we want our life to be about) and then use them to guide our decision making.