The Friday News Minute!

A weekly gem of information you will be using on Monday!

Published by Andrew Sanderbeck

Managing Partner of The People~Connect Institute

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This week in my Friday News Minute, I was inspired to look at the topic of "Reinventing Yourself" and I came across this article from Psychology Today magazine that looks at our conscious and subconsious minds and how we use our memories to help us reinvent. I hope this article intrigues you too! - Andrew 

Research on memory shows that who you are is limited only by your imagination.

When Bill Clinton first ran for president, he gave America sketchy and contradictory reasons for why he never served in Vietnam. But it set off a furor when records revealed that he had used "political pressure"--including calls from a U.S. senator and the governor's office--to dodge military service. The right wing had a field day branding Bill a liar.

But Clinton may have gotten the memory part right. An emerging understanding of memory reveals that it is not laid down forever like a movie, with the same events occurring in the same order every time. Rather, it is an ongoing process of distillation and revision, more like watching a live version of the TV improv show Whose Line Is It Anyway? There's a theme, but no script; every performance is at once similar and different.

Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau learned this in a very public way. When the right wing pilloried Clinton for his Vietnam story, Trudeau wondered aloud if the inconsistencies might instead be a simple case of faded memory. He sat down to write about his own draft experience for the New York Times. But his research disclosed a very different story than the one he had been telling friends for the previous 20 years.

In that version, Trudeau had drawn a low number in the draft lottery and his three-year student deferment had run out, which meant his call-up was imminent. He spent hours on the phone in emotional calls to friends and family Then he tried to obtain another deferment and interviewed at his local draft board--for which, Trudeau noted, "I received a memorable haircut." Eventually he went home where his father, a physician, diagnosed an ulcer and sent the evidence off to a doctor in New Hampshire. Then Trudeau got his deferment. Or so he thought that's how it went. (Read on to learn what really happened.)

The "autobiographical memories" that tell the story of our lives are always undergoing revision--precisely because our sense of self is too. We are continually extracting new information from old experiences and filling in gaps in ways that serve some current demand. Consciously or not, we use imagination to reinvent our past, and with it, our present and future.

What's in a Memory Anyway?

If memories aren't reliable, why do we have them at all? Memory allows us to learn from our experiences without having to repeat them endlessly Indeed, it allows us to survive. If Fred Flintstone remembers that it's bad to toss rocks at a saber-toothed tiger, he won't commit the same offense a week later.

Very few scenarios repeat exactly, so our memories work mostly by extracting the essence of those scenarios. After all, if Fred learns that it's bad to throw rocks at saber-toothed tigers, he'll live longer than if he learns only to avoid throwing those rocks at that tiger.

But memory is more than a survival tool. Psychologist Ulrich Neisser, Ph.D., contends it is a kind of social glue. According to the Cornell University researcher, it's less important to remember life events accurately than to preserve more enduring information about people, relationships and the continuing aspects of events, all of which form the core of human experience.

By: Maryanne GarryDevon Polaschek Psychology Today, Nov/Dec 99


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