Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8 (NIV)
The Stories We Tell Ourselves – The Gift of Expectation – Part 3
Words create worlds; the great Rabbi Heschel used to say. And the stories made up by the words we use create the content of these worlds. Our memories and perceptions of the past influence our expectations and possibilities for now and the future. Memory and expectation go hand in hand. Why else do you think it was so important for ancient (and modern) cultures to tell stories of victory and rescue and overcoming? Our narrative informs our perspective.
That’s how we get into these negative loops where we say things like:
– This always happens to me.
– There I go again, making another mistake.
– I never seem to catch a break.
– Will things ever change?
And here’s the thing with memory, it’s highly subjective. In fact, we often choose how we remember our past experiences, and they may or may not be what happened. How we remember informs what we anticipate for the future.
Regarded as the world's most influential living psychologist, David Kahneman gave a TED talk a few years back titled, “The riddle of experience verses memory” (Google it. I dare you).
He explained that we all have two selves: a remembering self, and an experiencing self. In essence, we do not choose between experiences, but rather between memories of experiences. According to Kahneman, even when we think about the future, we think of our future not as experiences but as anticipated memories.
In the end, our experiences are not the dominant force affecting our happiness or expectations. It is instead our remembered self that controls how we perceive and experience life.
That’s why two people can have the same experience and remember very different things about it. It's not our experiences, but how we remember those experiences and even what experiences we choose to remember, that have the most profound effect on our happiness, and our perception of the future.
British Philosopher Allan Watts once said: “The power of memories and expectations is such that for most human beings, the past and the future are not as real, but rather more real than the present.”
My parents divorced seven years ago. It was a harrowing, horrible time. And since then, the temptation to that let experience taint my previous memories of a happy family are strong. Sometimes I’m not even sure what is a real memory and what has been influenced by the pain and confusion of that season. Our memories are subject to our own biases.
Our narrative informs our perspective. The stories we tell ourselves about our past directly impact our expectations of the future. Or more to the point, the way we tell those stories and the things we choose to remember, directly influence our beliefs about tomorrow.
I’m not saying that we don’t own our stories. That we live in denial about all the bad and horrific and unexplainable things that have happened to us. Not at all. I am suggesting that we get to choose how those stories, how the words in those stories, create our world, for today and tomorrow.
When Paul said, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil 4:8 NIV) he wasn’t just talking present and future tense. What is true about your past? Sometimes that truth can be hard to find through the murkiness of pain or elation, heartache or passion, darkness or joy. But do the work.
Wrapped up in the Hebrew word for Hope – Tiqvah – is the character Vav, which means: ‘to add completion and redemption.' When redemption and completion visit our memories, it visits our expectations, too.
Written by Lizzy Milani