Keep the destination in mind but don’t discount the journey: “Experience vs memory” (Daniel Kahneman)

There will be two points in this post and they are interlinked, let’s get the first and obvious one out of the way before getting to the juicy psychological evidence that we are less aware of (the experiencing self vs the remembering self).

We’ve all heard those “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey” kinds of quotes, while it’s not completely true I am inclined to agree with the logic behind this notion. The destination lasts all of what, a moment? Now how long was the journey? Weeks? Months? Years? At least, the journey tends to be considerably longer, so you had better pay attention to it. All too often I hear misery in people’s expression of not caring or paying no attention to how they get somewhere, simply awaiting the destination in discomfort. If I say to you the journey is multiple hours, then that could be considered a waste of a lot of time. Now I’m pretty sure it’s agreeable that a waste of father time is a crime of the highest order, for it is one of the few anomalies that even money can’t buy back.

“If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of” – Bruce Lee

 14773668281271701255This point is better aimed at longer metaphorical journeys but it can also be moderately applied to short, actual travel journeys too (because I know some of you are rolling your eyes thinking “if I want to sleep or be on my phone for my one hour train journey, I will thank you very much”). For those smaller travel journeys, sometimes try putting your phone in your pocket and looking up/around, pay attention to your surroundings, smile maybe, if there is a nice view then take it in. These little things could make a difference to your day. If you really are sleep deprived then by all means sleep, I guess that’s technically making use of the spare time which can often feel like an escape while travelling.

Pause: isn’t that weird? Sometimes the beauty in travelling is that while you’re on the plane, train or whatever it may be, there is a sense of total escape as you are at complete mercy to external control – a freedom of responsibility.

Anyway, the metaphorical journeys are better influenced by this change of thought/action pattern. Let’s take university as an example. I can’t agree with the mindset of hating university and just simply there to get your degree at the end of it, part of me is screaming inside “that’s three years of your life and 10’s of thousands of pounds, you’d better start enjoying it and getting more out of it!?”.

Okay, now let’s get to the more interesting part, what I think is a very important finding which was presented in a TED Talk by Daniel Kahneman (one of the most influential psychologists, notable for judgement and decision making): “The riddle of experience vs memory” .

The first part I want to elaborate on is the finding of two colonoscopy patients (strange subject I know) experiencing clearly different levels of frequently reported pain intensity. Patient A experienced far less pain and their procedure lasted less than half the time, however when asked to recall the procedure, patient A had a much worse memory. While seemingly impossible, there is one simple reason, the ending. Patient B had lower levels of pain intensity towards the end while patient A experienced peak pain intensity towards the end. So why is this an extremely important finding? Suppose we make decisions based on memories as such. While you had a terrible time the whole day at the theme park – long queues, didn’t get on some of the rides, awful overpriced food etc – but the last ride you went on was excellent and upon leaving there were beautiful fireworks, you may choose to go back to this same theme park next time. You probably even thought it was brilliant by the time you got to the end of that sentence. Here’s another scenario, you had an absolutely amazing two-week holiday – we’re talking beautiful weather, breath-taking views, fun-filled hikes, drunken stories, maybe even the best se… you get the picture – but guess what, the last 2 days were awful, you got ill, you lost your wallet and now you are waiting in the longest queue at the airport with no air-conditioning. You may get home and tell your friends what an awful experience you had and never recommend it.

So, take time to reflect on your experiences because they could play an important part in the next decision you make.4783661578_faa23ae238

The other main point I want to elaborate on is the part he proposes to the audience about choosing your next holiday if you knew your memory would be erased and all your pictures would be destroyed at the end of it; if you choose a different holiday (which come on, the majority did), there is a conflict between your experiencing self and your remembering self. Now, is this a crisis? Most certainly not. Of course we would choose a different holiday, but that is not reality and your memories will be there. Thus, your goals are still important. This is where one of the most important keys to life comes in – balance. While significant moments seem to be the ones that dominate our memory, they don’t take up nearly as much time (this is the connection to my point earlier); therefore, while we must focus on creating/achieving memories, we must learn to also enjoy our experience as it takes up most our life. And there you have it, keep your goals in mind but please, do not discount the experiences along the journey.

Maybe I left the best parts of this post last because now you’ll remember it as a better post, who knows…


Peace, Love and all that Jazz



2 responses to Keep the destination in mind but don’t discount the journey: “Experience vs memory” (Daniel Kahneman)

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