“You forget what you want to remember, and you remember what you want to forget.”
― Cormac McCarthy, The Road
We are now six days into the New Year and conversations still seem to center around self-improvement. A new year can be a fresh start – a great time to change things up a bit. I am trying to be more mindful of my thoughts and surroundings this year. Being mindful while researching and writing these posts has been fascinating – I am noticing so many patterns within the things that I am most interested in.
If you feel lost or in a rut, try this with me this week: pay attention to the things that interest you, excite you, fire you up – however you want to phrase it – and see how they are interconnected. It can lead to some pretty amazing places.
Yesterday the Denver metro area received over 8 inches of snow and, as a teacher, I got a snow day! Instead of doing all the productive things I promised myself when I got the news at 5am, I watched an entire season of The Affair on Showtime. Whoops. If you haven’t seen the show, it follows two people who have an affair through their story but with a twist – it shows the same situations from both of their perspectives. You soon realize that their perspectives of the situation are incredibly different and you wonder how that could be.
This is called the “Rashomon Effect” – when the same event is given contradictory interpretations by the people involved. It is named for the Akira Kurosawa film Rashomon where four people involved in a murder all had contradictory memories of what happened.
There is a long history of people creating false memories through external suggestion. In a study by memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus, when participants were given four situations – three that they had experienced and one they hadn’t – over one third of the participants remembered the false memory and were able to add on to it. Huh. We think of our memories as truth but the reality is that memories are all reconstructions. We often remember things in a way that is flattering to ourselves or where we are the hero of a situation. Our experiences, backgrounds, and expectations are the prism that we view our memories through and they sometimes distort the reality of the situation.
This is also why eyewitness testimony is not always reliable. The Innocence Project found that of 239 cases that were overturned by DNA evidence, over 73% of those had been convicted due in part to eyewitness testimony.
There is even evidence of the Rashomon effect in travel. If you know me at all you know I love Taos, New Mexico with a passion – but I’ve met many people who just describe it as dirty and run down. Our perceptions have created different realities. It is one thing to me and one thing to them.
This month I am participating in “Dry January” – a month sans alcohol. It’s a campaign that has gained prominence in the UK the last several years with over 17,000 people officially participating in 2014. This is not a new idea. Many people stop drinking after the holidays as a sort of cleanse or jump start to a diet – my reasons are a bit different.
I don’t like the idea of “needing” anything. Neediness in any part of life is just not a good look. So each month this year I’m going to restrict myself from something – literally just to prove that I can. Maybe this sounds stupid – heck maybe it is stupid – but I like the idea of challenging myself in different ways.
When I was thinking about my monthly restrictions I did some research on positive constraints. A positive constraint is a constraint or limitation that you consciously place on yourself to direct your life in a specific way towards a specific priority. I think so many people (me included) like the idea of freedom and the ability to do whatever they want whenever they want – but this isn’t always the best way to live your life.
Creative constraints have been shown to actually be more inspirational than total creative freedom. Without a starting point or problem to solve, where do you go? Too much freedom can hinder the creative process because there are no obstacles to overcome.
A study from University of Amsterdam’s Department of Social Psychology found that constraints help to shape and focus problems. In the study they gave two sets of participants a computer maze game to play – one with more obstacles than the other – then gave them a standard creativity test. The group who had played the game with more obstacles solved 40% more of the association puzzles on the creativity test than those who had no obstacles. The study shows that placing the obstacles (or constraints) on the participants forced them to think more creatively – they benefitted from the struggle.
Decision Making Fatigue
I was out to dinner recently and couldn’t decide what to order. Like – I really couldn’t decide – the words on the page all looked the same and I honestly just did not care. I find myself in these situations outside of work a lot, and it’s become a bit of a joke that I just can’t make decisions. But that’s not the whole story. I can make decisions very well actually, and I make them all the time. In fact, I make so many decisions each day that the small stuff just doesn’t matter to me – I have decision fatigue.
There are studies that have shown teachers make somewhere between 1,500 and 3,000 decisions every day at work (4-8 every minute). As a middle school teacher I’m assuming it’s even more – and it’s exhausting! Lots of studies have shown that the more decisions you make, the harder each one becomes. You can either recklessly choose once your willpower to make smart choices is exhausted, or just do nothing at all. Decision fatigue is why prisoners are more likely to be granted parole in the morning (before the judges have made too many decisions), or why quarterbacks are more likely to make bad choices at the end of the game – they, like me, are exhausted.
Why did Steve Jobs always wear the same outfit? Why does Obama always wear a similar suit? They have other - much more important - decisions to make and can’t get exhausted from picking an outfit. Obama is quoted in Vanity Fair as saying, “You'll see I wear only gray or blue suits, I'm trying to pare down decisions. I don't want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make."
While none of us may be making the kinds of decisions as President Obama, we are making a lot of decisions every day. So if you have to just let the waiter order you his favorite dish, or if you wear the same outfit every weekend, don’t feel bad – it's science!
Zion Overrun with Tourists
I’ve read a lot this year about how the National Parks are experiencing record number of visitors. While this is a great thing – National Parks are awesome – it has created a whole other set of problems in some parks.
Zion National Park in Utah is the sixth most visited National Park, and despite winter being the off season it is experiencing so many more visitors that there have been traffic backups into the neighboring town and waits for the shuttle have been over 2 hours!
When I visited Zion this summer it was super crowded - but I got there early enough that I could park in the actual park visitors lot and only waited about an hour to get on a shuttle (only). Zion is different than most parks because in order to access the popular areas and trails you have to go on a shuttle – you cannot drive your own car. Zion and other parks are considering putting a cap on the number of people who can enter the parks each day due to the overcrowding – so if you are planning a trip get there early!
Happy Friday :)