Memory Bias Battle: Write To Be Purposefully Right
Updated: Apr 15
Every adventure has its share of moments that range from wonderful to pitiful. As time passes bias distorts those memories. Much of the bias is unintended but getting memories accurate must be intentional. The objective is to get an accurate assessment of an adventure transforming it into much more than a fading memory. The experience then has purpose and meaning that lasts for a lifetime.
Years ago many frequent flyer miles were personally accumulated as a world traveler working for a Fortune 500 company. Bank enough miles to take a girl friend from graduate school on a trip to Australia and that creates a great adventure. Add four of that lady’s family members, rent a van, and it’s an exciting exploration driving up the coast from Sydney to Brisbane.
What a wonderful time, but there is a problem. The adventure is a good, but only vague memory due to a lack of wisdom. Failing to write anything down, only a few memories remain and the ones that do are short on details. What a missed opportunity to get clear on what knowledge and wisdom came out of that adventure.
Ask any reasonable person if wisdom and knowledge are good things to have and the response is a resounding “Yes!” The days spent on each adventure of life are fleeting. A season, age, occasion, or some period that is a small space of time. Bringing stability to those times requires wisdom and knowledge.
Counter to the stability of wisdom and knowledge is hearsay. Hearsay is useless in a court of law. Another way to describe hearsay is the familiar but unstable and frequent reference to “You know what they say … “ Who’s “they?” Where did “they” come from and are “they” knowledgeable? Asking these questions usually results in a blank stare.
Using memories that shift and morph over time become hearsay and unreliable. Harmless for big fish stories and the fun times of vacations, but why not make the most of these circumstances as well? Adventures and vacations have some very purposeful and meaningful situations that arise. Glean the wisdom and knowledge made available during these times. The best way to maximize all of that valuable information is to journal, otherwise the “sea of forgetfulness” takes over.
Take the time to write articles, record in a journal, post in a blog, and create book chapters. Just write a little (or a lot) each day. Amazing stories come forth as one memory triggers another. Insights and astute thoughts emerge that never happen without intentionality.
Ideal journaling and note taking is in the moment. Unfortunately, few things can be journaled in the moment. Climbing the Cascade Mountains in Oregon to McKenzie Pass, this cycler used the marvels of technology to dictate to an app. A small miracle that was pretty accurate in recording and transcribing text through all the huffing and puffing. Climbing along at a warp-drive 3.5 mph for hours allowed plenty of time for thoughts to be processed with little to no distractions.
The next best thing to on-the-move journaling is take notes to work on and summarize later. Pedaling On Purpose (a book in progress) is a compilation of many notes and the author’s formal journaling to document the best lessons learned on the Trans America Adventure. Whether the notes are personal scribbles or more formalized into a blog or book, it’s a good thing.
Any documentation far surpasses serendipitous recall of the past. Briefly covering some researched concepts reveals this to be the case. Egocentric Bias, Confirmation Bias, and Fading Affect Bias are separate but related concepts. Learning about these makes one wonder how any court testimonies are accurate even under oath. The question also comes to mind that it’s not a matter of “if” bias exists, but to what degree?
Egocentric bias is recall of the past in a self-serving manner. The story, “Not only was that fish big, but he used TP too! Or that mountain climb was six miles when it was only three. Best coffee in the world! Just because perception is seemingly reality, doesn’t make it so. Does egocentric bias distort the picture? For sure!
Confirmation bias is a belief that holds precedence even when conflicting information arises. Confirmation bias provides the energy that fuels heated discussions on politics and religion. Strongly held beliefs rely on feelings at the expense of logic. Emotions win the battle. People hold on to emotions and beliefs and confirmation bias reigns.
Fading Affect Bias
Fading affect bias is very familiar especially to those who love “the good old days!” Were the old days really that good? Bad memories fading is beneficial, but not always. With the medical advances of today, my grandmother more than likely would not have died when mom was only three months old. Many babies in the “good old days” lost moms because of medical shortcomings. Be aware of the fading affect bias stealing joy from the present and placing it solely in the past.
Marla Paul (Paul, 2014) translates academia-talk well in an article on bias from the News Center publication of Northwestern Medicine. Paul summarizes a couple of research studies on the types of bias and states:
Our memories are not video cameras. They adapt to our current circumstances and recount information with an egocentric bias (Bridge & Voss, 2014).
Each time a memory is retrieved, the information is based on that memory that is not totally accurate. That’s why the fish gets bigger each time the story is told (Bridge & Paller, 2012)!
3 Steps To Combat Bias
The first step is identify bias exists. Thinking bias is totally solvable or nonexistent is foolishness. Yes, everyone has many biases. Be aware personal logic is not always logical. Also consistently associating with like-minded people is a bias breeding ground.
Next step is to minimize the bias by “journaling.” The journaling referred to here is in the broadest sense and inclusive – video, dictation, writing, etc. Do this journaling during or as soon as possible after the event.
Finally review the notes. Some observations are profound revelations and immediately incorporate a lifestyle change. Other thoughts are insights that are catalysts for change in the future or reinforcement of core values to keep. Recording key events eliminates the future disputes of thinking the beach vacation was 10 years ago when it was really 20. The farther in the past that vacation is, the more distorted the memory gets.
Trying to be an honest and unbiased person is noble, but not totally possible. However, minimizing bias is not only possible, but easy with some effort. Just write stuff down! That’s the best way to win the memory bias battle and write to be purposefully right. You can do this!
I get a kick out of your COMMENTS! What did you do to remember your adventure or vacation? Have the memories faded? In a good way or bad way? What brought meaning and purpose to your adventure?
Bridge, D. J., & Paller, K. A. (2012, August 29). Neural Correlates of Reactivation and Retrieval-Induced Distortion. Journal of Neuroscience, 32(35), 12144-12151.
Bridge, D. J., & Voss, J. L. (2014, February 5). Hippocampal Binding of Novel Information with Dominant Memory Traces Can Support Both Memory Stability and Change. Journal of Neuroscience, 34(6), 2203-2213.
Paul, M. (2014, February 5). How Memory Rewrites the Past. Retrieved from News Center publication of Northwestern Medicine: https://news.feinberg.northwestern.edu/2014/02/memory_rewrite/