Each month we will experience over 600,000 moments (as defined in three-second intervals). Over the course of our lives, we will have lived more than a half billion of them. Naturally, the vast majority is forgettable. But those we keep, we weave together, connecting them to form our own “life story.”
But as time passes, more and more of these memories and connections naturally weaken and fade away.
The physiological roots of this are laid bare in our brain. Throughout our lives, our brains make these connections (synapses). And then in an ongoing process called synaptic plasticity, we reorganize, strengthen, weaken, reconstruct or prune these connections based on how often we recall the memory or if other information we receive affirms or conflicts with this original story.
The result is that we can either “use” or “lose” any part of our own life story or even reconstruct it in our own minds and tell a slightly different story than what actually happened. Sound familiar?
When we fail to remember our own story a few things happen. We have a tendency to overstate the importance of our own actions (a sociological phenomenon called fundamental attribution bias), largely ignoring the environment, people, systems, programs, or just plain luck that contributed to who we are. This can lead to becoming less appreciative of what helped us and less supportive for those who need help.
Some say we need a more empathetic society. True. But before trying to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we must first start by constantly reminding ourselves about how we ended up in our own.