Because one does not want to be disturbed, to be made uncertain, [one] establishes a pattern of conduct, of thoughts, of relationships…becomes a slave to the pattern, and takes the pattern to be the real thing.
Tao of Jeet Kune Do
Memory is not to be trusted.
Memory isn’t a matter of precisely recording and filing information. Memories are sensory impressions of events. Emotions dramatically affect what we see. By way of example, when various people witness an event, each can have a significantly different memory of what happened. This occurs because:
a) observations can be less accurate in stressful situations;
b) the memory of what happened can begin to deteriorate soon after an event;
c) every time a memory is recalled, we subconsciously can reconstruct and re-edit it; and,
d) memories can be subconsciously replaced by our changing perceptions and values as well as the suggestions of others about “what must have happened” compared to what really did happen.
That’s why “eyewitness” testimony can be unreliable in courts of law. Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s story, “In A Grove” -from the classic book Rashomon- is typical. It’s a story about the slaying of a samurai, told through the testimonies of witnesses including the spirit of the dead samurai. Each testimony is dramatically different.
When we compete, we may perform well for most of the time, but mistakes will happen. When you recall an event, do you remember all the things you did well or focus on the few mistakes?
“Trigger” is the technical term for stress stimuli that cause a specific pattern of Conditioned Responses. If past mistakes and setbacks are associated with a particular event, place, and/or person, every time you think of that event, place and/or person, this can trigger the same negative responses you experienced when the mistake first happened.
Suffering a loss is bad enough, but long term damage happens when Negative Conditioned Responses like self-criticism and self-doubt attack again and again, eventually shredding your confidence and self-worth.
Negative self-images and troubling memories eventually can knit together into an emotional cocoon that comes to define who you think you are and what you can achieve.
Mentally beating yourself up again and again over past mistakes and failures accomplishes nothing other than to increase the chances you will repeat them again and again. If there are lessons to be learned, write them down and move on. How many times must your memories run over this same track, these same emotional hurdles? For what purpose?
Bitterness is a useless emotion. Dr. Irene Uchida, the famous geneticist, lost her home, possessions and was unfairly interned during World War II, however she commented: "What's the use? Everything that comes to one is a new experience and you grow with different experiences, whether they're good or bad. There's no reason to worry or brood about it."
Grant Fuhr (later elected to the Hall of Fame) a goalie in the National Hockey League, once gave up twelve goals in a single game. Yet, after the game, he told reporters that he had faced more shots than normal, had made a number of skilled saves, and that after looking at a video of the game if there were corrections in technique that needed adjustment, he’d work on it in the next practice. But, that was it; it was time to move on to the next game. “You need a bad memory to be a good goalie”, said Fuhr.
The past influence of parents, teachers, and coaches also can play an important role. Unrealistic aspirations for a child, and/or the continual failure to provide praise and encouragement for what has been accomplished, can result in self-doubt and a lack of confidence in the child. This can become so deep-seated that when the child becomes an adult, he or she becomes their own ceaseless self-critic, always critically judging what he or she has done and said, never praising themselves, always finding the need for improvement, always “raising the bar a little higher”.
Takuan Soho writes, in the book The Unfettered Mind: Writings of the Zen Master to a Master Swordsman: “This is like Mount Fuji being concealed by a single tree thick with branches and leaves…But how can Mount Fuji be concealed by a single tree? It is simply because of the narrowness of my vision because the tree stands in the way of my vision. We go on thinking that the tree is concealing Mount Fuji. Yet, it is due to the narrowness of my vision.“
Memories are not destiny. When traced back to their root, memories are “clouds” of images and emotions lodged in a crevice of your mind. In reality, these events no longer exist. The actual event has long since disappeared. It lives now only in your memory; it lives only when you remember it.
Reviewing past mistakes and setbacks is a learning tool that provides valuable insight, however, it is essential to keep things in perspective. In the past, when you made a decision, you didn’t blindly rush into it; you chose what appeared to be the most appropriate course of action given your knowledge and experience at that time. A few years later, when assessing past actions, you’ll be doing so with a much broader base of knowledge and experience; isn’t it only fair, therefore, to take into account the comparable lack of experience and knowledge you had when younger?
Lin-chi (?- 866) wrote: “If you do not trust yourself completely, you will find the same faults and mistakes in all situations. Make no mistake; if you do not trust yourself now, you will find the same faults and mistakes on every occasion a thousand times over again.”
To “trust yourself” is to accept the risks of failure, criticism and rejection. As Oscar-winning Film Director, Actor and Producer, Sydney Pollack commented, “How fragile the creative process is, and how complicated and even frightened you are, when you’re out there on the edge of your own abilities as an artist…’what have I done’; ‘will they let me get away with this’…there’s always that kind of fear when you’re working with your wits and imagination. Then, something magical happens. You may not under understand it, know why it happened, or even feel connected to it. But, you just go with it, accept it, because that's how the real magic happens.”
Regret is for a past that has disappeared. Fear is for a future that may never occur. Isn’t it just common sense to focus on reality, on the here and now and, at last, be free?