For years I told the story of driving my son home after the last meet of his first Cross Country season. As we drove along, he said to me, “I accomplished my goal for the season.” The statement almost caused me to crash the car since his season had been notably horrible. In fact, my wife and I have always had a rule that our children must complete the season of anything they sign up to do. After seeing Alex’s first Cross Country race, I asked Susie to suspend that rule should he decide he wanted to quit. Watching him run was painful.
After a little prompting, he tells me that his goal was to never walk during a race and to never finish last. (The last part gave meaning to several finish line sprints during the season.) I played the good parent and congratulated him on setting and attaining specific goals for the season and wondered aloud if he’d be running again the next year. “Absolutely!” was his response. I was grateful that we were having the conversation in the car so I didn’t have to make eye contact.
Here’s the problem. That memory was completely fabricated by my mind after hearing Susie tell the story a few times. You see, even though I usually drove him home, it was her, not me, who drove Alex home from his last meet. She had that season goal conversation with him. I found out about it in bed later that night. One evening after hearing me retell this story at a gathering, she pointed out to me that I wasn’t a part of that conversation. The memory faded away almost instantly. She had snatched the foundation right out from under it.
Our brains don’t work like video recorders. We build our memories by combining current experiences with previous experiences. What we remember is greatly influenced by what we pay attention to as we have experiences. After all, I can’t remember you were driving a red car if I didn’t notice that the car was red. A recent Sunday cartoon made me think of the Cross Country story again: