When recalling an event, the human brain remembers the last memory we had of the original event. Like the childhood game ‘telephone’ where one person shares a story with another, who shares it with another and so on until the original story is completely distorted, that’s how our memories work. We remember our last version of the actual event.
The reason this is important (aside from the unreliability of eyewitness testimony) is because when combined with the brain’s negativity bias (the tendency for negative experiences to act like glue while positive ones act like teflon), we might be unintentionally sabotaging our success.
For example, if after your last interview you weren’t offered the job, when reflecting on the event you may fixate on the things you could’ve improved (e.g., “I should’ve focused more on my leadership abilities.”), while the positive moments take a back seat in the memory.
This sets you up to stumble next time. As you enter the next interview, your brain is primed with negative memories causing anxiety to skyrocket (when for all you know, they could’ve really liked you, but decided to hire the CEO’s nephew).
Armed with this knowledge, whether you’re interviewing or getting back into the dating scene, here’s what you can do:
- Work against it. Since we know our brain has the negative events covered, work twice as hard on focusing on the positive stuff after an experience. Pause to remember the silver lining, even if you decide the event as a whole was disastrous. Maybe you tripped down the stairs and accidentally called your interviewer the wrong name. Sure, these memories (of the memory!) will stand out. However, consciously reflect on how you nailed the “Tell me about yourself” question and impressed them with your ability to speak Farsi.
- Evaluate differently. In the words of Hamlet, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Why not start to view events more neutrally or even positively? Most of us can afford to lean more toward the bright side. Maybe hitting all the red lights made you late for work, but prevented you from getting caught in the 10-car pile up. There’s always a silver lining.
- Create new memories. I’m not suggesting falsifying experiences. Your brain is (generally) too smart for that. However, most events are relatively well-rounded in terms of positive and negative aspects. So, concentrate on recalling that last interview, but this time focus on the totality of it. Were you so focused on getting passed over for the job that you forgot the interviewer’s comment that you’re an engaging storyteller? Once you “remember,” these confidence boosters become part of the memory next time you recall it.
We create our own reality, in every moment of every day. Why not create a more positive one?