Making Memories

I’ve recently started watching TV series (Doctor Who!) and listening to podcasts again, partly in an attempt to pull myself out of some activities or preoccupations that were on the way to becoming a little obsessive. And amongst those podcasts I listened to recently, one episode seems to have had a lasting impact on how I view the world and life: Hidden Brain’s Yum and Yuck.

It’s funny how you don’t always realise on the moment that a new idea is going to be an important milestone in your worldview. I’ve groaned about this before, concerning podcasts. But in this case, I’m lucky, I did manage to lay my hands on the podcast to show it to you.

So, what’s this about? The episode is about food. But the idea that struck me has to do with how we “make” memories. The podcast was describing how memories of meals are created. For example, if you eat a meal of just one thing, you will remember that one thing. But if you eat the same amount of food, in the form of five different things, you will have memories for those five things. See where this is going?

It seems quite obvious, but it’s not something I had ever given much thought to. So, if I eat three slices of toast for breakfast, and put honey on all three, my memory of breakfast is going to be “honey on toast”. But say I put honey on one toast, jam on the second, and cenovis on the last: my memory of my breakfast will be much richer.

The podcast went on to talk about ordering strategies at the restaurant: do you order your favorite dish, or take the risk of trying something else? If you eat something different each time you go to the restaurant, or your favorite dish each time, you will not have the same memories. There is a tension between immediate enjoyment and the creation of memories.

In the same way, if you spend three weeks of holiday at the beach, you won’t have much to tell. But you will certainly have enjoyed each day (if you like the beach). But if you did all sorts of things during your holiday, there are certainly days where you would have had more pleasure sticking with the beach — but your memories of your holidays will be much richer.

I tend to stick in my comfort zone. I’ll order the same thing again and again. I’ll do the same thing over and over. I stick with what I know and what I like. I go to the same places. I’ve been in the same flat nearly 20 years, have been doing judo for 25, sailing for 10… I go to India regularly, but don’t really travel around or visit new places.

I had never realised the impact this way of living my life was having on the memories I am building of my life. I sometimes feel adrift in time, in some sort of limbo, and I’m now considering explicitly trying to add more “peak experiences” to my life.

Regarding food, because meal-memory seems to have an impact on whether you feel hungry or not, this insight is also encouraging me to make sure I have less “mono-meals” and more meals with a collection of different foods composing them.

Originally published at Climb to the Stars.