Most of the time, I think that everything I know and have learned so far is the result of past experiences.
Life is a teacher, if nothing else.
I rationalize this mindset, because my up-to-now current knowledge is something I can easily draw on, at any time.
For example, I can relive a vacation by looking at photos and video, or recall past events, parties, and holidays by reminiscing with family and friends.
I can picture myself in a booth at my favorite restaurant, being taken care of by my favorite server.
It’s easy to imagine my recollections as being accurate, dependable — and repeatable. And that repeatability is something I depend on — most of the time.
Because memories carry a lot of weight in the form of perceived knowledge and lessons, and in my slightly self-protective mind, I’ve created a personal paradigm by tweaking reality just enough to fit my own belief systems.
As humans, we’re constantly adjusting life through our own personal filter, molding and stretching our memories to re-imagine the best (or worst) aspects of an experience — in the way we want to remember them.
While this process may provide some level of suggested comfort, it’s pretty much impossible to have the exact same experience as the one pulled from the archives of your past.
Here’s a personal story:
Five years ago, my husband and I planned a trip to a little seaside town on the west coast.
We did a lot of research before deciding on the destination, and after choosing a place to stay and booking our flights, our excitement began to build.
The trip was incredible, and we spent our days walking a warm stretch of beach, hiking the local nature trails, and watching sunsets over the ocean from our balcony.
Everything about the place left us with a strong pull to return.
So the following year, we did just that.
We booked the same accommodations at the same time of year, confirmed our flights, and started packing in anticipation of another stellar vacation.
But the reality of what we experienced the second time was a far cry from the memory of our first trip.
After a delayed flight with grumpy attendants, we discovered our luggage hadn’t made it. The airline eventually located our bags and promised to deliver them the next day.
Then, after checking into our hotel, we learned the guests in the rooms above and beside us turned out to be, let’s just say, unaware of common courtesies. Slamming doors, loud TV’s and music, and late night parties crushed our visions of the previously relaxing environment.
But there was more …
Instead of the warm ocean breezes and sunny days of the previous year, a lingering storm had rolled in, bringing a heavy blanket of fog that kept temperatures down and visibility nearly non-existent.
So far, our repeat dream vacation was a bust.
Yes, things had changed.
By expecting the same result — re-enforced by our memories — we were anticipating the same level of satisfaction and enjoyment we’d previously experienced. And without allowing for any flexibility in our expectations, our vacation was on the fast track to disaster.
It was time for a self-intervention.
While we were disappointed, we did our best to work through the circumstances.
Instead of complaining about the situation — one that was in total contrast to our first visit — we decided to make new, and different, memories.
We bought raincoats to handle the weather, explored other activities and restaurants in the area, and took a few day trips to new locations.
Does all of this mean we can’t rely on our memories or personal perceptions to guide us in making good future choices and decisions?
Just the opposite.
Our perceptions of the world, and everything in it, are guidelines for our life’s journey.
Our personal knowledge of the past provides us with a benchmark from which to determine our interests, desires, and goals. And we constantly refer to those lessons as we move forward each day.
And just like we wouldn’t take the same road and expect to arrive at a different destination, we need to be open to the concept that, fortunately, something old (our memories) and something new (future adventures) often go hand-in-hand.
Jill Reid is a writer and founder of Pathway to Personal Growth, featuring articles on self-improvement, personal success strategies, and tips for living longer and stronger through positive lifestyle choices, and Kitchen Spirit, a health, food, and fitness website. Follow Jill on Medium, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.