I Remember It Well … I Think

by  John E. Smith  |  Self Leadership
I Remember It Well … I Think

Ever remember something easily and confidently … then find out your memory of it was wrong?

I have sometimes argued long and hard with family members over issues both minor and major from our shared past. I often remember every detail of a family story so clearly and so vividly that I could swear that I was reliving the event as we battled over the details.

Finding out I was wrong sometimes (OK, quite a few times) made me curious about our memories. The research on memory recognizes that our memories are not perfect recording devices. But don’t take my word for it. Here are one or two sources of actual things we know about how our memories work.

I learned a new term recently: The Mandela Effect, sometimes also known as the Berenstain Bear Effect. This is an apparently well-researched example of faulty memory, with the added fascination of not being tied to a couple of siblings in complete disagreement over who was more cool in high school, but reflecting a phenomena shared by many otherwise unconnected individuals.

The result is a strongly held and shared belief that something, such as Nelson Mandela’s actual death or the spelling of a beloved cartoon bear family, is a certain way. These beliefs are usually strongly held, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. It’s sort of a “Don’t confuse me with the facts.  My mind is already made up” kind of thing. The links above contain many other examples of this phenomenon.

It seems we can believe something to be true and our memory will often support our views, whether the thing is objectively true or not.

False Memory Syndrome has received much attention over the years in the medical community and  particularly from those who have suffered abuse. I think this observation defines the problem with our memories well:

“Some of our memories are true, some are a mixture of fact and fantasy, and some are false — whether those memories seem to be continuous or seem to be recalled after a time of being forgotten or not thought about.”

(From the False Memory  Syndrome Foundation website)

Another angle on all this concerns another memory phenomena called Euphoric Recall, which I remember fondly from my therapist days. In that specific context, euphoric recall was the tendency of drug users to recall the more enjoyable aspects of their using experiences, while “forgetting” the least desirable parts of that experience.

This occurs often with folks who do not have drug problems as well. We remember our first kiss as pure bliss for both involved, which may relate more to hormones and youthful imaginations than to the actual (and possibly awkward) reality.

So why focus on The Mandela Effect, Euphoric Recall, and False Memories?

We often remember our childhood as simple, uncluttered with worries, and the world which we inhabited as generally rational, straightforward, and safe. I grew up in the 1950s and completely missed the reality of that whole “Atomic Bomb” thing. Now I look back longingly at that simpler and apparently safer time … forgetting the very real and dangerous issues that existed politically, medically, and socially.

In this current time of alternative facts and frequently polarized views of events and issue, it seems that our feelings and positions about how things ought to be are closely tied to how we think things were. We think things were better then and consequently long for that imagined past good time.

Given this, we might want to consider just how untrustworthy our memories can be.

About the leadership angle on all this, I am curious:

Have you ever found yourself believing intently in something you later found out was wrong?

Have you ever had to deal with others who suffer from some form of “alternative” memories?

How do you as a leader of others reduce the negative impact of inaccurate memories?

Have you ever dealt with one of the memory issues I listed here?

About The Author

Articles By john-smith
I enjoy helping people learn and grow through intentional, strategic, and social interventions. I coach, teach, train, facilitate, organize, write, speak, design, and lead at the intersection of leadership, learning, and human behavior. I am a CCE Board Certified Coach (BCC) with specializations in both Leadership/Business and Life/Personal coaching. My primary blog is The Strategic Learner on Wordpress.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Sam  |  27 Feb 2017  |  Reply

Great post John. This all sounds too familiar. I certainly know that at times I can be stubborn and convince myself that I’m right – when engaged in a conversation. I think simply wanting to “win” an argument can interrupt our memories as well.

John E. Smith  |  28 Feb 2017  |  Reply

Thanks, Sam – glad you enjoyed it.

You have hit a key point in all this: When we think we are right and our information or memory is correct, we can all be very stubborn.

Another aspect of this is the tendency to “see” things which reinforce our preconceptions or beliefs, while missing those things which might indicate another truth. When we want to “win”, as you say, we tend to clearly see what will help us do that.

Appreciate your observations:)


Jane  |  28 Feb 2017  |  Reply

I had to smile, well ok, laugh when I read this. Now in our retirement years, I have often listened to my husband recall something from our history and wonder whose life he was living back then because it bears little resemblance to the same time period – and we were living the same life together. There is no doubt in my mind that work relationships and events suffer the same phenomenon. This is why we document, take notes, and enter details into project files.

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