Is it possible for anyone to shed the ‘baggage’ of the past and turn a clean, new leaf in life? A few years back, some eminent psychologists studied this and came to the conclusion that our ability to envision the future is strongly influenced by our memory of the past. In other words, we tend to use memories of past experiences to predict what our life will be like in the future.
Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist who won the Nobel Prize for his contribution to the field of behavioural economics, uses an example to illustrate how our memories shape our thoughts and feelings. A person had dinner at a restaurant. Everything went well. The food was delicious, the wine wonderful. Memorable dinner. You would recommend the restaurant to anyone. Just then something goes wrong. The waiter spills some coffee on your elegant suit. Odds are that the coffee spill will taint your memory of the food and the wine.
What lingers on is memory rather than experience, argues the psychologist. Further he says that the decisions we make are based on our memories, not our experiences. The restaurant triggers your unpleasant memory whenever someone asks your opinion about it. Life is a continuous series of moments of experience, says Kahneman. Once these moments are passed, most of them are lost forever. Kahneman calculated that the psychological presence of an experience lasts about three seconds.
But memories linger on. You cannot wish them away. They are not baggage you carry on your back which you can put down when you feel like doing so. They are more like the stains on your suit that refuse to fade, all the stain removers notwithstanding.
The situation becomes much worse if these bad memories have been reinforced by further similar experiences. Take the case of a woman ditched by her boyfriend. She overcomes the trauma and learns to place her trust in another man. Imagine her being ditched by him too. The likelihood of her ever retaining any trust in her heart for another man is almost nil.
The bad past is not an excess baggage carried by us. They become integral parts of our very being. Memories are not mere experiences. They are the marks left in your soul by the experiences. How deep are the marks, how durable they are, these decide whether you can escape from them while planning your future.
PS. This post is my response to a discussion that took place in a blog by Pranju Chakrapani.