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In conversations, your memory can get you stuck.

Memory plays tricks on us and can get us stuck in a “go nowhere” conversation unless we understand a few basics about memory.

I was reminded of this the other day in a meeting where two people kept saying that they  remembered exactly what was said at a previous meeting and then they promptly each  gave two

Recalling What?

different recollections of the same discussion.

And then last Sunday, Nigel Lattaa clinical psychologist,  who does a series of programs on NZ TV called the Politically Incorrect Guide to… commented that our memories are either a reconstruction or a fabrication of the events that really happened.

And that sparked this blog on memory getting you stuck.

In my daily life, I only remember what has been recorded but I know how to reconstruct the likely scenario around events given the outcomes.

This means that in conversations, I need to be careful with the “I remember” stuff. I might recall something but actually remember it verbatim, not likely.

My children constantly remind me that they remember an event in a way that is is different from what I recall. Rather than debate what did happen, we land up discussing how the event made them feel, what they learned from that event and what were their thoughts about the outcome of the event.

In this manner we avoid trying to create the exact memory of the event and discuss what really matters – what happens to us next.

This has also been helpful living with the same person for over 40 years. Neither of us remembers specifically what happened so we just keep moving on with the lessons learned. Even when we recall the event, we recall the emotion and the learning and that is what gets discussed.

We avoid the recriminations because we know we saw the event differently. We also know that time changes what actually happened to what we believed happen.

Life is about choices.

Choices about what we dwell on and what colors our picture of the world. If we chose to see the world with shades of pink than all our memories will be through rose colored glasses. If we see the world as shades of gray then than we see everything as bleak or colorless.

And one thing that happens in many conversations is memory plays a part in the dialogue.

Memory of the event rather than the lessons learned or the emotions developed but he said, she said stuff. And this then can lead to an argument about what happened.

And what actually happened is IRRELEVANT!

During my days in tertiary education, I often had parents, students and tutors in to discuss an event. I learned early on that the actual event was different than either side saw it. The student, especially if the parent was present, was always picked on or hard done by. The tutor invariably had difficulty recalling the actual event and when they heard the student’s side, had a very different impression of the event. The question that needed to be answered was not what happened but what happens next. What will change for all parties involved?

Think about this the next time you are in a conversation about something that has happened. If memory of events is defective, then relying on memory to discuss a reaction could have many problems.

The solution, rather than discuss the event, discuss the feelings and discuss what you would like to see happen next.

One question I find really powerful to resolve disagreements is – “What would you like to see me do about this situation“. It does not mean I commit to give it to them but it stops them and then they start to listen to what is possible.

Life is lived today.

What happened yesterday happened and the only thing that can change about it is the feelings and lessons you take away from it. If you dwell on the memory, you will change the memory. If you rehash the memory, you will rewrite that memory.

You need to look at the event and ask how do you recreate the feelings if they were pleasant or how do you eliminate the negative emotions in a similar situation.

Its not easy but it is that simple. Remember, the mind is different from the movie camera and you re-author it each time you play it back.

Has there ever been a time when a memory got you stuck and made conversation difficult?


Simplifier, Presenter, Mentor



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{ 16 comments… add one }

  • Roy A. Ackerman, Ph.D., E.A. March 28, 2012, 12:28 am

    Generally, that is true- that the mind colors the information it recalls. Less so on the visual and more so on the aural.
    But, you are also correct, that our impressions and concerns from what we recall of events are the issues that need to be considered. That is the way to move forward and remain focused on the goal.
    Thanks for the share.

    • Roberta Budvietas March 28, 2012, 5:25 am

      Thanks Roy. Interesting that if most people are visual recall is aural? One thing when the memory game gets played is that the issue is often about proving someone right rather than getting to a resolution, solution or objective.

  • Laura March 28, 2012, 4:56 am

    Hm..interesting thoughts. It means that if we train ourselves to reconstruct all of our memories to be something positive, we are actually going to recall them as positive happenings, which could make our lives better. ?
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    • Roberta Budvietas March 28, 2012, 5:27 am

      Thanks for visiting Laura and yes I personally know that how I chose to recall events, affects how I live. And maybe what makes a person truly happy is that they recall only happy outcomes.

  • PeggyLee Hanson March 28, 2012, 8:12 am

    Memories, like the corners of our minds…. or might that be “corridor?”
    I have four siblings… the age between us is 11 years from the oldest to the youngest (me). My oldest sister says I have a great memory, but she does too; we just remember the same things differently. Now, on the other hand, our other sister has a completely different memory than the others about our dad. She won’t talk about it so we don’t know for certain what that difference is. I know that i don’t remember a lot when my kids were little — it wasn’t always a happy time; But I have asked them what their favorite childhood memory is. My daughter told me hers, but the boys are still thinking about it 😉
    Good food for though, Roberta…. it’s all in the memory ….

  • Lynn Brown March 28, 2012, 5:41 pm

    Well I certainly don’t want to admit it, but I do have memory lapse! I think it might have to do with something called aging!! Thank you Roberta for providing a more clear difference between remembering and recalling. There really is a difference.

    Discussing what you feel and what you would like to see happen in a situation rather than getting all caught up with trying to remember exactly what he or she said. We really do get stuck on that, which causes so much conflict, keeping us back…. rather than finding solutions and moving forward.
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    • Roberta Budvietas March 29, 2012, 7:47 am

      Lynn, its not age its experience that make you uncertain about what you recall. When you were younger, you believed you were invincible.as we age we know we can get it wrong sometimes. And feelings and outcomes are much more important than who is right which is what the I remember game is really all about

  • Anna March 28, 2012, 10:23 pm

    How interesting, Roberta! If only it wasn’t so hard to try to remember and transform all those bad things as good things…
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    • Roberta Budvietas March 29, 2012, 7:38 am

      Anna, everything is simple but more things are difficult to actually do. But like anything, it becomes easier when we keep practicing and getting coached

  • Janette Fuller March 29, 2012, 2:42 am

    You have offered some great tips for conflict resolution. It is very important to focus on the lessons and feelings that come from an event. We so often get bogged down on discussing the details.
    I also like your question, “What would you like to see me do about this situation?”
    Great post!
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    • Roberta Budvietas March 29, 2012, 7:37 am

      Thanks Janette. I have always found the what would you like to see a really powerful question. It always amazes me how often people have no idea what they want to see to solve the problem

  • Bonnie March 30, 2012, 9:59 am

    Memory and how it works is an amazing topic not just from what we know, but from what we have no idea about! I studied memory and what always struck me is this; Our memory is simply recalling what our brain thinks it saw/heard/felt etc. Our brain interprets sensory information based on what it knows, what it thinks is important to pay attention to and it’s best guess at what is happening and does it as best it can and truth be told…if often gets it kinda wrong. Thus every person’s memory of the exact same situation can be so different.

    Amazing isn’t it?

    Also explains why people can be so certain that they are remembering things correctly and others are not. It also explains those memory lapses sometimes.
    Understanding this certainly has made me a lot more compassionate when disagreements arise due to what we remember from the past. A fabulous topic to explore Roberta!
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    • Roberta Budvietas March 30, 2012, 10:56 am

      Bonnie, what a great additional set of information for this topic. I really wish more people recognized that memory is seldom what we think it is. And when we depend on the memory in a conversation, we land up getting stuck and everyone loses

  • Julie March 30, 2012, 10:28 am

    My memories get me always stuck because usually I cannot remember the things exactly. And when this happens, I got in trouble and can’t continue the conversation.
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    • Roberta Budvietas March 30, 2012, 10:57 am

      And Julie, you are not alone in that. One thing that I have noticed is the bully really does not remember they are just more forceful in exerting their influence

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