Instead of thinking of life as a series of goals or accomplishments, I also like to think of life as a collection of memories. I ponder what kinds of memories I’d like to add to that collection as I age.
This helps me get past overly abstract goals and focus on the experiential nature of life. Sometimes achieving a goal is a great experience, but sometimes it can be a boring slog where only the end result matters. If we pay more attention to the experiences we’re accumulating and not just the achievements we’re ticking off, we can acquire better memories and feel more enjoyment from those memories.
I’ve been investing in this mindset a lot more during the past 10 years than I have in other decades of my life, and it’s made a noticeable difference in how I feel about the past. That last decade is filled with such delightful memories that I cherish. I contrast this with other periods of my life when I didn’t practice this mindset, and I realize that I allowed too many days to go where I didn’t create enough beautiful memories.
Some of my favorite memories are of travel experiences. I have vivid memories of Paris, London, Berlin, Amsterdam, Bucharest, Lucerne, Rome, and more. I recall an amazing 23-day road trip through the Pacific Northwest. And of course how could I forget the Las Vegas Zombie Run?
Some cherished memories are actually very simple and inexpensive. They were little decisions to add some extra flavor to my memory banks. I read several Mark Twain novels during the past few years, including Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Recalling some of the ridiculous events from those stories puts a smile on my face.
Last night I began reading Don Quixote, which is more than 400 years old. This is a book I’ve always wanted to read, and I just finally began reading it, partly because I want to acquire the memory of having read it. I want to add some intimate knowledge of this book to my mind. And I also want to experience the story. It’s about a man who decides to become a chivalrous knight and go on adventures in a world that cares little for chivalry.
Reading The Princess Bride book was another delightful experience. That’s my all-time favorite movie, and I loved how reading the book increased my appreciation for the movie adaptation. I can see why the movie didn’t include the Zoo of Death and chose to replace it with the much simpler Pit of Despair though.
As I noted in yesterday’s post about balancing achievements and experiences, I like to plan for experiences too, often selecting them based on the memories they’ll create. I find this especially important while spending a lot more time at home due to the virus situation.
If you’re spending a lot of time at home right now, realize that you’re still acquiring memories day by day. You can create stressful memories during this time, and then you’ll have those locked into your mind for the rest of your life. You can create boring memories, in which case you may not remember much when you think back on this time. Or you could take the opportunity to create some delightful memories to punctuate these days, in which case you’ll remember the good times that you experienced when you think back on this situation.
Have you ever read The Diary of Anne Frank? I read the book when I was younger. I walked through the real Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, which is now a popular museum. Even though it was a stressful experience for her that ended in her death, she still managed to record some positive memories in her diary while she was in hiding. Even in darkness there were beautiful moments.
A lot of personal growth work involves understanding one’s past. I used to find this kind of work unpleasant because I didn’t feel good about many parts of my past – it was full of mistakes and setbacks. But now I’ve greatly increased my mental bank of positive memories, so I find it much more pleasant to reflect back on the past. It seems a lot brighter than it used to.
A mistake I made in the past was focusing too much on trying to create a better future and not enough on enjoying moments in the present. That mindset actually hurt my past, filling it with memories of drudgery instead of beautiful experiences.
When I was younger, I wish that I had spent less time at the office and said yes to more zombie runs. The time at the office is mostly a blur today, but I remember the Zombie Run vividly, and it was only a few hours out of one day.
It’s not difficult to fill your past with moments that you’ll cherish. You’ve had some beautiful experiences before, and you can create more of them. The key is to recognize how much value such experiences add to your life.
Receive Steve's new articles by email.