Why did I do that stupid thing @!&*? (or elaborative encoding and bad memories)

Posted: May 23, 2013 in Learning, Mental Reboot
Tags: , ,

I recently had my first experience standing in line to get a favorite author to sign his current book.  I’ve never done this before and had some somewhat skewed expectations for the experience.  So when it didn’t go as expected I didn’t end up making the most of the experience that was somewhat different than the one I had scripted in my head.  And then I spent the fifteen minutes driving home going over the scenario over and over in my head whilst beating myself up about how I could have managed things differently.  Fortunately Alicia, who has more experience with readings and signings, did an excellent job of pulling me out of that loop quickly.

But I think this is a good (or bad) example of something that I ran across in the Memory and Human Lifespan lectures.   Professor Joorden’s example is that when taking a trip he just assumes that three things will go wrong, so rather than obsessing over each thing that goes wrong he just counts them off.  The thing is, I had a great time at the reading that preceded the signing.  I want to remember the good parts of that overall experience.  But because I tend to obsess over my mistakes, if I don’t cut that out, the part of that experience that will be the clearest is the bad part.  This is classic elaborative encoding.  Pick at the problem from a whole bunch of directions until it’s completely etched in your memory.

On the other hand, I think there is a reason to pick apart mistakes.  Because if you never think about your mistakes at all you are doomed to repeat them.  But figuring out how to stop as soon as you’ve done the initial analysis and landed on a thing or two to do differently the next time seems to be the hard part.  I think one of the ways to make this easier is to find ways to practice important skills in more incremental ways.  This was one of the key takeaways from The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. where one of the examples was the claim that Brazil became a hotbed of soccer greats only after a street game became popular that used similar skills but in a much smaller space which allowed children to make (and correct) mistakes at a much more rapid rate than children that just played soccer.

So if I want to have a better experience at book signings, one way would be to go to more signings.   And going from once in a lifetime to once a year or even a few times a year might work somewhat.  But that doesn’t really meet the goal of quick iteration.  Perhaps a more effective idea might be to spend more time engaging strangers.  So if you see me on a bus anytime soon, watch out – I might actually speak to you!

And more importantly, I suspect that the right take-away from the book signing experience is to go back to enjoying readings and not spend the time and money on the actual signing part of these events if that detracts from the overall experience.  And to cherish the memories of the part I enjoyed rather than pick apart the part that I think could have gone better.  As obsessed as I am with learning, picking my battles is an essential part of the process.

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