I was born at a very young age and...bud um boom...

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Wince Memories

For many years, psychologists have been using the phrase “old tapes” to refer to those things we do or think that are the result of early life experiences. For example, I have an old tape about the tie between food and company. If company comes to my house, my early life experience of living in my parents’ home and watching them entertain, leads me to believe that I would be akin to a serial murderer if I should happen to run out of food and someone could not enjoy a second or third helping at the table.

Recently I have become aware of something similar to the idea of old tapes. I have noticed that when I am tired or when I have discovered that I have made a mistake either interpersonally or professionally, for a short period afterwards I am prone to fall into the trap of going into my memory banks, pulling out embarrassing incidents or immature behaviors, picturing them and then literally wincing at the images. These “wince memories” can be six months old or 30 years old; their age does not seem to matter. Each has the power to make me want to close my eyes, shake my head and try to wipe away the image.

I find the depth of the embarrassment intriguing but I also think it is fascinating that memories do not seem to lose their power with time. Here is a specific example of a recent wince memory. Forty five years ago, as a young man, I was a guest, along with seven or eight other folks, for a long weekend at the home of a professional chef. I made the mistake of telling her that I loved to cook. The fact is, I was enamored with the idea of cooking but had actually cooked very little. She generously asked me if I had a favorite recipe that I would like to cook while I was visiting. By coincidence, I had recently had a long discussion with my father on the phone and he had explained in detail how to cook his special Sunday spaghetti sauce. I had not yet cooked it but I was sure from our phone conversation that I knew how to do it.

Foolishly, I told my host that I would like to cook my father’s recipe for spaghetti sauce and added that I had cooked it many times and that it was a very special recipe. I then proceeded, in front of her, to butcher the recipe so badly that the sauce was practically inedible. Worse, I was very outspoken about how the sauce should be made and blew her off when she tried, during my cooking attempt, to give me some tips to get me out of obvious culinary trouble. Despite my attitude, she very tactfully bailed me out at the end by doctoring the sauce to an almost acceptable level. Worse, the guests, who had seen my entire act, were kind enough to compliment me on my bad sauce. There is no doubt in my mind that my host and the guests saw me as a fraud and that all of them knew by the way I had approached cooking the recipe that I had no experience in the kitchen and that I was simply showing off. When I picture me trying unsuccessfully to make this sauce, transparently bluffing and ignoring the chef’s attempt to help me, the reality of how I must have appeared to everyone is painful and I literally wince and try and wipe away the memory.

Naturally, If we live long enough and take enough risks, we will have many such embarrassing memories in our banks. It is not enough to merely try and wince them away. We must also have something we can do and things we can say to ourselves so that they do not bring us down. What I say and do is based on the following premise. Depression resides in the past with mistakes and regrets. Anxiety resides in the future with performance worries. Joy resides here in the present. So, when I wince at old memories and am temporarily residing in the past, I do two things. I say to myself: “Yes, it is embarrassing to have done that but if I had not done it I would not be the person I am today. Such mistakes teach humility. Thankfully, I have learned from the experience.” Then I pull myself back into the present by getting involved in an activity that I enjoy.


Blogger Misty said...

thanks for writing and sharing. I love it. I call your "wince memories" "Crap Radio". The good news is you CAN change the station.. Misty

9:41 PM  

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