The Fallacy of Memory

IMG_20180625_190926_530Every Thursday, as I lace up my pink Skechers Go Ultra road2’s to hit another day’s mileage, I also download my favourite podcast to plug in to during my run – Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist history. This season (season 3) Gladwell explores the topic of memory and I find myself drawing a parallel in my own life. I find this constantly happens to me: as I am reading or learning about something, my own life provides a real-life example of that content. For example, while studying anatomy this past spring, I would read a chapter on a specific disorder and have a consultation the following week present the very same disorder. This time, the topic is memory, and how it plays tricks on us. Gladwell’s two-part episode on memory this season dives into the topic and how our memories aren’t quite as permanent as we thought – they change over time. 

An interesting topic in season 3 episode 4 “Free Brian Williams” was that of “flash bulb events.” These are events that are so huge everyone remembers them and where they were at the time they heard the news, for our generation Michael Jackson’s death, and 9/11 are just two examples. Researchers conduct studies where they ask a group of the population questions near the time of the event and then follow-up in classic longitudinal study style. The participants wrote down their answers to questions such as where were you, what did you do, who did you first talk to, etc. The interesting part – participants’ answers changed over time and each time they believed for 100% fact that they were telling the true story at that moment. Even when shown the answers that they had previously written, in their own handwriting, they stated, “I don’t know why I would say that because that isn’t true, I must have been lying for some reason.” Over time, our memories change, in a process that we are not aware of. Whether it’s a subconscious attempt to protect our ego, no one knows. But we do know that memories change.

“We’re all fools,” as Gladwell says.

For years I’ve operated on the assumption that my experiences with running in university were tainted – no one believed in me, I worked hard and saw no results, and that I just couldn’t quite get things right. I operated on that assumption for the last 5 years, believing that while I was training I was going backwards in training, not forwards. Recently, shortly after listening to this episode of course, I decided to go back through my training logs from university and oh was I in for a surprise. Remember that kid full of passion dying to improve and yet doing oh so poorly in university? Well that kid, was lazy and did not in fact run as much as I had believed. As I looked over my training logs I saw 50k weeks. Most runs were 30 minutes of length! 30 minutes! That’s my second run of the day these days, a distance that I do without blinking. I saw km repeats in 4:59k’s – uh that’s my easy run pace. I also noticed many days off every week – often 3 days. Every injury logged in my training log I could look back and directly link to the previous two months of sporatic on again and off again training.

It was great to have this training log to look back on because I truly believed I was working as hard as I could and that the world was just against me. My memory was inaccurate, it changed. Was it my ego? No, I don’t think so. Rather it’s a question of perspective. At the time was that difficult for me? Probably – especially with life stress and school. Some of those lower weeks also were due to the fact that it was a workout heavy program – 3 workouts per week and one long run. Josh and I have me on a mileage heavy program that includes one workout and one long-run workout per week which obviously is working much better than the intensity based program of university.  Could I have worked harder? Of course! Running so little didn’t even give me a chance to run well. But, of course, hindsight is 20/20.

I think the lesson here is to take a step back once in a while and ask yourself am I truly working as hard as I think I am? Could I give more? Am I unsuccessful because of my training or are there other factors at play? Maybe you are skipping stretching, or drills, or skipping a few runs a week. Well, all those things add up. At the time they seem insignificant but if you take a step back and look at the big picture, they can add up to a bigger chunk. Set the ego aside and ask yourself – am I giving this everything that I think I am. Training logs are great tools to help us track our progress.

Sometimes our memory and our truth are not the same thing. Something to think about.


This entry was posted in advice, mental skills advice, purpose, running, Self-growth. Bookmark the permalink.

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