Last night during dinner, I was struggling to recall what I had for lunch. Yet moments later, at the same dinner, I was able to describe the entire experience of having my favourite ramen in Japan months ago.
Have you ever wondered why it is easier for us to recall certain past events in our lives, even though it may have happened years ago, but can’t seem to remember what we had for lunch yesterday?
Why you remember what you remembered?
Studies into the inner workings of the human brain have shown why some events are stored as long term memory while some eventually fade away. Our brain is like a biological computer with circuits made from neurons. Information in the form of electrical and chemical signals are transmitted between these neurons via synapses.
The brain, like our muscles, gets better and more effective at doing something when we do it more often. Imagine a conversation between yourself and a close friend compared to one with a stranger. Because you are familiar with your friend’s body language and nuances, you’ll be able to communicate more effectively, where as with the stranger, you may need to adjust and adapt to his/her responses.
Similarly, communication between neurons improves from continuous interaction and this may explain why some events are more memorable to us than others. The more inter-connected an event is to other memories, the more neurons are fired, increasing the odds of converting it to long term memory.
Memorable vs Impactful
Now if you were asked to think of a decision that had a big impact in your life, you are most likely to point to a memorable event.
Deciding which school to attend or who to marry are some of the examples of major decisions that changes the trajectory of our lives. Since they have such an impact on our livelihoods, we tend to remember them more vividly than other decisions.
However, are they memorable because they were impactful or are they impactful because they were memorable? This is something worth pondering over because most of us attribute big impact in our lives to major memorable decisions we have made.
Small decisions have big impact
But what about all the small, seemingly unimportant, insignificant and unmemorable decisions we make every single day?
From the moment you decide to wake up, to what you have for breakfast, how early or late you get to work, whether you decide to skip gym and what time you go to bed.
All these decisions, however small, are made by you either consciously or not, have a much bigger impact on your life than you think.
You may think the day you signed up for gym as the one decision that kick started your journey towards a healthier and fitter lifestyle. But unless, you continue to make the decision to hit the gym every week, there won't be any meaningful change other than an extra bill to pay monthly.
Habits are pre-made decisions
Once you realised there are a bunch of decisions being made by you every single day, which over time, could significantly affect your life, it may be time to pay more attention to your habits.
As creature of habits, we tend to do certain things over and over again without much consideration. After all, habits are basically decisions you have made in the past. Even when the circumstances have changed, we may still behave in a certain way out of habit.
The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken. - Samuel Johnson
To be fair, it is quite hard to imagine how some of these rather harmless and irrelevant actions can alter the quality of our lives. But if you agree that a bad habit may eventually lead to a bad addiction, then similarly, a good one may bring unexpected benefits.
Every decision matter
If you are looking for ways to turn your life around or just want to improve a certain aspect of it, you should start by being more aware of all the decisions you are making, day in and day out, no matter how small and insignificant they may seem.
Leverage the power of habits to build the life you always wanted. Have the courage to question everything and be prepared to stop doing certain things you have always done. One small change in an aspect of your life can gradually grow and affect the rest of it. Make sure you are making that change consciously.
Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit. - Aristotle
The next time you are having lunch with a friend, you may want to pay more attention to what you are ordering. Not just because you can later recall what you had but it may very well be one of the decision that change your life.