Scott H Young

Are You Living Life or Just Planning Your Biography?


One of the most startling findings of modern psychology is how bad we are at guessing what will make us happy. Not only are we lousy at predicting what will satisfy us, we often misremember our happiness in the past.

In perhaps one of the best online talks I’ve ever watched, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman speaks about the difference between the experiencing and remembering selves (if you don’t have time to watch it, click here to download it and watch it later, it’s definitely worth the 20 minutes of your time).

Kahneman’s point is that our discussions about the ideal life are often misguided. This is because we confuse two seemingly similar but actually distinct concepts:

  1. The quality of life, as we experience it, moment-to-moment.
  2. The quality of our life, as we remember it and as it is woven in to the narrative of our lives.

The Vacation Dilemma – Is the Ideal Life Lived or Just Remembered?

The problem is that our experiential happiness is only loosely correlated with how happy we feel when thinking broadly about our lives.

Kahneman gives the example of a two week vacation. Assuming the vacation was equally enjoyable in every moment, then a two week vacation should be twice as good as a one week vacation. After all, there are twice as many moments of experiencing happiness.

Experiencing two weeks on vacation

However, from the standpoint of memory, a two-week vacation is barely better than a one-week vacation. This is because there are no new memories added in this time, so all the similar moments of happiness are simply forgotten.

Memory doesn't count the minutes

Here we have the conflict. Say you’re about to decide your next vacation plans, which you’re reasonably confident will be satisfying. Should you go for one week or two?

Making the question more interesting, Kahneman asks, would you pick the same vacations if you knew that after, all the pictures would be destroyed and you’d take an amnesiac drug forcing you to forget ever having taken it?

When I talk about the pursuit of the ideal life here on this blog, this revelation asks the question, what constitutes the ideal life? Is it our moment-to-moment experiences or simply the narrative we weave afterward?

The Tyranny of the Biographer

The difficulty with designing a life, is that your experiencing self doesn’t get a vote. It’s only the biographer, the part of yourself that remembers the past and predicts the future that gets a say in what careers you pick, vacations you choose and people you spend time with.

This doesn’t really seem fair. What you actually would write about your life after it has been lived is merely paper and some ink. It’s the slivers of time that pass through our consciousness that feel important.

This problem goes beyond the common experience of doing something for the purpose of talking about it later. Such as people who run marathons to “say they did it.” The reason our experiences don’t get a vote, is because they’ve already been taken over by the inner biographer.

We don’t base future decisions on experiential happiness because we don’t have access to anything but this sliver of now. Everything else has been converted to memories, and subject to all of the biases of the storyteller.

Experiencing the Ideal Life, Instead of Simply Narrating It

I don’t know about you, but I find this biographical tyranny unacceptable. I wouldn’t want to invest a lot of time designing a life that I can tell myself is great, but is lousy when I actually experience it.

As with all cognitive biases, I don’t think there is an easy solution. To err is human, and unfortunately, so is to err systematically.

However, I have tried to add a few broad ways of thinking about my life to avoid the most obvious traps. Here are a few of the mental habits I’m trying to foster to escape biographical tyranny:

#1 – Stop and Observe the Now

Kahneman explains that the middle moments are often washed out in memory. We accentuate when things start, when they end, or when something dramatic changes.

One counteracting force is simply to ask yourself how you feel at the current moment. Not a whole-life assessment, but a stopwatch checkup on your instantaneous mental state. Doing this, I believe, has helped me better recall how I’ve felt during a period, instead of just the end.

Eckhart Tolle has sold thousands of books preaching the pseudo-spiritual wisdom to stay in the present moment. Ignoring the fact it is mostly a rehash of millennia-old advice in a new-agey package, I feel some popularity of this comes back to the issue of biographical tyranny. We are so frequently absorbed in the thoughts of our life in totality, future worries, past regrets, that we fail to pay attention to the slivers of now that actually constitute our lives.

#2 – Emphasize Rewarding Routines, over Brief Events

Since middle-moments and sameness are washed out in the biography of our lives, it makes sense to deliberately weight these higher in our decisions for the future.

To put it another way, it makes more sense to focus on how your lifestyle affects your routine, than one-time events. For example, in thinking of my stay here in France, I’m likely to remember my amazing weekend in Barcelona, or the brief relationships I’ve had.

Those experiences, however positive, composed a lot less time than, say, being in class or walking to get groceries. The things we do every day, if they contribute positively to our well-being or detract from it, may be thousands of times more important than shorter events.

When planning for the future, this means I should spend a lot more time on decisions that enable me to avoid the hundreds of hours of boring class time, instead of my brief, but frustrating experience without electricity, for example. One may be more memorable, but the other occupies far more of my experiential life.

#3 – Create a Way of Living, Instead of a Goal

“Life is a journey, not a destination” is a cliché, but it’s still true. That’s one of the reasons I’m a fan of the lifestyle design concept. Because it turns around the typical accomplishment-oriented ambitions many people have towards one that focuses on how you actually live all the moments in-between.

Now, if I pick new challenges, I make sure to pick ones that will be enjoyable on the way to my destination. Ideally, I also try to pick goals that, if reached, will improve the way I’m able to live.

Setting up an online business to pay for all my expenses had been a major one for me, since it allows me the freedom to only work on things I’m interested in. Getting in decent physical shape and eating healthy was another one, as it has given me more energy.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Do you overvalue the brief, memorable events while letting the slivers of now slip by unnoticed? Or do you disagree with my take, and feel that life should be lived with the story in mind? What are your thoughts on untangling the obstacles on the pursuit of the ideal life? Please share in the comments.

Beach image thanks to rappensuncle


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43 Responses to “Are You Living Life or Just Planning Your Biography?”

  1. Lukas says:

    This is HUGE.
    You could take your journal and write dozens of pages just about that idea and its implications.

    Scott, I agree with you.
    For example, I stopped playing in a band (which is very cool) and instead spent more time programming (which is less cool).
    I’m SO much more happy. I would have never thought that switching hobbies would bring me so much happiness, every day.

    How much worth is your happiness versus “doing something impressive”? I would choose my happiness anytime. To me, how you feel in the present moment is more important than money, or grades in college.

  2. Eric Normand says:

    This is a beautiful and well-written post.

    I like the way you see the idea of lifestyle design. I have always looked at it as people trying to have a laundry list (a biography) of things they do. Instead, you see it as just the opposite: designing the everyday routines and chores. Very interesting and thought-provoking.

    I also like the idea that we should be careful of putting too much emphasis on small nuisances. Is it such a big deal that we lose electricity for a few minutes? Is it worth planning and striving to keep it on all the time? Much better is it to focus on what we will have to do a lot of for sure.

    This post was a gift. Thank you very much.

    Eric

  3. Paul Winslow says:

    This is an idea I can really relate to. I am almost always, most definitely “planning my biography” rather than living in the now. I’m obsessed with the idea of documenting life, capturing everything I think about on paper, taking photos and organising them into folders for ease of looking back, that sort of thing. But then is it not the result and the culmination of the things we do that almost always stands out way above the process/journey?

    We run marathons – for the most part – not because we enjoy gasping for air and feeling fatigued, but so we can say we finished the race. We spend hours trying to beat a really hard level on a video game, boiling in frustration not because we enjoy getting angry but so we can say we beat the game?

    Every couple of months I try again to dedicate myself to drawing for a hour or so a day to get really good at portraiture and figure drawings, but I never stick to it. I know this is because I don’t enjoy or feel good about going through months of making bad sketches, I just want to enjoy the end result. What’s more important – enjoying every moment that I’m practising or sitting through a couple of years of frustrating to finally feel happy with my ability to draw?

    I can’t decide which of the two ways to live is more rewarding – enjoying every moment as it passes or enjoying the results.

    I haven’t organised my thoughts here at all, I’m totally rambling.

  4. Paul Winslow says:

    “I don’t know about you, but I find this biographical tyranny unacceptable. I wouldn’t want to invest a lot of time designing a life that I can tell myself is great, but is lousy when I actually experience it.”

    I agree, completely. I’ve developed habits in life that conflict with this way of living but it’s definitely something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently and wanting to change.

    It makes me re-think the things I’ve always said I want to achieve in life. I’d hate to look back in 10 years and wish I’d enjoyed every step of the way instead of focusing/working on what I *thought* was the ‘ideal life’.

  5. Wendy Irene says:

    This was beautiful and I very much agree. The wonderful thing is the more we practice bringing our attention back to the “slivers of now” the better we become at it, allowing us to let go more easily of things that bring us down or stress us out. Knowing this helps you keep perspective on what is truly important to you in life. Does it really matter if your life makes a great story, or just that is was great living it? Even if your life is not that interesting of a story to others, I think the love ‘energy’ you leave in this world carries on and is even more important. lol, that definitely sounds really cheesy but is what I believe none-the-less :-)

  6. Maxim says:

    Experience instead of memories. Living in the past instead of past or future. Ages old ideas. But ones that are worth to reminded about…

  7. It’s an interesting concept that we create our past just as much as we create our future.

    The thing about memories I that while I understand where our man is coming from it is the memories of what we have done in the past that creates who we are and the moment and has an effect on what we will become in the future.

    Your past shapes your future, whether you can remember the memories or not, your subconscious can and does use them all the time, even though we might be unaware of it.

    That is why I love to travel, I enjoy it and it expands my own reality and has been a big part of defining who I am.

    Great post and a great title.

  8. I wish i had learnt the truth of this when i was as young as you – at 63, I look back on my ‘biography’ and realise that I may have ‘written’ one hell of a story, neither I, nor those i shared it with, enjoyed it much!

    For about 20 years, now, I’ve been working to live in the moment, and I still have a great ‘story’ but I enjoyed creating it!

    In the UK we have a saying ‘Look after the pennies, and the pounds will look after themselves’ – I think this translates to life generally quite well – if you take care of the present moment, the future, and your history will be good as well.

    Thanks for another fine essay, Scott.

  9. Jason says:

    I’ve often wondered if I glorify past memories and make them out to be more fantastic and epic than they really were. To this end, I try to journal my experiences as closely as possible to when they occur so that my thoughts are still clear and relatively fresh. The longer you wait, the more likely your “biographical tyrant” is to alter the truth of the memory.

    You really can send yourself insane pondering this sort of thing.

    I think it all comes down to reminding yourself as frequently as possible to enjoy each individual moment and be present. Even if you do end up unconsciously over glorifying the past and “lying to yourself”, this isn’t the end of the world either. It’s still pleasurable to reflect on the past in that very moment.

    Scarily, I remind myself of a scene from “The Matrix”, when the evil character Cypher opts to re enter the dreamworld permanently, stating “Ignorance is bliss.”

  10. Joshua Best says:

    I think this is interesting… but I’m not convinced that we need to convert to making sure our experiencing self is happier. After all – if I remember that a vacation was extremely fun – even if it was a lot of work, money, and time – if I remember it was fun… it was fun.

    If we only remember very few moments, and I happen to remember the moments that I’m happiest… then I’m happy… even if I wasn’t happy while I was experiencing it.

  11. This is a very well written post and I agree with your comments. We are prone to focusing on the peaks and valleys of our lives to the detriment of the climb and descent.

    However, there are other perpectives to consider. I would suggest that sometimes, you need to focus on the accomplishment/goal despite some anticipated unpleasantries on the journey. Consider an obese person who begins to eat/exercise appropriately.

    For this person, because of past habits, enjoying the moment would lead to another doughnut. While they may have the foresight to recognize that they are making a good and beneficial lifestyle design change, it is unlikely that they are looking forward to the smaller/healthier meals and hours of sweating. Sometimes you have to break a cycle to move in a better direction and making change can be uncomfortable or painful.

    Again Scott, I agree with what you’ve said and I think your suggestions are valuable. I just thought this perspective might add to the discussion.

  12. Petrina says:

    Hi Scott,

    Firstly I’d like to say how incredible I find your writings and insights…I very much enjoy them!

    Having reached my mid-life and having had a wonderful life so far I would say that it’s a combination of the two…the biographical portion is needed to provide the “stories to tell” to friends and family about your life and the adventures you’ve had; the way you experience each day and live in the “now” determines how you “feel” about yourself and your life both today and when you look back on the past. Both are essential to feeling fulfilled.

    Unfortunately, at this point in my life I’m going through the cliched mid-life crisis so although I think I’m a fairly self-aware person and even somewhat know what should be the right attitude, approach etc to life I’m struggling to regain the “sparkle” in the now.

    Anyway, your blog really helps and thanks again for sharing.

  13. Gwainerd says:

    Maybe the key is to design life in such a way that the experiencing self and remembering self are aligned. They don’t necessarily have to compete with one another.

    Asking to take a 1 or 2 week vacation is forcing you to choose between these 2 selves and decide which is more important.

    Why not choose both and take a 2 week vacation: 1 week on the beach and 1 week on a road trip. You’ll have both a rich experience and rich memories.

  14. For me I often find the past to be a distraction. Getting caught up in memories usually takes me away from enjoying what’s happening now.

    I like to reflect on lessons learned, grow from them and move on.

    The past is over. What I do today is all that matters in shaping what happens tomorrow. I like to reminiscence with friends, but not spend time daydreaming. My time is better spent investing in new learning.

    Thanks for the great article, you always do great work.

  15. eric says:

    Another great post. I find myself always worrying about the future and never living the moment. At times it is overwhelming and I have to force my self to stop and remember life is happening now and the only way for me to stay positive is to remember the little day to day successes. Those little wins seemingly contribute to a much more happy me which I can then project within my family. You mentioned in a previous post that dissolving the ego is way to fight the “I suck” moments. That is extremely helpful in remembering why the little wins matter.

  16. Jake says:

    The one idea that I didn’t hear about is the ability of a person to reexperience a memory or a feeling even though that experience is no longer here.

    Can’t we all go back and relive the excitement of something? Birth of a child. Romantic relationship. Sporting event…etc.

    Therefore, our biography and the here-and-now are much closer than maybe we believe.

  17. Aurooba says:

    I think this has been my favourite post by you in a long time. I agree with you whole heartedly and in fact started to notice this in my own behaviour and life a year or two ago. That’s when I started to notice the more ordinary things. Some gave me pleasure in noticing and others I just wanted to remove from my life. The intense absorbed feelings of solving an intricate calculus problem, the simple pleasure of having an invigorating conversation with my best friend. I have taken to sitting back for a moment or two at random times during the day and just..experiencing, feeling. My friends tell me that when I do this, a small smile plays on my face. I have learned to enjoy the sky as I walk home from school and consciously breathe in the familiar scent of my mother’s perfume. All of sudden, I found that not only was my moment to moment experience of life more happy and vibrant, my memories took on a richer colour. Noticing the everyday moments satisfies, curiously, the experiencing self and the biographer within us.

  18. Aurooba says:

    I think this has been my favourite post by you in a long time. I agree with you whole heartedly and in fact started to notice this in my own behaviour and life a year or two ago. That’s when I started to notice the more ordinary things. Some gave me pleasure in noticing and others I just wanted to remove from my life. The intense absorbed feelings of solving an intricate calculus problem, the simple pleasure of having an invigorating conversation with my best friend. I have taken to sitting back for a moment or two at random times during the day and just..experiencing, feeling. My friends tell me that when I do this, a small smile plays on my face. I have learned to enjoy the sky as I walk home from school and consciously breathe in the familiar scent of my mother’s perfume. All of sudden, I found that not only was my moment to moment experience of life more happy and vibrant, my memories took on a richer colour. Noticing the everyday moments satisfies, curiously, the experiencing self and the biographer within us. =) Great post.

  19. Lee says:

    I love Ted talks! Sorry, glad to see them.

  20. Dave says:

    Your posts always are well timed. I was just thinking the other day, when a friend was justifying doing something because “In the end,when they look back on it all…”

    I already came to the conclusion that a memory is a summary at best and a poor one at that. High School exemplified this; I had all the boxes checked, figuratively. If you ask me about high school, I do nothing but rave and brag. But I remember, at almost any given moment, being miserable.

    I myself have been making efforts to make my life more enjoyable at the expense of impressiveness. I transferred from a prestigious school to a more affordable one, and went from being an engineering major to nutrition because dietetics as a career should be much less stressful and the hours more manageable. I personally find it more meaningful, but that’s just for me. It still hurts my ego thought; I wonder if old friends, teachers or people I just met judge me, or think I’m lying when I tell them I left such a rigorous school to save money. I fear they think I cracked under pressure, or screwed up.

    I think major reason for the dominance of the biographical self is that’s the self we present with our social resume. The biography isn’t only for our own enjoyment, it’s a social commodity.

  21. Terry says:

    Excellent post. Our memories do please us or makes us happy when we think about our lives.

  22. ToughBabe says:

    Very good article indeed! Afterall, we are human, not robot, “living” is more important than “producing”!

  23. Oren says:

    This is really a fascinating post. I think it is definitely worth keeping in mind that ongoing lifestyle changes may contribute more to our experience and enjoyment of life. However, I don’t think we should frown on one time events quite so much. Many of the experiences that shape who you are and how you live your life are single one time events.

  24. There are all sorts of people who are into lifestyle design – and just as many different people will be reading this blog. Some people have created freedom and are living the life. Others are just scratching the surface, trying to find out if lifestyle desig is for them – or even if it’s real.

    Whilst I agree generally with your viewpoint, I would also say that in the initial stages of lifestyle design things can be tough. If you have a job you hate but have plenty of expenses each month (trapping you in the rat race) then it can be a struggle. It will take time to pay off your debts, set up a lifestyle business, reduce your monthly over heads and so on.

    Once you’re on the track moving along nicely then you have far more options but initially I think those brief celebrations can be very encouraging.

    For example if you’re in a situation where you’re working 50 hours a week in a job that bores you, setting yourself goals to coax you along can be very powerful indeed. Giving yourself a night out, or that flying lesson you’ve always wanted, when you manage to pay off your credit card bill can keep you moving in the right direction.

    Without that “carrot” the first stages of lifestyle design can be tough and I wonder how many people set out with the right intentions and full of energy and enthusiasm, only to fall off the band wagon due to an apparent lack of progress.

    These small treats can help to motivate you and also to illustrate to yourself that your efforts *are* paying off and you *are* making positive changes in your life.

  25. Scott Young says:

    Jake,

    Kahneman addresses that argument in his talk. His point is that, however satisfying memory consumption occupies far less time than actual experience. His example is the best 2-week vacation of his life, which claims to revisit often, however he has only revisited it, maybe for several hours in the last few years in total. Despite this, he would have spent hundreds of hours actually on the vacation.

    Memory consumption isn’t worth nothing, and the biographer should have *some* say, the question is whether it has too much say.

    -Scott

  26. Nick says:

    Read the article, none of the comments.

    Scott- This reminds me a lot of your post regarding goals that are specific to a reached goal, and goals that are specific to a pursuit of a goal. Losing weight is a more of a pursuit; benching 200lbs is a reached goal.

    I think the rewarding routines, creating a life, etc…all fall under those goals that are more about the process as opposed to the product.

    Learning how to balance these two types of goals can bring success and happiness in both areas.

  27. Hi Scott,
    You cover some interesting topics here. I share my first reaction…

    You happen to life (design) in much the same way life happens to you (chance). Moments are not only where you live it, they become how you steer it. (Memories and expectations, either rosy or dark, are based on what you want those moments to be).

    OK, perhaps too deep…

    Thanks for sharing.
    Have Fun,
    Jim
    P.S. Look forward to playing Daniel’s TED talk… Thanks.

  28. Awe-some Scott. Really, really great.

    When I look back at my trip to Shanghai last year, what was the best moment in that week? It probably was when I kissed my girlfriend while it was completely dark because of the eclipse. It was wonderful, really.
    But when I think about it, if I want to go back now, what do I want back? I want to walk in the streets again, feeling the aweful heat and moist. The stank and all the Chinese people selling me stuff. But that was the experience of China. That was really great, but it was there all the time!

    I don’t think that the story isn’t worth anything. The story is probably why an Atheist like me lives. When people who believe ‘there is something’ they ask me: ‘But if there isn’t anything, why do you live?’ And I can answer: ‘To leave a better world than when I came here, to make something, to leave something’. That is a drive for me, all the time. So the story is important to me. But the sliver of life (of now) is always important. Enjoy every once in a while, love it.

    Gonna watch the TED talk now!

  29. Alex says:

    Great post!

    I think some balance between experiencing and remembering is in order. It’s not about being able to present a great story, but to derive joy from remembrance. If I think about past experiences I’ve enjoyed, that actually influences my current experience.

    AFAIK for certain medical procedures like coloscopy patients get medication that provides retrograde amnesia, which means they might feel uncomfortable during the operation but won’t be able to remember it afterwards. I don’t have a medical background and don’t know how prevalent this is, but in this approach the biographer seems to be given a higher importance.

    I have a high respect for Eckhart Tolle and love his talks. I think he deserves more credit than you seem to give him.

  30. Mike says:

    You are spot-on but also missing something big. Certainly the moment-to-moment experience of life is hugely important and often overlooked. That said, measuring life by moment-to-moment enjoyment is very self-centered and doesn’t necessarily lead to a life of building something great that will help others (making their moments better).

    Good post regardless.

  31. Duff says:

    Very thought provoking article, as usual!

    “Life is a journey, not a destination” is a cliché, but it’s still true. That’s one of the reasons I’m a fan of the lifestyle design concept. Because it turns around the typical accomplishment-oriented ambitions many people have towards one that focuses on how you actually live all the moments in-between.

    Interesting perspective. From what I’ve seen, “lifestyle design” is all too often another dangling carrot used to sell more consumerism, the someday-maybe promise of instant passive income while living on a beach in a third world country (the premise for many a get-rich/lifestyle-quick expensive information product).

    I’m a big fan of mindfulness, but I also wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss the biographical narrative-making mind. Since in the future we will be stuck with this biographical narrative, and having a narrative that we can feel proud of is important to future happiness, it is not only important to be present during our experiences but to have something to look back on and feel a sense of accomplishment and pride. While you are quite right to emphasize not getting caught up in planning one’s biography, I’ve seen many a bliss bunny get caught up in *not* planning, in being overly present in “the now.”

  32. Scott Young says:

    Alex,

    I’m not against Eckhart Tolle, simply that his writing style isn’t really for me, even if his advice isn’t always bad.

    -Scott

  33. Simeon says:

    Great post – in particular on holidays or now that I’m abroad for a longer period of time, I’m wondering about the photographs that I take: do I take them for myself, as part of my personal memory, or do I simply take them for others, as presentable evidence for my biography (“I’ve been there and I’ve also seen that”). Pics or it didn’t happen, you know.

    It’s really important to take a step back, question what you’re doing and simply enjoy what you’re seeing (and possibly take a picture of it).

  34. Jen Gresham says:

    Great post. I’m a huge fan of Kahneman (I work with a lot of pyschologists), so nice to see his work featured here. He’s a brilliant guy.

    Two observations:
    1) As a few others have said, taking decision-making to extremes is rarely productive. Strictly focusing on short-term happiness would lead to a pretty dull life in the long haul. Even people who like ice cream rarely look back on each instance of eating it as life-defining. Likewise, strictly focusing on far-term happiness can lead to a lot of drudgery. The best approach is always somewhere in between (and thus a lot easier to follow).

    2) You mentioned a stay in France and that your routines take up a lot more absolute time than the positive memories of meeting with friends. I tend to see this as Return on Investment (ROI). Not every moment can be magical. Euphoria, which is in some sense what you are speaking of here, is by definition somewhat rare. Since I don’t hold my now moments to the standard of euphoria, I think it is reasonble to judge experiences in retrospect by the return (how great those experiences were) in relation to the price paid (how boring were the routines).

    This sums up Jennifer Michael Hecht’s definition of happiness, that it is three-fold: short-term, euphoria, and far-term, and all must be present to have a happy life. Thinking of it in this way has helped me enormously.

    Enjoyed reading you!
    Jen

  35. Aaron says:

    I have been a regular reader of this blog, but this awesome post have compelled me to make my first comment. I was extremely surprised when I read this article as the idea of living for memories has been troubling me to great deal for these few months, even at this time of exams. (I just had a talk with my brother about this a few days ago in fact.)

    I have always had an excellent memory, not 100% photographic, but I could remember a specific moment very clearly and describe in great detail about that moment, from the conversation topics to the clothes the person was wearing for even more than 10 years back. (heck, I can still remember my kindergarten schoolmate’s number eventhough I havent called him since I left kindergarten.) As a result I take great joy in remembering the past; reminiscing the joy I had in high school, the nervousness I experienced when I saw the girl I liked etc. To that end, my purpose of life a few years back was to create awesome memories to look back on when I die. This was my idea of an ideal life and thus setting off a journey that hopes to accomplish that. Because I do look back at the great memories with a smile, despite sulking about my current situation minutes later.

    But recently I started worrying when people remind me of things that happened which I could not remember. As this occurrence increase, I became increasingly concerned. I started to think “whats the point of living all those glories if I can’t even remember my life?” or “whats the point of learning, if I can’t remember it?”. Because as Jonny stated, our memories define our lives and give us an idea of who we are.

    (Check out this 10 minute video if you have time: [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDNDRDJy-vo] This person, bless him and his wife, has retrograde and anterograde amnesia. To him, the present IS his life.)

    Like the talk suggests, imagine you can take a 1 week trip, but at the end of the trip you have to take an amnesiac pill and burn all the photos and videos to wipe out the memory of the trip. You get to choose the where and why of the trip. Knowing this fact, will you still choose a trip which goes to India to experience their diverse culture, go to a third world country to work in the village to experience life for some of the poorest people, go on a trip which has no time for rest to cover all the tourist attraction of the whole city or just choose a relaxing place to chill out.

    Personally, without the memory loss, I would have taken all the former choices except the last one. And in real life, I do take these choices and take thousands of photos during the trip. Not because I want to post it on facebook to show others what I have done as a biographical highlight (although as Dave said, I have to agree that this adds value to my biography as a social commodity), but because I can look back on it sometime later and reflect on the things I have done or the lessons I learnt.

    However, with the memory loss, I would have just chosen a trip to chill out. My thinking is what’s the point of going on an educational and meaningful trip if I can’t even remember it.
    Thats why, for me, becoming more forgetful is the scariest thing ever. And its something I am desperately trying to find out why and how to help, thus I find myself taking A LOT more videos and photos recently.

    I am sorry I made this post so long. This is something thats bothering me a lot lately. And the more I think about it, the more “silvers of time” I am wasting. I would greatly appreciate if any reader can challenge me and enlighten me a little or even better, to rip my perspective completlely apart.

    Some more questions on my mind is, as Richard pointed out, the present moment can suck in the pursuit for “an ideal” life i.e. stuck in a rat race. Changing your lifestyle that improves the moment-to-moment experience might compromise the “ideal life” or possibly lead to worse moment-to-moment experiences in the future.

    I think the question I am also getting toward is whether the individual wants a life thats worth living for Or a life thats great to live.

    Please challenge me on this.

    Aaron

  36. Yati says:

    I remember the simple boring moments as much as the ahah moments since I like to reflect. The beautiful, fun, boring and ugly past will always appear in my future because it made me who I am. These days I enjoy the simple moments like my drive to work as I am stuck in the non-moving traffic while looking at the sky (it is never the same pattern is it?), working on minimum wage even though I am going off to do my masters which is a huge decision. I am not living an ideal life like I planned when I graduated. I am just thankful for the simple events -good or bad -that have lead to those brief moments.

    Thank you Scott H Young for an interesting post. Going off to ponder more about this.

  37. Casey says:

    I really enjoyed this post, very insightful. I miss your more frequent updates!

  38. [...] Click Here to Read the Article & View the Movie Clip: One of the most startling findings of modern psychology is how bad we are at guessing what will make us happy. Not only are we lousy at predicting what will satisfy us, we often misremember our happiness in the past. var a2a_config = a2a_config || {}; a2a_config.linkname="Are You Living Life or Just Planning Your Biography? – Personal Development"; a2a_config.linkurl="http://www.cwtfnews.com/personal-development/are-you-living-life-or-just-planning-your-biography-personal-development/"; a2a_config.onclick=1; a2a_config.show_title=1; [...]

  39. Iván Pérez says:

    Hey Scott, what about merging the two of them? I think that’s the best approach.

    I’m naturally a highly driven person, designed for achievement. When I became aware of this (about 2 years ago, thanks also to E. Tolle) I started implementing habits that allowed my experiencing self (although I didn’t call it like that back then) in my life and my decisions.

    So what I do is use my remembering self to write a biography, because I have goals in my life, and I use my experiencing self to guide me along the path. So one points a direction and the other chooses the path. This way, I take the best of both of my sides. It’s an approach I’ve been doing with other things (left/right brains, bright/dark sides…).

    For example, I follow a primal/paleo lifestyle because I want great health in my life. Instead of scheduling what I do, I chose to listen to my Central Nervous System to know how much to train and when to eat, for example.

    The basic thing to implement this holistic approach for me is by asking my two key questions: “how do I feel?” (exp.) and “what do I want to do?” (rememb.). It’s how I’ve been taking all my important decisions in the past year or so.

    Interesting topic as always.

    Cheers,
    Iván.

  40. [...] 102:1 YOU ARE OBSESSED by greed for more and more (2) until you go down to your graves.1 (3) Nay, in time you will come to understand! (4) And once again:2 Nay, in time you will come to understand! (5) Nay, if you could but understand [it] with an understanding [born] of certainty, (6) you would indeed, most surely, behold the blazing fire [of hell]!3 (7) In the end you will indeed, most surely, behold it with the eye of certainty:4 (8) and on that Day you will most surely be called to account for [what you did with] the boon of life! Greed of this world is a twist in man’s personality which will only lead him to Hell-Fire. More is better in America. Get more strive for even more.  America is a personification of this culture mentioned in the above Ayat. The world is wired to the American culture as this video of confusion with experiencing and remembering self shows [...]

  41. [...] Are You Living Life or Just PlanningYour Biography? [...]

  42. [...] dichotomy is no better represented than in discussions on happiness. I’ve shared previously Daniel Kahneman’s work showing that what we call happiness is really two different [...]

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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