THE BLOG
05/28/2016 10:14 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Secret to Making Memories: Stop Trying to Make Memories

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When did we go from living our lives to striving for memories?

My hunch is it has a lot to do with social media and seeing carefully curated highlight reels of super-cool-awesome-fun lives on Facebook. It can create a sense that your own life isn't measuring up.

Thankfully, memories are made all the time. It is a biological process. Our brains are receiving and encoding sensory input continuously without any conscious effort on our part. The effort of trying to make memories isn't really about making memories because the brain's doing that all along.

So, what's going on?

When you are focused on making memories you are projecting into the future to imagine what you think (or others will think) you'll look like in the past. That takes some mental gymanstics to be in the future and the past at the same time (I call it the futurepast). This is about creating an image of yourself.

Maybe you want your
friends
partner
kids
self

to see you as
fun
smart
wild
original
adventurous
cool
successful
loving

Trying to make memories is about controlling an experience so that it fits a script you think you'd like to be in. Where everyone is smiling and everything is shiny and perfect. Or homemade. Or vintage. Or cutting edge. Or artisanal. Or whatever the must-have/see/do trend (or anti-trend) is.

You become a performer trying to create the next highlight reel, and while you are busy choreographing the experience you are missing out on something important: what is actually happening for real. Experiencing what is right in front of you. When you are focused on the futurepast, the one place you aren't is the present.

It is in the present when everything happens that becomes the content for memories.

By trying to orchestrate the experience - caught up in what the outcome should look like - you miss out on the richness and realness of simply being a part of now.

There is an irony about trying to make memories: that we will not really know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.

Writer Georges Duhamel describes it:

"We do not know the true value of our moments until they have undergone the test of memory. Like the images the photographer plunges into a golden bath, our sentiments take on color; and only then, after that recoil and that transfiguration, do we understand their real meaning and enjoy them in all their tranquil splendor."


Instead of trying to create a memory, do this: focus on experiences you truly want in your life.

Drop the script about what the futurepast should look like. Pay attention to the present. Your brain's got the memories covered, and you'll get to look back on a fulfilling, rewarding life.

"When our lives become pageants, we become actors. When we become actors, we sacrifice authenticity. Without authenticity, we can't cultivate love and connection. Without love and connection, we have nothing." - Brené Brown