The Power of Forgetfulness

These are real thoughts I’ve had:

Traffic sucks in Austin because of all this construction. The new roads won't even be worth it when finished.

I hate the new Twitter interface - I feel like I'll never get used to it.

I have an older Mac and when I installed Mojave everything got a half-second slower and it's so annoying. How will I ever be productive on this decrepit machine?


How many times in our lives do our preferences get shifted just a bit and we think it's the end of the world, only to find ourselves two weeks later (if that) having completely adapted to whatever change it is we were angry about?

We fear change because we fear the unknown. We hold fast to our routines because we've built our identity around them. When we can exert control over our small corner of the world we feel a false sense of security. When the control we value so much is removed by changing circumstances we find ourselves at a loss of what to do and we get frustrated and testy and we panic.

But we are adaptable. Astonishingly so.

When I got a Nintendo64 I thought I'd never figure out the new controller worked and was so angry at how different it was from a Playstation. Within hours I had the thing figured out.

In his book Stumbling on Happiness Daniel Gilbert reminds us how powerful our brains are when it comes to softening the blow of negative experiences. What he calls our psychological immune system gets to work polishing away unsavory moments the further they drift into yesterday.

This is why we hike the Inca Trail or go deep sea fishing or run marathons. After time we only remember the vistas or the joy of reeling in a marlin or the sense of personal satisfaction and camaraderie of a race - not the bugs, sunburn or the pain. Although each of those events requires grit, adaptability and forces great change upon us, we sign up to do them again and again.

Our brain not only smooths out pain and discomfort from experiences we willingly choose to participate in, it also goes to work on annoyances like traffic or construction. I'm convinced the hardest part of being an elected official in any city is enduring the complaints while improvements are being made to roads or public spaces, then never hearing a single compliment after it's all over and traffic patterns are better and everyone is enjoying a Sunday afternoon at the farmer's market.

If we can remember we will surely forget most of the pain and discomfort we experience in our lives perhaps we'll also learn to pay less attention to feelings of irrational fear and frustration when we're called upon to grow and change.

It is only a momentary discomfort we must endure to adapt with maturity to the present so our future selves will be empowered to contribute and remain relevant.