Pattern: Burn Your Trophies
Pattern Category: Gratitude
Pattern Difficulty: Advanced
I don’t know much about the physiology of the human brain, but it seems logical to me that, like a computer’s hard drive, our capacity for memories is limited to some finite amount.
Again, I have no idea what that amount is or if it’s even measurable or if it varies greatly from person to person; it just seems logical to me that it’s finite, and, if that’s the case, probably kind of important.
The brain’s exact storage capacity for memories is difficult to calculate. First, we do not know how to measure the size of a memory. Second, certain memories involve more details and thus take up more space; other memories are forgotten and thus free up space. Additionally, some information is just not worth remembering in the first place.https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-the-memory-capacity/
Think about how often our minds are filled with memories about the past.
Some memories lift us up, others not so much, and those memories that we choose to weave into our life’s narrative tell us not only a story of where we’ve been and what we’ve done, but even more fundamentally, who we are in the world.
According to some, there are two ways of thinking about the past: introspecting and ruminating.
Introspection is a way of looking at the past with “curiosity and self-exploration”. Rumination, on the other hand, is less than ideal.
If you feel that you are drawing lessons from the past, or enjoying the past then it’s more likely that you’re being introspective. On the other hand, if your thoughts about the past are full of regrets and bitterness, or your thoughts have a repetitive automatic quality, it’s likely that you are ruminating.http://timhillpsychotherapy.com/thinking-about-the-past/
When I imagine how my brain stores memories, I create a picture in my mind of a big room with different stations set up, each representing the different parts of my life: stations for my early childhood, adolescence, high school, my time served in the US Navy, sailing around the world aboard the USS Comte de Grasse, stations for college, my career, friendships, family, fatherhood, and the list goes on.
You get the idea.
Throughout the room all across the ceiling are strung light bulbs, illuminating each station.
Some bulbs are brightly lit and the memories those bulbs illuminate are easy for me to recall, in vivid detail.
However, some bulbs are very dimly lit, and the memories they illuminate are harder to recall and seem fuzzy and difficult to see.
Others are fully burned out, and their associated memories are lost; perhaps there are techniques, via meditation or hypnosis that could allow me to flicker the lightbulbs on, but that’s not what this particular blog is about.
The memories these bulbs illuminate span a seemingly infinite spectrum: wonderful memories that warm my heart, memories that are so special, they make my heart ache with pain, memories of challenges and accomplishments, and yes, some memories that I’d prefer to forget.
It’s the memories of my failures that are of interest to this blog. Failures are a special kind of memory because they represent something we all have: baggage. I think of these memories like trophies because along with the memory of the failure itself, we attach meaning to these memories and it’s easy to weave them into our inner narrative.
Depending on how we perceive each failure to be a reflection of our true “self”, it can be difficult to tame the emotional toll they take, so we deal with them by pushing them down, way down, and compacting them into small, shiny objects, that we (not so proudly) display on a shelf, right next to our treasured memories, usually right underneath a brightly lit bulb, just to make sure we don’t forget them.
And then, just when we least expect it, the trophy illuminates and brings all of the emotional baggage along with it: usually during a crucial conversation or while preparing for a critical meeting or presentation at work.
Pattern: “Burn Your Trophies”
Theory: We are far too focused on our shortcomings, and this focus is detrimental to experiencing a life of unlimited gratitude and happiness.
Think about it: When you fail, or experience a misstep, how do you experience it? What would it take so that when you fail, you are filled with feelings of gratitude and optimism because you recognize, in the moment, that this failure is a gift and the lesson you will learn will only bolster you success in the future?
Think about the picture this quote from Winston Churchill paints in your mind:
“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”Winston Churchill
How often do you think about failure as a step forward? I would argue that most of us think of failure as a setback or just evidence that we are doomed to never succeed.
Is that you?
Consider this quote from the badass Johnny Cash himself:
“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.”Johnny Cash
How often do we allow our failures to sap us of our energy, our confidence, our optimism?
It stops now.
Use your failures to your advantage and the next time you feel the pangs of defeat, your palms sweating, heart and mind racing, take a deep breath and channel your best Johnny Cash:
Implementation Tips & Strategies
This pattern is hard. It requires real honesty, vulnerability, and consistency. We are talking about changing subconscious behaviors. Behaviors that have been cultivated since childhood. Have you ever wondered why personal therapists take such interest in your childhood and upbringing? Making the subconscious, conscious, isn’t easy and it’s mostly done “in the moment”; something sparks a memory and that trophy illuminates, that carefully strung lightbulb that you strung up years ago illuminates it.
Often, we ignore it.
Take the moment to capture it. Imagine taking the trophy from the shelf and then slow down. Allow time to stop. This is a pivotal moment. Feel the trophy in your hand. Feel the warmth and how it fits, just perfectly in your hand. Inspect it. Look at it closely with curiosity; the inquisitiveness of a child. Think back to when you placed it there, the first time you saw it illuminated, along with the rest of your memories.
Yes, that pivotal moment.
Remember, in vivid detail, what happened, who was there. Remember the moment that trophy became a part of you: intrinsically linked to your history, your sense of yourself.
Then let the trophy go. Let gravity take it as it falls from your grasp. Realize at this moment that this trophy, this failure, no longer belongs to you.
And even more importantly…
You no longer belong to it. It no longer has any power over you.
Look down as you consider this moment of freedom. Look back and see how it still illuminates.
Then watch it burn.
Additional Resources You Might Find Useful
- Read more about the memory capacity of the human brain here