Two facets of our mind!

Our two selves!


Human is a funny creature and human mind is even funnier! How our mind will react to a situation is difficult to tell. I am not sure but the reactions of mind are generally consistent in similar situations. At least I hope so! In routine situations which generally get repeated in our lives, reactions of the mind will be quite consistent, most of the time. Like sometimes, getting late while going to office. Our mind calculates the average time required, considering traffic patterns, time of the day when you are traveling. Then our mind internally calculates the time to leave from home, so that we reach on time! It helps you recalibrating so as to reduce your anxiety.

Do two humans react in the same way? No never. I feel that how one’s mind reacts, depends on the how you grew up right from childhood. The environment in which you have grown up, shapes the mould of how you react or how you decide. But do you really know how your mind will react to a certain situation? No, you won’t know especially in difficult situations. I found this when I was undergoing cancer treatment a few years back.

My treatment was going on for about three months, it included a treatment called immunotherapy and radiations. During the first one week, there were not many effects on my body. My body started reacting from the second weak onwards. I would get coughing bouts, I had rash on my back and on my head. Jaya tells me that I used to have a tough time because of the coughing bouts and sometimes had trouble because of the rash. My mind it seems is designed to not remember difficult and tough periods during difficult times. Honestly, I do not remember most of the details that caused the problems. Yes, I remember that there were many issues but Jaya remembers the details more than I do! Maybe I am lucky that by design, my mind forgets the difficult part of the process. I remember the basics but do not remember any details.

I did a bit of research on internet and it looks like there is a lot of research done on “our two selves”! This research is done mainly about these two selves and how their behaviour helps humans to take decisions in life or react in life! Wow, I honestly had not heard anything about these two fellas! This research is done mainly in the field of psychology! Well known expert and Nobel Laureate Kahneman says about this, “I am my remembering self, and the experiencing self, who does my living, is like a stranger to me.”

This thought process can be a bit confusing to begin with but once we understand it, its meaning is simple but fascinating. Suppose that you are on a holiday with your small kids. It is a well-planned holiday but with kids around things can be a little complex. Basically, adults take a holiday to enjoy change of scene, different places and food; add to that the family time. Children do not to love any change in their steady state life, so they are a little uncomfortable with daily travel, new hotels (they may be posh but they are not home). With this uncertainty, they are a little quirky. Now here is the concept. The experiencing self is the “you” who in the moment lives through the event. The remembering self is the “you” that writes the history. With discomfort of both adults and kids, the experience of holiday can be stressful while it is on but the memory of the holiday that forms in the mind of adults, after the holiday is that of happiness. The remembering self is the one that that takes decisions, for future! This means though during the holiday, there was stress, overall experience was a good one.

It is also the remembering self that is consulted when planning the future. Choices are made, based on the remembering self’s construction of what happened in the past. Now here’s the problem. The experiencing self and the remembering self don’t agree on what happened.

An experiment was conducted where subjects had a hand immersed in ice water at a temperature that causes moderate pain. They were told that they would have three trials. While the hand was in the water the other hand used a keyboard to continuously record their level of pain. The first trial lasted 60 seconds. The second trial lasted 90 seconds, however in the last 30 seconds the water was slowly warmed by 1 degree (better but still painful). For the third trial, they were allowed to choose which of the first two trials was less disagreeable, and repeat that one.

Eighty percent of the subjects who reported experiencing some decrease in their pain in the last 30 seconds of the second trial chose to repeat the 90-second experience! In other words, their remembering self-selected the option that required an additional 30 seconds of suffering.

What is the conclusion from the experiment? The duration did not matter but end result mattered. In the second method, pain started diminishing as the temperature was increased. Though the trial was longer, people preferred that trial.

Coming back to my cancer treatment. Treatment lasted for three months. My pain and difficulties increased with time. But my overall experience was satisfactory; why was it so? When the treatment ended, the doctors told me that everything worked out well. Since my cancer turned out to be non- spreadable variety, chances of recurrence were almost nil! My mind processed the end result and probably made me forget the pain and issues during treatment phase. My remembering self, processed the information that I wanted! So, am I happy?

Being happy used to be a simple process, now it is difficult to discuss this as it has become a complex process as our knowledge level goes up. It turns out that the word “happiness” is just not a useful word anymore, because we apply it to too many different things.

The second thing is a confusion between experience and memory, between being happy in your life, and being happy about your life or happy with your life. And those are two very different concepts, and they’re both clubbed in the notion of happiness.

Friends, will our mind work this way when events like, business loss, break-up in relationships, loss of job? Don’t forget that remembering self also remembers the peak events (best or the worst) from any process!

Maybe, some of you might just want to chuck the complex theory we have discussed,  and be happy the old way! Cheers!