Your memory is not an accurate record of events. In a very real sense we don’t remember what happened, we remember our interpretation of what we think happened.
Our memory of experiences in life are a series of snapshots, not a complete catalogue of events. Our minds highlight the snapshots which stand out most and use them to form an overall opinion of the past.
This flaw is an opportunity as we come to the end of lockdown.
The Peak-End Rule
The Peak–End Rule is a cognitive bias that impacts how people remember past events.
Intense positive or negative moments (the “peaks”) and the final moments of an experience (the “end”) are heavily weighted in our memory.
The Peak-End Rule has been studied & repeated in many experiments but an original was conducted by Daniel Kahneman and Barbara Frederickson.
Participants were told to hold their hands in tubs of cold water at various temperatures.
The experiment consisted of three rounds:
- Round 1: 60s at 14 degrees Celsius (57 Fahrenheit)
- Round 2: 60s at 14 degrees Celsius followed by 30 seconds at 15 degrees Celsius (59 Fahrenheit)
- Round 3: Option to choose repeating Round 1 or Round 2
The rational choice would be to choose Round 1 – 60 seconds of discomfort instead of 90 seconds…
but 80% of the study participants preferred Round 2 and chose to repeat that condition in the final trial. This seems completely illogical right?
The thing is… The slight reduction in discomfort for the final 30 seconds changed how people perceived the entirety of Round 2.
A small improvement near the end of the experience radically shifted people’s perception of the whole event.
We only experience reality inside of our minds. So if you change your memory of an event, it’s neurologically the same as changing the event itself.
Objective reality matters far less once it goes through the filter of your brain’s remembering process.
The implications here are pretty groundbreaking. You can make a patient’s memory of an agonising surgery less painful by ending it at a lower discomfort (even if that means continuing the surgery for longer). You can salvage a bad holiday by finishing it with an enjoyable last night. You can improve a customer’s journey at your business by giving them something nice to leave with like sweets at the reception.
Understanding the imperfect process our minds use to store information also creates an opportunity for us to “hack” our own brains into remembering experiences more positively, reducing traumatic memories and overcoming spirals of negativity.
In a very real sense, by manipulating the peak-end rule, you can reprogram reality from what “actually” happened into what you want to remember having happened.
So what does this have to do with the pandemic? Well as you approach the end of your time in lockdown you might have developed some bad habits.
You might be be running out of motivation, no longer be getting up when you planned, be breaking your diet, spending too much time on your phone, fighting with your partner or anything else.
Unfortunately, the end of most journeys is where willpower and commitment are waning – at the precise moment when our memory is taking the most notice.
These next few weeks will be a huge determinant of your overall memory of lockdown. You have the opportunity to use the Peak-End Rule to colour this entire experience in a more positive light.
Do you want to remember the way you behaved during Covid-19 as being half-assed? An unmotivated lazy, shuffling affair made up of days in pyjamas eating cereal while you scroll through your phone and complain that there’s nothing new on Netflix?
When your grandkids ask how you behaved during the Great Pandemic Of 2020 do you really want THAT to be your legacy?
Or do you want to remember it as a time where you excelled, where you kept promises to yourself, helped the people who you care about, acted with discipline and virtue and integrity. Where you not only survived but flourished through efforts which you’re proud of.
First impressions matter, but last impressions last.
This is an argument for never easing off toward the end of anything you do.
If you’re 85% or further through ANYTHING, you should go into Terminator Mode.
Lean into what you’re doing with the maximum amount of willpower you can so you finish as strong as possible. Because of the Peak-End Rule, in a very real sense this will become “what happened” when you look back.