All It Takes Is A Goal

ATG 10: Memory Hack: Learn the two tricks elite athletes use to accomplish big goals.

March 15, 2021 Jon Acuff Season 1 Episode 10
All It Takes Is A Goal
ATG 10: Memory Hack: Learn the two tricks elite athletes use to accomplish big goals.
Chapters
All It Takes Is A Goal
ATG 10: Memory Hack: Learn the two tricks elite athletes use to accomplish big goals.
Mar 15, 2021 Season 1 Episode 10
Jon Acuff

I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that your memory is a liar. 

We tend to think our memory is telling us exactly what happened in the past but that’s never what it does. It adds details. It deletes details. It distorts details. Your memory is a real rascal, a word I’m trying to bring back. That’s the bad news. The good news is that your memory is malleable. You can hack it. In this episode I’ll share the two memory tricks elite athletes use to accomplish big goals.

Follow Jon on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.

Order Soundtracks, Jon's newest book available wherever you find quality books!

Show Notes Transcript

I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that your memory is a liar. 

We tend to think our memory is telling us exactly what happened in the past but that’s never what it does. It adds details. It deletes details. It distorts details. Your memory is a real rascal, a word I’m trying to bring back. That’s the bad news. The good news is that your memory is malleable. You can hack it. In this episode I’ll share the two memory tricks elite athletes use to accomplish big goals.

Follow Jon on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.

Order Soundtracks, Jon's newest book available wherever you find quality books!

Jon Acuff:

Hey everyone, and welcome to the All It Takes Is A Goal podcast. I'm your host, Jon Acuff and I love goals. Why? Because a goal is the fastest path between where you are today and where you want to be tomorrow. And best of all, finishing a goal feels amazing. You will never forget what it felt like to walk across the stage and have a dean, hand you a diploma you've dreamed about for years. You'll never forget how good it felt to walk around your entire neighborhood without getting winded. You'll never forget how good it felt to walk to the mailbox without worrying about bills because you paid them all. That's why restaurants have their first dollar bill framed behind the cash register. It's not about the amount of money, it's just $1 after all. It's about what the money means. It means they did it. They finished. That's the best feeling in the world. And I want that feeling for you. I want you to have that moment. I want to help you cross the finish line of whatever goals you care about the most because the future belongs the finishers. That's why I'm doing this podcast. Today's episode is sponsored by Medi-Share. Have you guys ever had buyer's remorse? You know that feeling of intense regret because the thing you thought you just had to have was only something used once or twice? For me it was the time I bought a really expensive road bike because I thought I was going to get into cycling. I proceeded to hang it on the wall in my garage and feel ashamed for six months. Well, I know some of you are experiencing buyer's remorse right now for something much more frustrating. You know what I'm talking about. It's the healthcare you rushed to get during open enrollment last December. Well, I have some good news for you. You've probably heard me talking about our main sponsor for this podcast, Medi-Share. And these guys have the answer to healthcare buyer's remorse. Check this out, members of Medi-Share save up to 50% or more per month on their health care costs. They say the typical family saves up to $500 per month. And here's the best part, you can become a member at any time. So that means it isn't too late to ditch your buyer's remorse and switch to a more affordable health care that will save you money and help you sleep better at night. If this is your first time you're hearing about Medi-Share, it is the best alternative to health insurance that allows you to share the burden of medical bills, offers access to 900,000 plus health care providers, and has a proven 25 year track record. Plus in addition to saving hundreds per month, as a member of Medi-Share, you will also have access to free telehealth and free telecounseling. You won't find that with any traditional health insurance provider. Guys, it only takes two minutes to see how much you could save. Go investigate that for yourself and your family at Medi-Share.com/Jon. That's Medi-Share.com/Jon. Remember Jon doesn't have an H in it. So it's a M-E-D-I, that's Medi, share, S-H-A-R-E dot com slash J-O-N. In today's episode, I'm going to teach you something absolutely crazy about how your memory works, and what you can do about it to increase the amount of goals you finish. As some of you may know, I recently wrote a book about overthinking. It's called Soundtracks and it comes out on April 6. I titled it Soundtracks because that's what overthinking is. It's when you get stuck listening to a thought or personal soundtrack on repeat. One cool thing we're doing is that if you preorder before April 6, you get a free copy of the audiobook. Not a section, not a sample, not a portion, you get the whole thing. I was honestly very surprised that the publisher was willing to do that. There are a bunch of other cool bonuses, but I personally think that the free audiobook is the coolest thing we're giving away. You can find out more at SoundtracksBook.com. And if you've already pre-ordered, go to that site SoundtracksBook.com, and fill out the quick form to make sure you get all of the bonuses. Anyway, I wrote a book about overthinking and during the research phase, one of the things that kept coming up was the role that your memory plays. The short version is that your memory is a liar. We tend to think our memory is telling us exactly what happened in the past. But that's, that's never what it does. It adds details, it deletes details, it distorts details, it changes details. Your memory is a real rascal, which is a word I'm I'm trying to bring back. "Rascal", such a good word. Now, that's the bad news. The bad news is that your memory is a liar. The good news is that it's malleable, especially when you figure out where it comes from. Memory gets solidified by two things, sharp pain and the final moment in an experience. Scientists find that most people during an experience will take the average of the two situations and then color the whole memory based on that result. So they take the sharpest pain during the moment and the very last thing that happened and they create kind an average. In one study by Dr. Don Redelmeier at the University of Toronto, patients who underwent a painful medical procedure were analyzed. For some people, the procedure was relatively quick, lasting only eight minutes. For others, the procedure lasted 24 minutes. The pain levels were the same, but the duration varied greatly. This idea was shared first, I read about it in Thinking Fast and Slow, which is an amazing book by Daniel Kahneman. Who do you think in this situation would say that they had the greater total pain? Before you answer that, let me, let me give you a little more background. Let me clarify the situation, if you will, by letting you know that the procedure in question was a colonoscopy. Who do you think had the greater pain? The person who experienced an eight minute colonoscopy or the person who experienced a 24 minute colonoscopy? That sounds terrible to me, by the way. My two greatest fears are not living up to my potential, and kidney stones. I once thought I had a kidney stone but I just had a deep bruise from a wicked awesome Ultimate Frisbee injury. Doctor said the leading cause of false positives for kidney stones is laying out during a round of Ultimate Frisbee. That happened when I was 22 at my first real job, and I thought that healthcare meant that my company just magically paid for everything. So I threw a bill away from the doctor. The doctor sent me a bill. I threw it away because I thought, "Eh, my company's got that. I got health care. That's how that works, right?" Two years later, my fiance at the time, Jenny, kept saying, "How come... Like how come all of your credit card offers are from like the Bank of Hawaii, and are for cards with a 43% interest rate?" And I said, "No idea." So we got a credit report and my $86 doctor's bill had gone to collections, and they were agencies trying to chase me down. I had like a double digit credit score. My credit score was like 42. Yowza! I mean, it would it be an amazing ACT score, like a 36 is legit, but it's not the best credit score. What a knucklehead, I was. Another word I'm trying to bring back rascal and knucklehead. Back to the question, who had the worst memory of the procedure, the patient who had an eight minute colonoscopy or the patient who had the 24 minute colonoscopy? The obvious answer is the second person, right? But that's where memory gets a little squirrely, the duration didn't matter. It had no effect whatsoever on the ratings of total pain. What mattered is what's known as the "peak end rule," which is, and I'm quoting here, "the average of the level of pain reported at the worst moment of the experience and at its end." That's one of the ways biases form. Instead of taking a holistic view of the whole situation, our memory takes two snapshots, the worst pain and the conclusion. Kahneman warns against this in his book. He says confusing experience with the memory of it is a compelling cognitive illusion. That's a great phrase say that at a dinner party someday, like "Well, I just think we might be suffering from cognitive illusions in this situation." But he says it's the substitution that makes us believe a past experience can be ruined. We ruin the memory because we only take a snapshot we take the peak pain and the final moment, if the last memory you haven't been event is painful or awkward, you're less likely to want to do it again. In one study, an otherwise beautiful piece of music ended with a shockingly bad needle scratch like, just across the record, like [mimicking a vinyl record scratch] terrible sound. Participants reported that the final note, ruined the 1000s of wonderful notes that came before it. I tend to judge books or speeches or research or movies or really anything based on how many times they make me say, '[Gasp], that's what's up!" That's what I exclaim out loud when the idea knocks me over. Or I say "Oh, come on! Are you kidding me?! Come on, dude, for real?!" In one of the reviews you guys left, by the way, (thanks for doing that, you guys have written such amazing things in the reviews) in one of the reviews a woman named Rebecca said "What you had to say made me press pause before I blow dried my hair. That doesn't happen with all podcasts." That's exactly what I'm talking about. That's a stop you in the track moment. Like what makes you pause and go "Whoa, wait a second. Are you serious?" I included a bunch of those in my new book, including one from a conversation I had with Patsy Clairmont at lunch one day. Patsy's written over 30 books and is one of the most accomplished public speakers in the country. She's in her 70s now, but told me that when she wrote her first book, the edits crushed her. She said, "The editor sent back pages covered with red ink, and it looked like the manuscript was bleeding. I asked her to use a different color next time because it was so discouraging. The second round of edits came back with green ink, and now it felt like I was growing." That's what's up. Are you kidding me? Imagine if the next time you make a mistake or get feedback from a coworker, you think of the green ink. Instead of feeling like you failed, you remember you're growing. That's amazing. That's what the peak end rule was like for me. When I discovered it for the first time, I was really taken aback. I had no idea that the last moment of my experience was that powerful. Imagine what a bad ending to an otherwise good job can do to your career. The real experience of your years with a company has been ruined by the memory of it as Kahneman cautioned. If you collect enough of those memories, wouldn't it be easy to start listening to a soundtrack? That overthinking loop that told you "work is always miserable You'll always have a bad job What about the diet, you quit You ate well, and you exercis d for three months, feeling bet er every day. Life thou h, eventually got in the way nd you quit. The action of quitt ng, the last thing you did is hat you remember. Now a soundtr ck of "diets never work for me" has room to grow. I wonder if the same thing happens ith relationships. Maybe you h d a three year dating relations ip. And it was, it was good. I was happy. You thought "Th s, this could be the one" but then something terrible hap ened and it ended. The end. Th last memory you're lef with dominates the entire m mory. Can't you see how easy it would be to start thinking, "Don't trust anyone. They'll on y hurt you"? The three good y ars got erased in the face of the one bad breakup. This is hy life change is so challengi g. Your actions might have chan ed, but the soundtrack they are ased on didn't and eventually, he loop you've been unk owingly listening to for years if not decades, beats the new p an that you've only had for weeks, You're overthinking h d a 20 year head start on t at new goal. Should we feel asha ed it didn't last? Nope. Instea , now that we know how our me ories are formed, we should us that information to our adva tage. What does that look like in a practical sense? Well, et's apply the peak end rule t a form of exercise that a lot of people hate, running. Do you now why the end of a race s a celebration? Do you know why there's a big banner and a m dal and free food and a lin of supporters you walk throug at the very end of the race? Do you know why there's a free eer tent, an official t-shirt and experts to help you stretch out? Do you know why Disney akes gorgeous medals that link heavily as people wear them around the park the rest o the day after a race? Becau e then you'll run another ra e. The race itself sucks. Peo le lose toenails! Not occas onally, often. Can you think of another activity you do voluntar ly that you paid for, where all your toenails falling off is a fairly common occurrence? Peo le throw up and have to use the bathroom on the side of the ro d, if not on themselves. They et chafed nipples. I could go on and on and on. There's no rea on anyone should run marathon or ultra marathons. I heard s meone say recently that ultra marathons are the new midlife c isis. And that really made me augh. The peak pain is too high But race organizers notice. So they make the ending amazing. T at's why I run. At the en , I get the endorphins, I get the medal. I get the cheers. get a dozen wonderful things. ater that day at dinner, when I' with friends and they say "Hey, what do you do today? What woul you do on this Saturday?" I get to casually say, "I don't know. just you know, ran a half m rathon, whatever." I love all of that. By the way. I'm dying o run the Kessel Run challeng at Disney, which is when you ru the Disneyland Star Wars light ide half marathon in California nd the Disney World Star Wars dark side half marathon in Florida. Then you ge a special medal like commemorat ng when Han Solo made the Kess l Run in less than 12 pars cs. Boy, I am a dork. Disney akes elaborate medals b cause they know it'll encourag you to run the race. But they also know that if the end ain, that finish line momen is really low, it'll average ou the whole experience nto something more pleasurabl . If the peak pain during a ra e is a 10, then the end pain is two, so the average that my m mory walks away with is a six I can, I can do a six all day son. The next time overthin ing gets in the way of a ta k you've been avoiding, change he ending. If memory is built rom two snapshots, peak pain and the end, start with the end. M ke the final thing that happens That's what Laura Kay does when her husband, a naval aviator, deploys. She told me, "Each time my husband deploys, I know that my girls and I have seven months of uncertainty ahead of us. It can cause unimaginable anxiety. We could swim in this uneasiness or we can shift our mind to the possibilities of the time we have before us. We almost always leave for a trip immediately after his departure to refocus on the new norm. We then become partners filling the gaps where we each can." Laura doesn't let overthinking DJ that deployment with anxiety and sadness. She knows that she has a choice, swim in the uneasiness or shift their soundtrack to the new possibilities. Once she made that choice, it led to an action to rewire the ending of the goodbye by taking a trip with her kids, she hit a deliberate reset. The last moment that the memory is built on isn't the tears of the goodbye. The last moment is the trip with her kids and the new adventure that lies ahead. I love that Laura does that. But for most of us, changing the pain at the end of the challenge is really difficult for one simple reason. Peak performers suck at celebrating. They do. It's true. Let's be honest, if you're listening to this podcast, then you're a high achiever. No one listens to a podcast about goals without thinking "I can do more. I think I can be more I think I've got potential." You care about peak performance, and so do I. And peak performers have a really hard time stopping at the end of a goal or project and celebrating it. Why do we have such a hard time celebrating our wins? Why do we have such a hard time admitting something went well? I think there are a few reasons. Number one, we don't want to lose our edge. We're afraid that if we pause, if we stop the forward motion, like to throw a party post a victory or shoot off a few fireworks, we'll lose all our momentum. Number two, I think we're worried someone will criticize our happiness. Joy takes real vulnerability. Cynicism and complaining don't cost you anything. Sharing a win, though, that exposes you in a way because then someone can say, "Ugh, humblebrag" or even worse, "Must be nice." I wrote about that phrase "must be nice" in my new book Soundtracks, which is why like, I can't wait for you to read this one. There's so many things in it that I think you're going to love. The third reason I think we have a hard time celebrating is we're too busy to even notice we won. We're already on to the next thing. A writer once asked me, "How can you celebrate wins during the middle of a book project? Not just at the last moment when the book is all done." And I told him you should celebrate anytime you've written. If you write 100 words, celebrate. If you write for 30 minutes, celebrate. If you are brave enough to share what you wrote with a friend, celebrate. If you scribble down five ideas in your notebook that day, celebrate. Writing is hard. Losing weight is hard. Paying off debt is hard. Podcasting is hard. The goals you're working on right now are hard. And if you don't celebrate, we don't create good memories of the activity and we reduce our odds on working on it again. Remember, one of the things memory is based off of is the peak end rule, which is the average of the level of pain reported at the worst moment of experience, and at it's end. Let's say the worst moment writing your book was an eight on the pain scale. Someone you cared about said something terribly mean about the book, or maybe a publisher rejected you and said you shouldn't even be a writer. A boss once said that to me. He said that I should consider stopping writing altogether and figure out a different career. We've got an eight on the pain level. And now we're going to average that out with the pain at the very end of the goal. If you don't celebrate, if you don't throw a party, like you've just finished a Disney half marathon, maybe you end with a six on the pain scale. And your memory of how much the whole thing hurt is a seven. Eight plus six divided by two is four. Yeah, it's seven. I did the math, right. I'm a writer, I'm not good at math. Maybe the next time you sit down to do new goal to write again, to learn to play the drums, to apply for a new job, whatever, you remember that seven out of 10 on the pain scale, and you get discouraged. And you put it off for one more day, one more week. What if instead you celebrate? You buy yourself a tiny cake. You post a photo of the victory on Instagram. You buy yourself something as a reward. You take a close friend out for coffee and you brag a little bit. It doesn't have to be massive. But when you celebrate, the end moment doesn't have the same amount of pain. It's a good memory. It's a zero out of 10 on the pain scale. So now you're averaging an eight and a zero to get the final result for the whole project, which is now a four. That's completely different. Next time you start a new goal you remember that four out of 10 on the pain scale and think "I can handle four. I mean fours aren't so bad. I can, I can do that." That changes everything. What about the peak pain though? The pain that's the highest in the middle of the challenge? Well, runners hack that too. When my neighbor, Zach Bryant, hit the wall at mile 21 of the Nashville marathon, he didn't panic. That was the exact moment his brother-in-law, Chris Coyle, emerged from the crowd and started running alongside him. Race officials don't love that practice. But runners do. At the worst moment of the race, at the peak pain point, runners will often ask fellow runners to join them for the last few miles. Having a race partner who is fresh and encouraging, gives them a second win mentally. It reduces the peak pain to a more manageable break. Every goal has something you're dreading in it, it does. I work incredibly hard to be a positive person. I'm not naturally positive. I really work at it. But pretending that a goal is always going to be positive and amazing isn't helpful. Some part of your goal is going to be your peak pain moment. What is it? Is it staying in shape in the winter? Maybe that's it. You hate running when it's cold. You do so well in the fall, but then when it's dark and depressing and cold, it's really easy to feel the pain of the season change, and then completely stop exercising. Like a bear hibernating, you emerge from every winter having lost all your progress and needing to dig yourself out of a queso-induced hole all over again. That just got real personal by the way. I talk about my love of queso so much that people bring it to me at events. To the guidance counselor who told me there wasn't a job where you could get melted cheese as one of the benefits, I did it, you dream snatcher, I did it. A few weeks ago, the corporate chef at Land O'Lakes, you might know their work in butter, messaged me on LinkedIn and said he wanted to send me queso. Best message I've ever received on LinkedIn. A week later, there was a huge box on my doorstep. I gave him my home address, which you probably shouldn't do on the internet, but it was a calculated risk. For that amount of cheese, I was willing to do it. Inside this box were 24 pounds of queso packed in ice. You heard me right, 24 pounds. I've been handing out queso to friends like some sort of cheese Johnny Appleseed or dairy Oprah. "You get queso! You get queso!" Maybe your thing isn't queso though. Maybe it's ice cream or discouragement or criticism. There's something that knocks you off your goals. There's a tough moment in every goal. You know, it's coming. You do! This time, do something about it. For example, I have a hard time at the start of projects, I tend to get really impatient for how long the results are taking. Like writing a new speech, by hour three of the process I'm so mad that it's not done yet. I know that's silly, but it's true. So how do I hack that moment and lower the pain? I have a post-it-note on my window, by my computer that says "Speeches take 20 hours of work." It's a reminder to me that I'm not being slow, the idea isn't bad, the work isn't delayed, they just take 20 hours. I forget that. Every time I read a new speech, I forget that and I get frustrated the first few hours, so I need a reminder. So now on hour three or four when I'm disappointed that I'm not done yet, and I sense that same peak pain starting to rile up, I can read that note and go "Oh, that's right. That's right. They always take 20 hours." I can remind myself It takes 20 hours for me to write this. And then I can proceed. Sometimes just resetting my expectations lowers the challenge of the moment. And let's be clear, that's a soundtrack. Instead of listening to something like "this speech is taking so long, you'll never be finished, you should be finished by now," I listened to a new soundtrack "speeches take 20 hours of work" and then put my head down and I get on about it. What's interesting about techniques like that, is that none of the circumstances changed. I still had to sit down and write the speech. Zach still had to run 26.2 miles to finish his race. The only thing that changed were the soundtracks which made the circumstances better. That's the peak end rule. Change the peak pain by planning for the worst part of a goal. Change the end pain by planning something good for the final moment of a goal. That's how you change a memory. That's how you encourage yourself to finish more goals. I love that principle. Thank you for listening today. If you liked this episode, please review it and subscribe so you don't miss any more. See you next week. And remember, all it takes is a goal. This episode of the podcast was brought to you by Medi-Share. Text JON, J-O-N to 474747 for more information. Huge thank you to Medi-Share for sponsoring it. J-O-N to 474747.

Producer:

Thanks for listening. To learn more about the All It Takes Is A Goal podcast and to get access to today's show notes, transcript, and exclusive content from Jon Acuff, visit Acuff.me/podcast. Thanks again for joining us. Be sure to tune in next week for another episode of the All It Takes Is A Goal podcast.