Three Takeaways is the weekly Friday letter where I share a Thought, a Word and a Tip For you to take into the weekend! If you like any of them, I’d be delighted to hear from you (there’s a bit of a theme through the three, by the way — it’s not very subtle — so let me know if you spot it)! Also, don’t forget this newsletter is going paid in January — more details soon on how you can support it!
People often say “forgive and forget,” but our minds don't work like that. Nor does the Bible, which is where some people think, advocate it anywhere — in the only place where the two are linked, it’s in reference to God promising to not make it a thing.)
The simple reality is we can't simply forget things. In fact, if you actually forget something that has wounded you in the past, that might signal a problem on its own — maybe you’re repressing, or in denial, either of which leads to other problems. No, forgetting your pain isn’t really a useful goal pain.
Re-interpreting, though? There’s something to work at.
What would that look like? Like you still remembering it but not with the kind of pain that freezes you. Like having a wound on your body that’s maybe bad enough to leave a scar, but the scar won't hurt like the wound does. The scar is a reminder that the wound happened, but it doesn’t have the effect that the wound did. And sometimes the scar may almost disappear, that is, you may almost forget about the injury. I say almost forget because if you think about it, you'll still remember.
The difference is the memory won’t define you anymore. Instead, you have defined it.
Confusing experience with the memory of it is a compelling cognitive illusion — and it is the substitution that makes us believe a past experience can be ruined. The experiencing self does not have a voice. The remembering self is sometimes wrong, but it is the one that keeps score and governs what we learn from living, and it is the one that makes decisions. What we learn from the past is to maximise the qualities of our future memories, not necessarily of our future experience. This is the tyranny of the remembering self.
— Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow
Here’s a straightforward way to grow your emotional intelligence: wherever someone asks you “How are you?” or “How are you feeling?” or anything along those lines, before you say “Fine,” take a moment and pause, think, and try to describe how you really feel at that moment. Even if you can’t find a word for it (which means your emotional vocabulary needs expanding), try to describe it anyhow you can. Bonus points if you can go a step further and actually identify why you’re feeling that way. (Of course you should consider how much of this you want to say to whoever’s asking, depending on how much you feel able to trust them. But whether you say it out loud or not, it’s useful to know what you’re feeling.)
Simply: identify the feeling, identify the trigger. Keep doing that and you’re well on your way to developing your emotional self-awareness, which is a first step toward sharper emotional intelligence.
I love to hear from readers, so please send me an email with any thoughts or questions. And if you enjoyed this letter, please consider sharing it: with your friends and on your social media.