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I originally wrote this piece as part of some motivational training I was giving for a group of couch to 5k runners, but of course we can apply the ideas to cycling, walking, or just about anything that puts us outside of our comfort zone.
Making Memories From Our Experiences
As we go through life we create and store memories about experiences, especially new experiences. At a fundamental level the mechanism helps us learn and survive as a species. This means that when we do things that are outside of our comfort zone not only do we develop memories, but we stand a good chance of learning something new about our environment and about ourselves. You might not remember a Sunday afternoon walk around the local shops, but you would remember the day you ran your first 5k run. The physical discomfort, legs like lead, the struggle to control your breath, and psychological torment of not knowing whether you’ll be able to finish. But then, isn’t that part of what life’s about, making memories.
The thing is, when you look back at that first race the memory of discomfort, nerves and the exhaustion are dulled by memories of the thrill of crossing the line, the celebrations, the praise and, more precisely, the emotions those things brought. So, buoyed by the memory of the experiences, a month later you do another 5k race, yes, despite the discomfort and the pain, and yet this time you don’t have as many nerves, you know you can do it, after all you’ve done it before. Gradually then, fed by the thrill of faith in your own ability you do more and more races. And therein lies the key, because gradually the experience becomes normalised, expected. The physical experience is still uncomfortable and exhausting and difficult, but these components become accepted, and you begin to sit with them more easily, the ‘pain’ becomes the ‘pleasure’. It’s at this point your new identity takes over. Whereas before it was you that was standing there watching ‘nutters’ running down the side of a hill covered in sweat and mud, now it’s you on that hill, you have become a runner! You have learned to extract meaning and motivation not only from the feelings attached to completing a run but more importantly of being part of a community of like-minded human beings. You experience the pain, exhaustion, sweat and mud in a collective sense, and this is the magic part, because the sum of these experiences amounts to so much more that the individual parts.
It’s the same mechanism that drives huge events like The London Marathon. The months of training, the battling with fatigue, with injuries, with the weather, with time commitments, all with the goal of the collective human experience and how the experience makes us feel and the memories it generates.