Amnesia: Convenient or Productive

Amnesia: Convenient or Productive

“I remember it the way it should have been.”   – An old man once told me whilst reminiscing about the past

A truthful admission. Confession is good for the soul. But accurate recall is also good. And right!

Remembering the right thing requires that we first do the right thing. The only way to remember it the way it should have been is to have done what should have been done. It’s like telling the truth versus telling lies. Tell the truth and stop worrying. Because it’s the truth. Tell lies and you have to become a master juggler or be found out a liar. It begins with doing the right thing. Telling the truth. Making the right decision. Doing what’s right.

That’s how we can prevent the need for convenient amnesia.

An NFL quarterback throws a pick-six (an intercepted ball the opposing team runs back for a touchdown). The announcer remark, “He has to put that behind him and forget about it.” Within minutes when the quarterback gets the ball back, we find out whether or not he can forget the horrible mistake he just made.

Sports are filled with such instances. Aaron Judge is chasing a home run record as I hit record today. The pressure must be intense. After all, he’s a New York Yankee chasing a Yankee and an American League record, but he’s currently stuck on number 60. Striking out. Walking. Base hits here and there. Does he let his mind linger on the strikeouts? Maybe. His ability to forget it and move on, knowing the next at-bat is going to be a new opportunity to achieve the record — that’s going to make the difference in his success. He’ll figure it out. Great athletes almost always do. It’s one trait that makes them great – their ability to practice productive amnesia.

Convenient amnesia is delusion. It’s inaccurate and heavily biased in our favor. “I remember it the way it should have been.”

Productive amnesia is moving forward. It’s the realization that we failed in the past, but now we’re going to take advantage of the opportunity in front of us. 

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“Regrets, I’ve had a few,” sings Sinatra in that classic song, My Way.

Regrets, I’ve had a fewBut then again too few to mentionI did what I had to doI saw it through without exemptionI planned each charted courseEach careful step along the bywayAnd more, much, much moreI did it, I did it my way

Too few to mention is likely an understatement for most of us. If we’re willing to be honest with ourselves.

For me, it’s less about regrets and more about what lessons those regrets teach me. I work at fixing my mind on a single question, “Now what?”

Convenient amnesia gets in the way because of pride. I may not always want to admit I was stupid, foolish or that I failed. A big part of convenient amnesia is also that woulda-coulda-shoulda feeling we’ve all had. Those times when we wished we had made a different decision, or taken a different action – those times when we regret what we did or we regret what we neglected to do.

Six to eight months ago – and before – when the real estate markets were going crazy we talked about putting our house on the market, but we weren’t ready. For lots of reasons. Mostly because we had yet to embark on our mission to purge and declutter our lives. We talked about it, but we had yet to back our ears and do it.

During those times people stabbed a “for sale” sign in their yard and within days (sometimes hours) the houses were scarfed up, sold above asking price in many cases. We’re feeling that woulda-shoulda-coulda feeling about it, wishing we had prepared ourselves to take advantage, but we didn’t.

It’s not the first time we’ve felt that way. Truth is, real estate has never been my friend. 😉 All our married life we’ve found ourselves, due to career moves, needing to leave one place and move to a different place where the markets just never lined up to benefit us. In this part of the country – Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana – we inevitably needed to sell a house in a stagnant or down market and move to a less stagnant or upmarket. It’s not a recipe for solid financial growth. I always joked with older friends who declared they made money on every house they ever bought, that my real estate strategy was simple, “I like to buy high and sell low!” It’s just how timing worked against us – and every time we regretted it even though it was beyond our control. The generation that was 6-10 years older than us always seemed to be in a better place on the market cycle. But we had friends and neighbors who lost money so we felt thankful that we never did that. Mostly, we made a little bit or broke even.

But it still doesn’t stop a person from feeling regret – wishing things had been different. Better!

Wishing won’t make it so. Best to learn whatever you can from such things, then move forward. “Now what?”

The present circumstances. The present facts. Those are critical components in all this. We only know what we know at the time we make our choices. Sometimes we don’t know enough. Sometimes we misread things. It’s why the quest for clarity is so important. We can lean on others and get some insights from their perspective. We can ask questions and get answers. We can prioritize our goals. There are a number of effective things we can do to see things more clearly.

A good friend told me back in the summer, “I don’t know why you don’t have a “for sale” sign in your yard right now!” There’s some clarity I wished I had listened to, but I already knew he was right. We just weren’t prepared mentally, emotionally, or physically. And we continued to tell ourselves and each other (my wife and me), “We need weeks to get ready.” Procrastination set in. It was easier to put it off than to dive in and do the work. It always is.

Until we started and then it became an avalanche of productive work purging our lives of the clutter and stuff we didn’t need. By the time we started that work the economy was crashing with high-interest rates and even higher inflation. Days on the market continued to inch upward until it finally was drastically higher than it had been months earlier. The market was like that viral video from Brazil where a group of people doing some cross-fit training ran on the sidewalk through a restaurant area where people were seated eating. The diners panicked seeing these folks running so they jumped up, leaving their meals to run away from something they supposed was dangerous. None of them, other than the cross-fit folks, knew why they were running or what they were running from (or for). That’s how markets work. Herd mentality kicks in.

Ben was offered a job. A great job in an industry he wanted to break into. But he was unsure what to do so he delayed. He didn’t talk with anybody, opting instead to wallow around about it for a few days. By the time he thought he may want to accept it, it was too late. The company figured he was less than enthusiastic about the offer so they moved on with another candidate. Immediately he begins to berate himself wishing he’d just quickly accepted the job. Woulda-coulda-shoulda.

Will ongoing regret serve him?

No. But like us, he’s finding it hard to get over it. He can’t forget it. Well, he claims he can’t, but he can if he puts in the work. Like our purging project, it’s hard when all you’re doing is dreading it. It only gets easier when you start doing it. If he decides to practice productive amnesia he’ll be able to more quickly figure out, “Now what?”

There’s something amazingly true about history – particularly our history with our choices. We only know the outcomes of the choices we made. We assume we know what the outcome would have been if we’d done something different. Many times we assume if we’d done it differently it would have worked out better. Maybe. Maybe not.

Ben may have launched a productive new career. That’s what he initially thinks after the opportunity is lost. Ben may have embarked on a job he hated though. It may have been one of the worst choices of his life. He doesn’t consider that though. In his mind, it was like a lottery-hitting moment that he squandered. All we know is he missed the opportunity by delaying. He didn’t get the job. Whether or not the job would have worked out, whether or not he would have loved it, whether or not it would have led to a long-term career in that space – we don’t know. We’ll never know.

Rhonda and I can think, “Man, if we had sold our house during the boom we’d have sold it within days and gotten above the asking price for it.” But we’ll never know. We may just assume that’s how it would have played out.

Like Ben – what difference does it make what we assume may have happened? Are we benefitted in any way by dwelling on that? What lessons can we learn? What lessons can Ben learn?

I don’t know because the stories are still unfolding.

Did Ben do the right thing? He doesn’t feel like he did. But we don’t know the future and that’s the rub. Months from now Ben might get an opportunity that makes that first offer look awful. We don’t know.

Did we do the right thing? It can feel that way, but we don’t know our future either. Circumstances might prove favorable for our delay.

The naysayer will declare, “Well, that’s stupid. Ben should have jumped on it. You guys should have taken advantage of a hot market.”

I don’t disagree, but that’s not what happened. This isn’t about looking back with no regret, but it’s about managing the regret so we can move forward. It’s about – as it almost always is – not deceiving ourselves. It’s about not allowing ourselves to be stuck in a blame game, a regret game or worse yet – a paralyzing game where we take no action.

Ben could have jumped on the job and if it proved not what he wanted, he then could have made a different choice.

Rhonda and I could have jumped on the hot real estate market and sold our house quickly – and maybe for more than we even wanted.

Those are absolutely true.

There’s value in all of us facing that reality. Ben won’t serve himself by using every excuse as to why he lollygagged around in accepting the offer. He didn’t. Nuff said. Now what?

Ben needs to spend time trying to figure out why he procrastinated. He may find there was something not quite right about that job, or the offer. He delayed for a reason or a variety of reasons. Ben will benefit from figuring out those reasons. Doing that will likely help him grow and move forward.

Or he could decide that he’s going to regret it for a long time and blame somebody or something. He could lament specific things about the offer he didn’t quite like. For starters, he was hoping it would pay more. Maybe that got in his way and he can point to that, “If they’d have offered me $5K more I’d have taken it.” Whatever the reasons – or excuses – Ben will be best served by coming to grips with it, accepting full responsibility for the outcome, and working like crazy to get to a point where he focuses on, “Okay, now what?”

We can devote our days regretful that we didn’t jump into action to get our house on the market when things were insane. We can make all sorts of excuses for why we weren’t ready and why we were getting ready. Truth is, we weren’t and we didn’t. Was it a mistake? We don’t know. Do we regret it? Of course. We absolutely regret it. Will our regret bring back the missed opportunity? No. It never does.

Like the failure of the professional athlete – whether it’s a baseball player who strikes out, or a quarterback to throws an interception – we have to forget it and move forward. It happened. We wished it hadn’t. We think it was a bad outcome, far from our ideal outcome. It’s not what we wished to have happened, but it did happen!

Now what?

We either face reality, accept responsibility and get past it, or…we languish in regret and let the story end with our failure. 

I can’t end with another truth that impacts me and Rhonda. God.

God didn’t make our choices for us. He leaves that up to each one of us, but God has some distinct advantages. He knows everything, including the future. He also has our best eternal interests in mind. Life here doesn’t always go so well. Sometimes we struggle with things we can’t overcome so we have to just endure them. But unless we allow it, our circumstances here – great, good, or bad – don’t have to impact our eternity. God doesn’t suffer the loss of priorities we sometimes do. If we’ll devote ourselves to serving Him He’ll serve us by helping us remain redeemed. Additionally, He has the power to use the circumstances of our lives to best serve us. That includes those choices we think were missed opportunities.

This much is sure. We are not in full control of our life. There are many circumstances and actions taken by others that are far beyond our control…yet they can impact us. This whole “Now what?” way of thinking is intended to help us focus on only what we can control – ourselves. What will we think at this moment? What we will do? What choices will we make?

The rest? I’m learning to leave that up to God praying that the outcome will be the best for us spiritually.

It doesn’t prevent me from talking with God asking Him, or even pleading with Him, for what I hope to accomplish, but even Jesus, the Son of God made the appropriate plea following His own desires, “not my will, but Thine be done!”

And so it goes.

Randy Cantrell

P.S. If you’d like to sample some sermons visit for some of mine or to hear a better preacher check out where evangelist Kevin Presley preaches.

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