Avoiding The Rose-Tinted Bias Of Your Memory

As people the sad truth is that our recollection of things is often wholly inaccurate. Whether it’s because of our subjective natures, or because we attach emotional elements or sentimental value to good memories or because we like to see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be, there’s some truth in the claim that we don’t really have great memories. But that’s a vast topic better served in educational articles and studies, because what I want to talk about is more narrowed down to your enjoyment and appreciation of things, whether it is art, video games, a good book or movie or even just something of sentimental value to you. In particular, how to avoid those rose-tinted biases you build up over time about things you experienced in your past, and how it can limit your enjoyment of things in the present or effectively just be inaccurate, and as a result be a rather damaging thing if you discover that the reality is pretty different.

The reason I wish to talk about this is because of recent experiences, which I’ll get to in a moment. But why it’s relevant is not only because of the strange nature of our memories, but also because we experience things when we are young and hold onto them for years, sculpting these perfect memories and grinding out all the possible negatives, despite the fact that we actually do grow up and our perceptions, standards and tastes hopefully change. What this leads to is a kind of blissful ignorance, if you will, and a number of biases that may not hold years in the future. For a small example, say you watched this movie when you were a teenager and maintained for years that it was super special awesome. Then, when you’re in your twenties, you convince your friends to watch it, expecting a hell of a time, but as you watch you actually realise that it wasn’t the revolutionary experience you once believed it to be, which leads to immense inner disappointment.

Anecdotal examples, in a case like this, can do well to put the point forward. My favourite video game of all time is the Metal Gear Solid series. I wholly believed, for years, that it fits into the category of ‘best game ever made’, and despite spending much of my youth absorbed in those games, post 2008 (after the believed-to-be final game released) I only really had my amazing memories of the quadrilogy to tell me of its greatness. I would always take the opportunity to praise these four games, to the point that a fellow writer on EGMR teased me (or mocked me, who knows!) for being incessant in my worship. Now, because the fifth game has been confirmed, and my brain exploded with excitement, I realised the problem I was creating for myself. Would I consciously hold onto all those perfect memories, despite the harm it could cause when I eventually played the fifth game, or would I try and shatter the illusions and revisit my past to see if the memories matched the reality?

To that end I sought to replay the entire series, and over a few weeks recently I did just that. Whether you’d call this a colossal waste of time is up to you, but I found the results to be spectacular. Turns out, Metal Gear Solid was more or less as good as I believed it to be all those years ago. I can say that it’s really wonderfully satisfying to revisit something you held dear in the past and find that it still matches your memory’s quality assessment. Sure your opinion evolves, and you see new things and find new criticisms and appreciations, but it’s infinitely better than realising it was rose-tinted glasses and nothing else. Of course, the contrary effect has happened for me with other things. I experienced them again, or rather faced them again, and found that my memories had distorted the reality, and thus I could fairly adjust my opinion. In this way, making yourself face the reality is a healthy exercise in eliminating those rose-tinted biases you uphold for years. Of course this doesn’t mean that you should re-experience every single thing you’ve ever liked in the past, because we do actually have limited lifespans, but rather the things that are meaningful to you or especially dear in your heart are perhaps worth making the conscious effort for.

Naturally a movie or a video game are small examples in the grander scheme of things, but the concept of this can apply in greater meaning, whether it’s to something you created or even a work position. Depending on your unique situations, it could even be relevant to a person and relationship from your past. Effectively, seeing rainbows in the clouds and not allowing yourself to engage with the reality when you are older and ideally wiser and broken free from the shackles of ideal perfection your memory usually creates. Be wary of what can influence your positive perceptions, as it can be anything from combining a great night out with friends and a favourite movie, to something more extreme like a good person coming at a bad time in your life, leaving you with infatuation. Whether the decision to hold onto the perfect memories is down to fear of shattering the blissful illusion, the memories being an emotional crutch of sorts, ignorance to the contrary, stubbornness, or even unrealistic optimism (akin to The Great Gatsby) is anyone’s guess, but it is important to understand that today your rose-tinted biases could be about a movie or a game, but tomorrow it could be about a job position or a relationship, and have much more serious consequences.

It would be nice to write extensive pieces on topics such as these, but as I’ve said before I try to keep these entries short so as to allow you to begin reflection and think for yourself on whether you want to pursue further investigation or action. It was particularly important to me to challenge some of the fantasies my memories created, and my favourite game of all time was absolutely a great place to start. I choose to believe that holding onto your rose-tinted biases can be a form of fear or worst case willful ignorance or an emotional crutch, and thus part of growing up and improving yourself should be to face the reality of the situation rather than choose to hold onto illusions, just because they make us feel good.

Does this mean we can’t truly have great memories about certain situations we are unable to face again? Perhaps, but I’d rather choose to say that in those cases it becomes an exercise in refraining from seeing rainbows in the clouds, and acknowledging that your memory is flawed. I’m not saying don’t have great memories that make you happy – I have plenty. By all means, treasure them and reflect fondly on them. However, in doing that try to consciously avoid your tendency for rose-tinted biases, and try to avoid letting yourself believe your good memories paint perfect scenarios far greater than what is realistic. After all, unrealistic expectations lead to enormous disappointment.

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