Why We Romanticize the Past — and Should We Stop?

24 minute read

Listen on Spotify here.

Anjana: (00:00)
Epsa, congratulations on officially graduating from Cal Poly’s class of 2020.

Epsa: (00:06)
Thank you. Thank you, Anjana. I mean, yes, it has been a year and a half and I am on my second job postgrad, but I graduated. Thank you. It feels liberating. And honestly it feels really good to have final closure on like quote unquote the best four years, like such good, honestly such good memories. And like, these were some formative years of our lives, so it’s nice being able to close that chapter and like continue to move forward, you know?

Anjana: (00:34)
For sure. And I definitely wish I was there with you and Sydney and Hannah —

Epsa: (00:37)
We missed you.

Anjana (00:38)
— but I feel like I’ve lived six lifetimes since we graduated. But either way, I definitely feel like, you know, like having that closure, would’ve been really great and like walking across that stage and being like, okay, you know, we did it, this is it.

Epsa: (00:51)
I think that’s the closure is so important, especially cuz like our conversations right now. And most of my coms with people like within the COVID era has been, oh my gosh, remember when? Or during remember this like fond memory we’ve had ?mm-hmm these are just convos we have all the time. And actually like this whole theme of like reflection and talking about the past and maybe like romanticizing the past, all of this is actually the topic of discussion for today with our guest Charlotte Lieberman.

Anjana: (01:20)
Yeah. And we felt like this — before, before I introduceCharlotte who I used to work out virtually with you know, we feel like this is a really great topic for the end of the year and the last episode of the year. You know, just because we’re always talking about our goals for 2022 and romanticizing, maybe like our past pre 2021 pre 2020. But Charlotte is, is super cool. She like does a billion different things, but we actually wanted to talk to her about her article on the New York Times, which she wrote and is called “Why we romanticize the past.” Charlotte is a multidisciplinary writer, creative brand director and certified hypnotherapist and coach, which is super cool. But in addition, she’s also a mental health thought leader and regularly contributes to the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, Marie Claire and elsewhere. She frequently speaks about mental health and mindfulness organizations and has been a featured guest on CBS This Morning, The Today Show, and NPR, among other prominent media platforms.

Epsa: (02:26)
I mean, in short, Charlotte is literally the most multifaceted woman we’ve ever like — she’s just amazing. And we’re so stoked for you all to listen to this episode. This episode is really like the biggest AP Psych dump of knowledge. It’s all about the concept of like faulty memories and the big ticket item of really how to stay present when you know, the present doesn’t necessarily live up to the past. Mm-Hmm all the relevant topics, an amazing conversation. And we’re so excited for you guys to listen,

Anjana: (02:54)
Especially you 2020 grads.

Epsa: (02:57)

Epsa: (03:00)
All right. Hi Charlotte. Thank you so much for joining us today on the podcast before we get into the meat and potatoes of our episode today, could you could you just walk us through your career journey? I know you’ve had a lot of experience in journalism. You’re a coach, a hypnotherapist. I’m just curious to see and hear the why behind your career journey and like the type of stories you like to write for and just your overall background and where you’re at now.

Charlotte: (03:29)
Yeah. Well thank you for having me. No, it’s true that on paper I do like a whole pokery of things, so it might be hard to imagine how I actually spend my days. And the answer is that I, I do, I do do a variety of different things. I studied English in college and when I graduated, I didn’t really have a clear sense of what I wanted to do. I knew what I didn’t wanna do, which was do on campus recruiting and get a consulting job because I went to the info session and it made me depressed.

Anjana: (04:04)

Epsa: (04:06)
Honestly, so fair. I got myself out of that. So you like saved yourself a good one.

Charlotte: (04:11)
Yeah. So I knew that wasn’t for me. And then I had the really good fortune of having a writing opportunity occur right after I graduated. It was for Cosmopolitan magazine and it was about college dating and at the time it kind of, I guess it went viral. I think that term was used in 2013 and yeah, and from there, I just sort of rode the momentum of that and kept pitching articles pivoting away from the kind of hookup culture beat to writing mostly about health. Women’s health, sex a little bit though I never felt fully kind of comfortable with that cause I, I do feel like I’m more of a private person. And then through writing publicly, as, I guess you could call me a journalist, I sort of identify more as a writer, but there are journalistic elements to what I do.

Charlotte: (05:08)
I also began doing some consulting work for wellness and health companies that needed content. And that sort of arose organically as a consumer of a lot of wellness products and networking and you know, these things are never really that linear, but I’ve sort of been juggling the sort of public persona of me as a writer and then the work that I do for companies which, you know, running my own business, it’s really a variety of things from creative direction to, you know, brand strategy media strategy and sort of PR campaigns. So it’s really a whole host of things, but they’re all kind of related in my head you know. On paper, as I said, it, it can be a bit of a mouthful to explain. But yeah, I would say anything writing content related is definitely my beat in the health and wellness space and then also kind of brand strategy and marketing. So it’s sort of a, a mix of those two things,

Anjana: (06:18)
Charlotte, what’s it like living my dream this is where I wanna be.

Charlotte: (06:25)
Yeah, I don’t know. It doesn’t really feel like a dream on most days to me. So it’s flattering to me and sort of relevant to our discussion today about memory and just perspective on things. Like I’m not romanticizing my day to day, but it seems like you’re romanticizing my day to day cuz you probably don’t have a sense of all of the BS that I also deal with. Not that you don’t have BS, but

Anjana: (06:52)
Just a different type of BS.

Charlotte: (06:54)
Yeah. So I’ll, I’ll pause there.

Anjana: (06:55)
I’ll romanticize. I will romanticize anything outside of the nine to five. So getting into the meat and potatoes as Epsa called it. We obviously, I thought this conversation around romanticizing the past is such like a relevant topic of discussion to our listeners and to people who are kind of in our age demographic, I guess, of recent grads, people who graduated, we graduated March, 2020, right. When everything kind of hit the fan. And I say relevant because I do think on some level we all experienced this, especially as recent grads when we were drop into our childhood homes really had no sense of closure when it came to, you know, life pre COVID. And so we look back and we’re like on some of our most formative years and we’re like, wow, you know, I really missed that. But you know, speaking for myself, I, I find myself suppressing a lot of the memories of anxiety of you know, I was like crying a lot all the time from stress. And I guess that leads me to, you know, the crux of it all, which is how perfect or imperfect is our memory, really?

Charlotte: (08:08)
Yeah. So I mean, I think your question was leading in so far as it is definitely not perfect. I personally think a lot of the misconceptions around memory have to do with how it’s portrayed in media, particularly film. Because I do think we have a misconception often that memories are like film, like video that we just kind of like go into a little archive and retrieve, you know, memory of, you know, party in sophomore year or something. But really what we’re doing is stitching something together and you can use that metaphor. Someone I spoke with from my article, a researcher named Anne Wilson, she talked about being an archeologist. So it’s almost like, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen archeologists use one of those pans. It’s like, you’re looking for shards of things. And then ultimately as the archeologist, you’re creating a narrative of what does it mean that these shards were here?

Charlotte: (09:09)
So when you’re thinking about that party from sophomore year, part of it is probably it, you know, maybe you have a specific memory of a song or a person that was there or an outfit you wore or what you did beforehand. And obviously this differs for people. I personally have a photographic memory, which is like weird. And so I can remember really specific things. Obviously not perfectly cuz my memory’s not perfect, but you know, some people don’t have a, a great memory, but they are relying on feelings or sensations or evocations of something. And then they’re reconstructing something out of that. So that party might be, you know, I’ll use another metaphor, a tapestry of kind of what they wanted the party to be like sitting here in 2021, you know, “Oh, that was such a wonderful party. You know, my friends were there, it was so warm that night.” And like I kind of put into the memory tapestry, what I kind of wish had happened. Mind you, none of this is kind of conscious taking place. But I think the bottom line is that there are a number of cognitive biases and patterns that are actually hardwired in us that we can get into that are manipulating our memories. So that they’re actually the result of like a very intricate process of reconstruction. Rather than objects we kind of take out of a cabinet.

Anjana: (10:41)
When you say manipulating, does that mean like we can also come up with completely fake memories that didn’t actually happen?

Charlotte: (10:49)
Yeah. I mean, and you, you hear about this, especially when people tell themselves a story again and again, and this can happen in so many different ways, but, but yeah, I mean, things happen where, you know, a few kind of key dynamics that, that you’ll hear about are, you know, repression of painful memories. Mm-Hmm , and there’s obviously a huge realm of research around trauma and memory mm-hmm which is a little bit different than what we’re talking — very different than what we’re talking about — but it is worth mentioning. Then, you know, the imagination — research actually shows with brain imaging that when we’re imagining something and remembering something, it’s actually very similar part of the brain. So a lot of our memories are embellished with imagination, so if I’m thinking about that party and sophomore year, maybe I’m imagining a song that was popular that year, or imagining dancing with someone who was at the party, but maybe I didn’t actually dance with because it gives me texture and detail and, and that brings me meaning or some kind of narrative in the present mm-hmm .

Charlotte: (12:00)
And so there, I’m bringing a lot of myself in the present to those memories of my relationship to them. Mm-Hmm and you know, another thing to mention too, is, especially with regard to COVID and kind of larger sort of more macro themes is what, one of the researchers I spoke to the same woman I mentioned, Anne Wilson, she calls she calls this “our current lens.” So our current lens is kind of what we’re looking through to see our memories and our memories will be different depending on what our current lens is. So if I’m like right now in 2021, let’s say I’m having like the best year ever. I don’t know who’s having the best year ever. I’m not, but let’s say I am, I might look back on the past and be like, oh man. Like I’ve really, you know, gotten my act together and I’m doing great.

Charlotte: (12:53)
And my apartment’s great and I’m in a great relationship. And like, my work’s awesome. That’s like not how I’m feeling, but let’s just say it is, I might look back on 2015 and be like, man, I’m, I’m doing great. You know, on the other hand, if I’m in 2021 and there’s been a pandemic that’s ongoing and I’ve spent most of my time inside and I’m just bored and unmotivated, which is all real for me. And for a lot of other people, likely that current lens of boredom and lack of motivation and yearning for connection is going to create a filter on how I’m looking back at the past. And that filter is probably going to condition me to dredge up more positive memories from the past. So I can kind of give myself proof that my hypothesis, that the past is better than the present, is true.

Anjana: (13:52)
So I guess going back to idea of like our perceived memory versus like what actually happened and how that can affect current decision making. And I’m just gonna throw a random example I’ve never been through if you were, let’s say like, you know, getting, thinking about getting back into an old relationship or deciding whether or not to quit a job, but you’re forgetting maybe somewhat painful experiences from the past or your brain’s intentionally giving you more a rosy perspective of it, do you have any tips on like how you can make more reasonable decisions currently? Does that make any sense?

Charlotte: (14:33)
Yeah. If I’m understanding you correctly, you’re saying like, let’s say you were in a bad relationship and then you break up and you’re sort of being like, well, was it so bad? I don’t know. Maybe I should get back together with a person, something like that.

Anjana: (14:45)
Yes exactly. Never been through it.

Charlotte: (14:48)
I mean, the first thing I think to say is that like within reason, I don’t think we should necessarily denigrate romanticizing things like our memories evolved this way as a survival mechanism really, which is to say, when we’re in a bad place, we have this amazing ability to bring ourselves to a better place. And that’s actually really hardwired for survival. So if you think about it as I’ll give like a very generic example, if I’m a hunter gatherer and I’m feeling acute stress or anxiety, that was probably due to some survival threat and I can summon my memory or imagination, I can simulate a situation of how am I gonna run away from that predator? Or the last time I ran away from a smaller predator, what did I do that was successful that allowed me to survive? So this is like actually a really important thing that we have.

Charlotte: (15:52)
And I don’t think it’s something that we wanna get rid of. That said if you’re romanticizing like an emotionally abusive partner and considering getting back together with them, like that obviously has negative consequences that, that one, you know, just should not wanna, you know, relive. But I don’t think this conversation is about like, how do we stop doing this? Right. Cause I, I don’t think we wanna stop doing this. And I like being nostalgic. I think it’s nice, you know? But you’re right, that we don’t wanna lose sight of our negative experiences because they provide us insight. A lot of the time and I, I mean, I will, I will even say that about, COVID like, I’ve changed a lot and I don’t wanna get rid of those changes. You know, I, I feel like it’s changed me in a really fundamental way and it’s changed our world in a really fundamental way.

Charlotte: (16:50)
Mm-Hmm that I feel like actually is good. But I do think it comes down to what are ways to be more realistic with how we think about the past mm-hmm in order to help our decision making in the present for this particular example. Mm-Hmm and I think the bottom line is, is awareness. So if, if you’re aware from a very basic level, that memories aren’t accurate records of the past and that there are things you might be shifting or changing or amplifying or forgetting, when you look at the past, I think that simple awareness is enough to give some space to consider, Hmm, am I forgetting something? It, it kind of ignites curiosity, just that awareness of like, maybe this is not the whole picture. And one thing that, that I will say personally, that I do is I keep a journal.

Anjana: (17:53)
I was just gonna ask you, I was like, would it help to write down everything?

Charlotte: (17:56)
One of the tools is these things that the author, Julia Cameron calls morning pages, and it’s basically just dumping everything that’s on your mind into a journal in the morning. She says, first thing when you wake up, I do it like after I’ve like fed myself, et cetera. And the whole idea is that you don’t read them. You just literally put everything down on the page. I have read them occasionally over the years. But that’s not the point. The point is just to kind of log whatever’s there.

Anjana: (18:29)
Two quick questions. So one, why does she suggest writing in the morning versus like any other time of day?

Charlotte: (18:35)
It’s just a sense of I don’t wanna use the word clean, cuz that feels moral, but it’s a bit a clean slate. you’re waking up and she describes it in one part of the book as sweeping every thing to the center of the room. So it can just like air out, you know, it’s like interesting when things are kind of scattered and this kind of gives it, it sort of allows you to consolidate everything that’s on your mind and just like, let it be there. Yeah. so it’s not hiding or contorting itself, but it it’s an amazing tool. And I think it, it can be a really profound practice for a variety of different things. Not just for what we’re talking about.

Anjana: (19:20)
Is there a reason she suggests, did she suggest like not reading them?

Charlotte: (19:25)
She does? She does.

Anjana: (19:27)
Is there a reason why?

Charlotte: (19:29)
Well the whole book is centered around this idea. She calls it creative recovery, artistic mm-hmm creative recovery. And a big part of it is, you know, kind of quieting the inner critic. That’s like a big part of the journey. And so I think that, you know, the idea of reading your writing, that’s not supposed to be good or evaluated is just giving you a sense of safety that like this really isn’t for anything besides the practice.

Anjana: (19:58)
Yeah. That’s really helpful. Thank you.

Epsa: (20:00)
I know, I, I, I really like the concept of not reading it, I think. And then like maybe reading it like later down the road and just seeing like the growth or just like, I don’t know, identifying and pinpointing yourself in that moment. It, I actually, and this is kind of gonna lead into my question about like the fading effect bias and dampening of the pleasure. But I have like a quick story that I also, that uses like journaling and stuff. So a year ago, like in this as Anjana described, we moved back home, started our first job. So I was like back home starting my first job and to put it short, it was quite literally, it was a, it was a really difficult experience like transitioning to working and doing work. That was just very, not attuned to who I am, but I’m in this new job and I love it.

Epsa: (20:47)
And I just have the hardest, honestly, the hardest time remembering what was so bad, I’m just like, oh yeah, like it was just bad, but I, I was journaling and I had like Google docs of like my timestamps and dates. And when I’m reading it, I I’m very glad I wrote it all down, but I am picking up on all these details that I physically cannot remember myself and my brain going through, but I can like see myself, like acting it out. If this makes any sense, I can visualize myself being sad. Like I can see myself being sad, but I cannot feel those emotions because right now in my job, I’m like very happy, very content. So I’m curious about your take on that, because I know in your article you quoted Dr. Thompson about how we’re hardwired to give negative stimuli a lot more cognitive attention in the present. So like, when I was miserable in my job, I was telling everyone who would listen about how miserable I was.

Anjana: (21:45)
You did.

Epsa: (21:46)
Yeah. I have like many people that can validate that. But then those details disappear by the wayside in our memories. And it was all about like the rosy retrospection and then the fading effect bias. So I was wondering if you could just like put context to those key words and how that relates to my story. Cause I’m sure a lot of people relate to that as well.

Charlotte: (22:07)
Totally. Yeah. I will start by saying what Dr. Thompson was talking about is actually another, not to introduce more terminology and jargon, but what she’s talking about is called negativity bias, which is literally, we’re hardwired to focus in the present on negative experiences. And this goes back to the hunter gatherer time. So if I’m, let’s say it’s the afternoon and I’m a hunter gatherer and I’m lounging on a patch of moss eating berries, and then I hear a loud noise. I’m gonna focus. I’m gonna be like, you know, screw these berries, I have to listen to that. Because it it’s important. What if it’s a predator? What if it’s someone trying to attack me? So we’ve kept that. And you know, we’re not hunter gatherers, but this is why, like, if you’re sitting in a movie and you have, I don’t know, a headache, even if it’s in amazing a movie you’re kind of like, can’t really enjoy it.

Charlotte: (23:12)
Cuz you’re focused on your headache or you got a stressful text before the movie and you’re like ruminating about the text, even though the movie you’ve been looking forward to it for weeks. So it’s like once it’s there and you notice it and you’re feeling it, it’s like all you can focus on again and that’s a survival mechanism. And then, and that’s obviously also dampening to explain that term that would be dampening anything positive about that time. So maybe within your day to day of hating your job, you like took a really nice walk or there was,

Epsa: (23:46)
I did. Yeah. I don’t recall that.

Charlotte: (23:49)
Yeah. I don’t know if you’re still living in your childhood home, but let’s say you were living your childhood home and it was really nice to spend time with X, Y or Z person. And that’s something that you’re probably not gonna have access to in many areas of your life and somehow you’re not even appreciating that. And that’s where the dampening comes in. It’s because of negativity bias. We dampen pleasure in, in the way that we’re kind of perceiving our present experiences. And then rosy retrospection is basically just another term specifically coined by Dr.Thompson and her colleague in a paper they wrote in the nineties about this phenomenon. It’s basically another way of talking about nostalgia, romanticizing the past, which is, you know, the kind of, oh, was that job so bad? You know, I kind of remember enjoying the flexibility or, you know, it kind of goes back to what Anjana was talking about with the relationship. It’s like, oh, but we went on that really nice trip, you know, to Miami. So mm-hmm , was it bad? I don’t, I’m kind of just remembering those photos we took on the beach, you know, so there is this way in which our memory doesn’t provide us access to all of those nitty gritty negative things that we’re experiencing in the present moment. And that, that is a phenomenon called fading affect bias, which, you know, the, the definition is basically the phenomenon where negative experiences fade more readily than positive ones.

Anjana: (25:21)
So just to kind of clarify the negativity bias is when you’re in the present moment, like something sucks real bad, but you know, whatever’s good about that moment is kind of dampened, versus what you were just talking about, rosy retrospection is like, you’d forget those bad things and just kind of see like the highlight reel, I guess of what happened. Is that correct? Okay.

Charlotte: (25:40)
Yeah. And there are obviously like lots of different biases and things happening that contribute to all of those things. I mean, I think one thing that’s a little bit challenging about this, this topic and obviously other psychological phenomenon, like there are all these dynamics that are at play and affecting each other and there’s no like there’s no strict equation, like because of X and Y, Z happens. A lot of this is just like human language, you know, different researchers have different names for things. So, you know, rosy retrospection sounds like a very like specific phenomenon, but it’s actually pretty much nostalgia, pretty much looking at the past with rose colored glasses, you know, whatever you wanna call it. So I just, I just wanna call that out cause I do it can be confusing. And I think the bottom line is that like, we all relate to this stuff and it, and it feels resonant when we can experience it in our personal memories in our personal lives.

Anjana: (26:43)
Definitely. No, I think, I think you explained it really well and the, the examples you used are very, I mean, they made sense to me cuz I’m like, oh yeah. Like I really appreciate having this time with my family, but like all these other things that are going, aren’t going right in my life are just like taking over, you know? Epsa and I, when we were researching yesterday, we came across this cute little quote I wanna share with you by Virginia Wolf. It’s, “I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realizes an emotion at the time. It expands later and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.” So what memories do you think are ones that we are constantly cultivating and why?

Charlotte: (27:33)
That’s a good question. I think it obviously depends on like the person’s values and, and their, you know, culture and, and they obvious tons of things that that will affect what memories people are going to. But in terms of identifying kind of patterns, what’s called autobiographical memory, which is what we’re talking about. Memories, events of things from our lives. There’s been research by Anne Wilson, who I mentioned showing that memories are a huge part of how we make sense of who we are and like who we are as people, as a self. It’s, how we create stories about our growth and our, you know, our self esteem. So I think we, we tend to cultivate memories that contribute to that. So let’s take Anjana, you were talking about wanting, feeling unmotivated about writing, but looking back on college and being like, wow, I was writing all the time. So mm-hmm, my sense. I don’t know you well, but my sense is that you value creativity that you think of yourself as a writer, that the identity of being a writer is important to you. Mm-Hmm . And so you might go there because of those things you might think of all those times you’ve spent writing, whereas maybe somebody who’s more focused on their social life would be like really reminiscing about all the time they spent with friends. And maybe you’re doing that too. I don’t know. But my point is —

Anjana: (29:05)
One or the other, Charlotte. You can be a writer, or you can be social.

Charlotte: (29:08)
No, of course. I mean, no, I guess I’m talking about myself here, but you know, my, my memories tend to be I tend to think about, you know, activities that are, that are valuable to me. Places have, have a strong valence for me. Like what places have contributed to my sense of self. And obviously like, it can be hard to name these things specifically, cuz when you live in your own experience, it’s hard to take a step back. But yeah, I think we tend to cultivate memories that are important for our formation of selfhood as we think of ourselves and our value system.

Anjana: (29:50)
So we talked a lot about, what’s kind of going on with memory and I, I do wanna spend some chunk of this podcast talking about what we can do about it. And again, like you said earlier, it’s not about how can we not romanticize the past. But I actually had my best friend and my old roommate from college. ask a question for the pod because she and I talk about this all the time. Like we’re always like, for example, we’re like we haven’t taken a good photo since 2018. Like when was the last time we were happy?? And all these questions. And so one of the questions that she had for you — her name’s Lauren —how do we come to terms with the present not living up to what we used to have? Sometimes we think back to the past of like when, when we were happy but no longer necessarily feel that way now — again, a lot of this is COVID related — how can we adapt or generate like a different outlook to feel happy again?

Charlotte: (30:44)
Yeah. I mean, I don’t know if this is what the question was necessarily going toward, but one thing that I kept thinking and asking myself as I was researching and writing, this was like, how can we be more nostalgic about the present mm-hmm , which is to say like, how can we adopt that kind of perspective of tenderness and appreciation for the present cuz it is it’s such a warm experience being nostalgic. And then it’s like on the other hand, we’re just focused on all this negativity in the present part of way because of our wiring mm-hmm and I should just say I pointed this out in the article, but like there’s research showing that the experience of nostalgia actually creates physical warmth in our bodies. It, it can change our temperature. So there’s literal like bodily effects to this stuff, which I find super fascinating.

Anjana: (31:39)
That’s really cool.

Charlotte: (31:41)
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think the first thing to answer this question is again, to just point out that like, this is a great coping mechanism, it’s a better coping mechanism than a lot of coping mechanisms, which is like, if you wanna just remember good things, like don’t judge yourself for that. But if it’s getting in the way of the present, like if, if fixating on how great the past was, is not serving you, I do think that that that awareness piece is important. So, you know, are there ways you can kind of gently without judgment remind yourself that you’re probably zhooshing up how you’re thinking about the past? A little bit. So not to say like it wasn’t so great cuz we don’t wanna take that away from people, if it feels great, it feels great, but I think it’s about zooming out and, and giving yourself the gift of perspective to say, okay, I’m nostalgic.

Charlotte: (32:45)
But what’s happening right now? And I think over time to kind of answer my own question about how can we be nostalgic for the present? I think a, a great exercise is what’s happening now that you might likely be nostalgic for? And I did this during the very beginning of, of COVID all the time. I was like, wow, like the city — I’m in New York city — you know, the city is so quiet, you know, and I was like, I’m gonna be nostalgic for that. And I lo and behold, like the city is not quiet anymore, even though, you know, there’s variants and none of this is over, it’s not the same. There isn’t that same stillness and that same sense of mm-hmm solemnity in the pandemic. And I like weirdly feel nostalgic for that. And I, and I tried as it was happening scary as it was as lonely as it was. I did try it to tap into that. So I do think it’s a bit of a mindfulness exercise, even if you’re in the midst of, of struggling about something to just like notice little things that you, that you might be nostalgic for.

Epsa: (33:52)
Yeah. Yes. now that you brought that up, that was something that I would do. Like when I was really little, if I was having like what it seemed to be the best day of my life, like it could be like my birthday party or just like, I don’t know, like a rally at school that I helped put on. And if there was just like a moment that I had to just like, sit back, I’d look around and I would physically say, oh, I really wanna capture this moment. And like save it. Like I would like just tell myself that.

Anjana: (34:19)
During like early COVID when we were like actually in lockdown and shut inside when I could go outside and like feel the grass underneath my feet and like the sun in my face, I was like, I’m gonna like remember this.

Epsa: (34:29)
And I knew I was like, you’re gonna start work and you’re not gonna have this moment. So cherish this right now. Yeah, I’ve never thought about it. Like, I mean, I I’ve always done it, but I’ve never thought about proactively, oh, this is you creating a memory for yourself.

Charlotte: (34:44)
Yeah. I think we can be more intentional about creating. I think so too.

Anjana: (34:48)
Yeah. You might have seen me glancing at my phone. I was trying to find, I texted Epsa yesterday of like when I was listening to your other podcast about something you mentioned on this topic. I was like, what was it? You had mentioned in that podcast, like “self distancing” as a way to stop romanticizing the past. Can you, can you explain that a little bit more?

Charlotte: (35:07)
Yeah. So there’s a researcher in particular. His name is Ethan Cross at University of Michigan and his whole thing is studying what he calls “self distancing.” Mm-Hmm and that can mean many things. So when we look back at ourselves in the past that’s self distancing, when we think about ourselves in the future, that’s self distancing if I were to write myself, I feel like everyone did this in school at one point, but like writing yourself a letter, you know, writing yourself a letter is a way to do self distancing. There are lots of different, clever ways you can think about yourself in relationship to yourself. And basically that is kind of the definition of self distancing. It’s being able to adopt a sense of perspective with yourself as if, almost as if you are another person. And I don’t think that it’s so much that it squarely provides like an antidote to romanticizing the past, but I do think it’s a way of thinking about romanticizing the past that can be productive.

Charlotte: (36:08)
So rather than say, like, this is I’m wasting my time, you know, living in escapist fantasies, I wanna be more present, it’s kind of an alternate narrative for it. So it’s kind of saying self distancing is kind of saying like there’s actual benefits to, to the fact that we can look back at the past and project into the future and adopt that sense of a kind of bird’s eye view of our experiences. And it allows us to create meaning and there’s research from Ethan Cross’s lab that shows self distancing decreases depression, anxiety mm-hmm it contributes to self reflection and emotion regulation, which basically just means like coping and the ability to kind of bring yourself back into balance. And it makes sense it’s like these are unique capacities that we have to be able to be like, what was I like then? And what will I be like in the future? And, you know, what’s important to me. And it kind of stands squarely against the wellness mantra to just be present and live in your experience. But I do think that ability to take a step back to use like a, you know, proverbial idiom is really, really profound. So that’s sort of how I think of it is that self distancing provides a framework for thinking about romanticizing the past that actually shows its utility for us.

Anjana: (37:41)
So it’s like I’m trying to think of another example, is like vision boarding, like, oh, like I wanna be in New York in five years, as Epsa and I want to, and writing that down. That’s an example of self distancing?

Charlotte: (37:52)
Yeah. I mean, I think, I think like Ethan Cross and probably people who study it would, would say it needs to be a little bit more specific to like vision, like almost making it specifically about you rather than like New York or a time period or a place. So I think it’s about like, Let me write a letter to myself in five years when I’m living in New York as an editor at a magazine or something like that’s self distancing, because it’s about really connecting to you at a distance. But I do think they’re related, I mean, another thing, vision boarding reminded me of it, but I think, you know, in coaching there’s often the exercise to like write about a future experience in the present moment. So like I’m sitting in my office in five years, you know, and drinking a coffee and listening to my colleagues talk about the next issue, you know, that’s self distancing.

Epsa: (38:51)
Manifesting. Yeah. I think, I think everything, these are like great activities to do, like in order to stay present, but like be present like intentionally be present right now about, I don’t know. I think these are like really thinking about all of these things. You’re kind of stating it in almost like a peaceful way, like not an overwhelming way of like, taking too much in with our current environment right now. And our last question was actually to be like, how, what are tips and tricks that you have to stay present? But I feel like you’ve touched on it so beautifully with the activities you’ve just listed.

Anjana: (39:28)
Charlotte did you, I mean, I, I think you touched on all of them, but did, do you have any tips like, or like things that you specifically do to stay present?

Charlotte: (39:37)
Yeah. I mean, I feel like there are a couple of themes we’re talking about, which is like, part of it is like being present is positive, which like, obviously there’s tons of research on mindfulness and how important it is. Mm-Hmm , but then there’s also the argument that like, well, not being present and thinking about the past and the future is actually really beneficial. So I think both of both of those things are true. Mm-Hmm but I do think for me, the creating a sense of a larger pictures is really useful and that’s the self distancing piece. So like who was I and who will I be? And not to keep like citing dry research, but there’s one, another, one of the researchers that quoted in the article, had a study that showed that in addition to being a similar part of the brain, in addition to memory being a similar part of the brain as imagination,

Charlotte: (40:27)
memory and projecting into the future are also really similar. Mm-Hmm . So, you know, Epsa, as you’re writing that letter to yourself in the future, you can also kind of summon wisdom that you’ve gained through looking at the past to kind of, what did I learn from then till now and how am I gonna kind of use that model to think about the future? So I think that even whether you write a letter or not even just like conceptualizing this idea of selfhood as dynamic and, you know, seeking to be coherent, but not necessarily so. I think that that can be really productive and, and healing.

Epsa: (41:11)
I feel like I came out of this learning a lot and like being able to identify specific moments and stories that I have to each like tangible takeaway you share. And I think that that’s like hard to do with the conversation and I feel very fulfilled.

Anjana: (41:26)
Thanks, Charlotte. I mean, I think we’ve all been kind of going through it, so I think this will really help us just ground ourselves.