Remembering “Jaws”

Remember the movie “Jaws”? It seems everyone remembers the parts where the big scary shark eats the waterskiing girl, or when Hooper was in the shark cage, or the part where the shark is devouring Captain Quint. Oh, yeah! But isn’t it interesting that nobody seems to remember any less violent or scary scenes throughout this two-hour and 10-minute movie? Why not?

Some people seem to have the ability to downplay negative experiences in their lives and magnify the positive ones. We all have that friend who, when life offers lemons, manages to make lemonade. Are these individuals remembering the good times more than the bad?

People seem to easily remember tragic events and the seemingly insignificant details associated with them, but many would be hard-pressed to recall small, precise, or trivial details of happier moments in their daily lives. For example, ask someone where he or she was when the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001, and it’s a good bet that they’ll remember without hesitating. They might even remember specific details about the day, such as exactly what they were doing just before they saw the news reports of the attacks. It begs the question, “Do we remember the bad times better than the good?”

By now you’re probably asking yourself, what does this have to do with racing cars? More than you realize. Listening to drivers and students over the years, I find the majority seems to dwell on “the scary stuff.” The vast majority seem to have total recall of that car they saw that rolled in Turn 9, or the time they went into Turn 4 too hot and flat-spotted all four tires, or how the car got loose when they took a bad line, and the list goes on. All in all, these same drivers who can relive bad incident after incident never seem to recall anything they excelled in.

Just imagine how much better a driver would feel if he could start having total recall about how good it felt the last time they managed to go a little faster through the carousel. Or how about feeling great when they realize they really don’t have to brake so soon in 11? Instead of seeing visions of crashing, hitting a wall, getting loose, etc., why not begin seeing yourself learning how to slide around a corner in complete control instead of trembling with the fear or losing control. There is a huge difference between success and failure and it’s all how we perceive ourselves. If you want to be fast, stop dwelling on the negative and start realizing the positive. Stop seeing yourself failing. See yourself in control.

Each of our experiences stimulates our memory centers in very specific ways. My point is that memories of emotionally charged experiences — particularly those that evoke fear — think “Jaws” — makes sense from an evolutionary perspective, since being able to recall fearful events is critical to survival. For example, you’d be in deep trouble if you didn’t remember to be afraid of a bull during mating season.

Now that we know about the close relationship between memory and emotion, it’s possible that with a little effort, we all may be able to strengthen the memories of our good times simply by making a point of reminiscing about them or by focusing on those experiences when they occur. After all, we’re not going to remember things — good or bad — if we don’t bother paying attention to them the first place. In short, stop worrying about being eaten by a shark. Instead, just imagine reeling one in.

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