On a recent Saturday, a coaching client described something I’ve come to think of as a particular kind of amnesia, ‘amnesia of intention’. It’s a kind of forgetfulness, but extremely complete. While she and I were talking, I had an ‘ah-ha!’ moment because it was the first time I’d heard someone describe the experience. While I’ve had the experience, and been frustrated by it many times, I haven’t written about it. It didn’t occur to me that it could be a widely-shared issue.
If you’ve experienced this amnesia, it feels like completely forgetting to start a new habit that you were eager to begin. It’s a kind of amnesia that strikes and takes with it our best self-care intentions. It feels like forgetting, but runs deeper. It’s a kind of forgetting that feels a bit PTSD-y, a bit impossible to believe, a bit crazy, and like something was blotted out — like amnesia.
Have you ever completely forgotten that you were going to start a new self-enriching habit? Maybe writing in the mornings, calling a friend each week (to hear how they are doing), planting a garden, meditation, beginning a morning routine of gentle exercise, or eating a salad every day?
When I use the word “forgotten,” I mean it. I don’t mean that you wanted to start a new, healing habit and then avoided it or made excuses for why you can’t start today, why tomorrow is inconvenient too, as well as next week. This is different. I’m talking about a kind of amnesia of intention, a complete blotting-out of the decision or bargain you made with yourself.
This kind of thing, this type of forgetting, used to completely throw me off balance. It freaked me out. Who forgets that they were going to start going for walks in the afternoon? Me. And clearly it was a sign that I was going just a little bit crazy. (Going crazy is always just around the corner lurking, isn’t it?) I couldn’t understand why I could make a decision for my well-being and then just — blip! — just completely space-out about it.
Here’s a bit how it looks. If this sounds familiar, please post a comment or send me an email. I want to know.
Here’s the Amnesia Cycle
1. Realize that you have always loved sketching (or playing guitar, running, etc.)
2. Make a plan to buy a sketch pad and pencils (or a guitar, running shoes, etc.)
3. Research a weekend art class (or music classes, running clubs, etc.)
4. Feel hopeful and excited about cultivating the Real You inside
5. Continue on with your day and evening and go to bed.
6. A couple days or weeks later realize that you COMPLETELY FORGOT YOUR INTENTION
7. Wonder if you’re crazy
What’s going on with this type of Forgetting?
Is it a kind of emotional amnesia? Self-soothing that triggers amnesia? Do we forget to act on our plan because we got something desperately needed from simply thinking about doing something? Is the soothing so deeply nutritive that our bodies-minds gobble up the sweet center and toss away the rest? Does the long-term plan for self-cultivation get tossed away too?
Are we so in need of emotional soothing that at times the very idea of a soothing plan of action gives us a quick fix?
This turnabout of the mind strikes me as a survival-living byproduct. It smells like something that has to do with survive-the-moment-living because we forget. We start with a plan to turn over a new leaf, to start a new behavior and habit of self-kindness, and end with relief followed by amnesia (as well as a bit of shame when we once again remember).
It makes sense.
If we’re wired to be cocked and ready for chaos, ready to handle a parent’s sudden rage, how could we also have time to plan for the long game and take the long view about our well-being? Well-being is a calm activity and that’s in conflict, metaphysically, with victim-of-chaos living. Due to our nurturing, we seek soothing ideas, situations, and substances — which include thoughts about new hobbies and habits.
The part we have to learn — by teaching it to ourselves — is the part that involves writing our plans down, the part that involves putting the plan into our calendar, and the part that involves taking the first step and putting a lot of energy behind that first step, knowing how hard solidifying a new habit is (but also knowing how powerful a habit is once solidified).
Don’t Scold, Apply Compassion
If we do nothing else when disappointed by having fallen prey to this kind of blot-out amnesia, we can be compassionate toward ourselves about it. Forgetting at this level is a signal that we need attention. We need our attention. Our self-guidance, self-parenting, and self-compassion.
Apply ample quantities of compassion to your amnesia and it will eventually self-correct.
- be kind to yourself.