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No. 151. What would you like to remember?

The other day I bought a lawn-mower. It was an emergency purchase as the gardeners that usually look after the communal garden where I live had not turned up for three weeks. As any of you who garden will know, three weeks is a long time in a garden during May and June, and a very long time for a lawn. We have our annual garden party coming up in a week so something had to be done, and soon. We quickly established that not one of us could get our old petrol mower to start. So, although we have been told repeatedly that petrol mowers are better than electric ones, reality overruled and I ordered a new electric mower from John Lewis. It would arrive the next day they said. It did arrive the next day, but unfortunately to the wrong house so, when I first clapped eyes on the package, it was sitting in the front porch of a neighbour’s house. Two of us hauled it back to ours and set it down in my hall. It was only then that I noticed something disquieting. The box that the new machine was apparently in looked nothing like a lawn mower. It was cuboid, measuring about three foot by two. It was at this point that the dreadful truth dawned on me. It was self-assembly.

I have lost count of the number of times that I have had precisely this experience. It is quite extraordinary to me that, after all these years, I have not worked out that pretty well anything that is larger than a saucepan arrives in a flat pack. Is that because I remember the good old days when you bought things as seen in the shop? Perhaps. Or maybe in the old days a nice man put it together for you – in the shop. Another, less appealing but more likely possibility, is that for some reason my brain has failed to register this particular manifestation of reality, despite the many opportunities it has had to do so.

So would it help if my brain did register it? Absolutely. Instead of going blindly into the situation I would be able to make some informed choices. Shall I buy this lawnmower, or shall I wait till Monday and go to a lawnmower shop where I can buy it there and then and have it assembled for me? After all, when I bought my bike, that’s exactly what happened. If I don’t want to wait till Monday, shall I buy it from John Lewis or from some other retailer who offer to assemble it on delivery? If I do buy it from John Lewis, is there an assembly service? If not, what are the chances of the delivery man being able to do it for me if I look sufficiently helpless and ask very nicely? Even if I decide to go ahead with John Lewis and accept that I will have to assemble it myself, I will be able to set aside some time to do it, or ask someone much more competent and willing to do it for me. At the very least, I will not get an unpleasant surprise when it arrives. So yes, it would be good to remember.

We are, we are told, the most intelligent of species on the planet, and yet I see my cats respond to stimuli more intelligently than that I have just described. They know, for example, that when I go to the side of my bed and start fiddling around that I am probably going to turn on an electrical device that will scare them, so they scarper before that happens. Admittedly I may sometimes only be getting my book, but then, who cares if a new purchase arrives all nicely assembled, even if you’re not expecting it to be?

It is humbling, when I start to think about it, how long it can take me to remember things that would be extremely useful to remember. When my daughter was in her teens she had, by chance, several friends whose families were Catholic. It was unfortunate that it was around the time of all the sexual abuse scandals, so the topic of the Catholic church’s shortcomings often arose at the dinner table. Each time it did, my daughter would bristle, seeing it as her job to defend the church to the hilt. It never went well. And I blush to think how long it took me to realise that it was a subject better left alone. When I finally did, dinner times improved immensely.

Another extremely good piece of advice that I repeatedly forget is that difficult feelings do not respond well to resistance. They respond well to acceptance.

Fortunately I am better at remembering this when I am with my clients. I remember one client saying to me, after helping her to accept some sad feelings that she did not want to feel, ‘You have told me this so many times, you must get sick of repeating yourself.’ Little did she know that I had to repeat it just as often to myself.

I can’t pretend that I have a watertight solution to this problem, but I do know that sometimes I have a penny drop moment, and when I do something changes. So I’m wondering if it might be possible to facilitate that penny dropping, rather than just wait for it!

Try this:

What pieces of excellent information or advice are you aware of that you regularly fail to remember?

Take one of them and get curious about why it is that you forget. Is there some competing belief in your mind, or something you more naturally do? Or are you, like me, attached to a different reality? Ie equipment really should arrive ready-assembled and there’s a part of me that can’t quite accept that it doesn’t.

If you would like to remember this thing, remind yourself first of why this would be good for you.

Now actively decide that you want to remember it and spend a bit of time lodging it in your brain. Remind yourself of it every day for a week, maybe by sending yourself a daily email.

Would love to hear your experiences with this particular issue, and do let me know how you get on. And if you have any other ideas as to how to solve this problem, please share them!

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