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Why You Don’t Need to be an Expert

When we approach life with a beginner’s mind, we let go of being an expert.

When we approach life with a beginner’s mind, we let go of being an expert.

Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize–winning economist and psychology professor, describes people as having two distinct selves: the experiencing self and the remembering or narrative self. The experiencing self lives in the moment and in the world of sensations. The narrative self creates stories to make sense of what is experienced. Being an expert is a story, and if our focus is using, displaying, or confirming our expertise, then we are less focused on what’s actually happening in the moment.

Kahneman has conducted a variety of fascinating experiments to clarify the distinction between these two selves as well as to demonstrate conflicts between these parts of us, especially when it comes to the perception of time and how our remembered selves are influenced by what he describes as the peaks and ends of an experience or event. For example, our memory of a vacation may be colored by one or two moments that stand out as strongly positive or negative peaks, as well as by our experience of the last part of the vacation.

In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman writes:

The two selves are the experiencing self, which does the living, and the remembering self, which keeps score and makes the choices. . . We should not forget, however, that the perspective of the remembering self is not always correct… The remembering self’s neglect of duration, its exaggerated emphasis on peaks and ends, and its susceptibility to hindsight combine to yield distorted reflections of our actual experience.

As Kahneman points out, the trouble is that these stories are often inaccurate. Not only is our personal perspective limited, so that we never see the whole picture, but even our perspective of our own experience and memories is often biased. As a matter of course, we choose only certain aspects of our experience as important and build a story out of those. In other words, we might assume that we are at least experts about our self, our history, and our identity, but Kahneman makes clear we should be skeptical of that claim as well.

Try this:
See if you can observe the distinction between your experiencing self and your narrative self.

Play with noticing pure experience — in any moment, what do you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch? Then, pay attention to what you remember as important and how you create a narrative or a story that makes sense of yourself, others, and the world.

What can you learn from this, by discerning what you experience from the story that you create about your experience?

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