“The Man in the Mirror: Recency Versus Primacy,” Part II

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It seemed so profound a week or so ago – my thoughts on recency.  Now that they’re not so recent, they don’t seem so profound. Hmmm…Is that the whole point? In a way it is the point, but not totally.

What Meaning Can We Attach to “Recency”? 

Let’s face it, finding meaning for our lives in daily occurrences is probably what we are yearning to do.  So when I first was introduced to this word, “recency”, it led me on a Google search for a definition.  It wasn’t easy considering that I had first thought the word I heard was “recentivity”. (Don’t try to search for that one.  Google can’t even find much on a word that is barely a real word.)

You’ll find that looking for the word “recency” will lead you to articles on brain functioning, specifically in regard to memory.  (See previous post for a fast paced informative video). It hit me that perhaps just being aware of how our minds function in this way can lead us to modify or adapt our behavior to be a bit more in control of parts of our lives. It’s like once you know how something works you can figure out solutions or at the very least, not feel stupid.  (When my husband finally explained to me that the reason my natural left-handed approach to using a corkscrew was awkward because you’re left-hand inhibits the proper use of torque on the operation, I felt less stupid and bought myself a left-handed corkscrew.). See how that works?

In a discussion of recency versus primacy you’ll find this definition: “The first item in a list is initially distinguished from previous activities as important (primacy effect) and may be transferred to long-term memory by the time of recall. Items at the end of the list are still in short-term memory (recency effect) at the time of recall.”

While apparently this word has application from everything from education, advertising, to the stock market, and beyond, being of a naturally selfish nature, I wanted to see how the word had meaning in my life. You can’t really search something like that out; serendipity has to make that happen. And, sure enough, a few days after hearing that new word, it did.

Recency In Everyday Life

It was a “Man in the Mirror” moment. I was standing there looking at my reflection first thing in the morning.  (I hate to inform those of you under 70, but one day you will look in the mirror and it can ruin your whole day, or at least the next half-hour.) So there I was, all of these depressing thoughts impinging on my brain – hair thinning, face crepe-y, fat cheeks. Damn. Of course all of us who make valiant attempts each day to stay on this side of the line of sanity, know how desperately we search for something, anything, that will pull us back from the abyss.  And I found it, right there in my newly discovered word. “recency”.

This is just a “today” thought, I thought.  What about that picture a month ago where I actually looked decent?  I couldn’t have changed that much in a month!  So I combed my thinning hair over the empty spots and went smilingly on with the day not wanting to latch on to a recent thought and put it in my mind to make it a primary thought.  Recency can only be powerful it seems to me if it thrown into our long term memory. .

In life, in marriage, in our careers, it might be a good idea to think about recency.  Is the last thought we had about any of these areas really the one we should cling too?  Unless it’s an elevating thought, a thought that makes enhances our life’s purpose, a thought that will make everything better, we need to re-think that very last thought and decide whether or not that is a reflection of the whole.  Is that argument you’ve had with your husband really the sum total of your relationship?  Is that negative thought you’ve had about you, the sum total of all the good you may have done in the world?  Understanding how our mind works in this way gives us power over our very own “hard wiring”, for as great as the wiring may be, the most elegant part of that design is the ability to change itself.

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