“You’re Jewish, right?”, I ask Bette. She nods. “Do you know the story of Moses and the Israelites in the desert?”. She nods fervently.

Cliffnotes version: The Israelites were slaves under Egyptian rule. Moses led them to freedom. Crossing the desert, however, was difficult. They ranted against Moses, instead waxing lyrical about the days of plenty as slaves.

What exactly was going on?

“The ingrates, right?”, Bette exclaims. 

“Actually, it is how our minds are wired”, I smile.

If you’ve heard of Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, the guy who wrote Thinking Fast & Slow, then perhaps you’ve heard of the concepts of the Remembering Self and Experiencing Self. 

(Optional technical part: Subjects immersed one hand in ice water, at a temperature causing moderate pain, and recorded their level of pain with the other hand. Round I lasted 60-seconds. Round II, 90-seconds, the water slowly warmed by 1-degree during the last 30-seconds. It still hurt. For Round III, subjects chose to repeat the first or second round. 80% of those who reported less decrease in pain during the last 30-seconds of Round II opted to repeat the 90-second experience. They essentially chose to endure an additional 30 seconds of suffering.)

Here’s what’s going on.

  • The Experiencing Self is the You who lives through an experience. 
  • The Remembering Self is the You who writes history.
  • Both selves are part of you.
  • Both selves don’t always agree.
  • Your Remembering Self makes decisions.

Meaning, we remember the end of experiences, and the best and worst moments. And if anyone messes with our memories (hello, gaslighting!), or we apply Cognitive Photoshop to rationalise, our Remembering Selves make decisions that don’t serve us.

Your Remembering Self forgets the actual pain in the moment. 

How does this apply to our time sucks?

Think about the things you do in a day, that you rationalise, are *just* ten minutes. Or an hour. The conversations you have to have, because you feel bad to say no. The people you don’t actually want to meet. The people who should be out of your life, whom you still reply to.

Remember the discomfort during the experience. 

How you dread it before it. How exhausted you are after that. And how you judge yourself or obsess for way longer after that.

In other words, that ten minutes isn’t just ten minutes.

You’re haemorrhaging precious time, energy and sanity.

Kinda have an idea which experiences/people these are, but you’re not quite sure?

Here’s a suggestion.

Before interactions, rate the level of dread and how long you dread it for, honestly. Immediately after the interaction, do the same. Jot down your thoughts, feelings, and the weird sensations in your body. How. . exhausting the very thought of doing it again. Gather your data, review. See the patterns.

And I know, your Remembering Self will jump in.

Maybe it’ll chide you in that familiar stentorian voice that belongs to a disciplinarian from your past. 

“You’re such an ingrate.”

“Can’t you even give X minutes?”

“You’re a loser.”

“If you can’t do this, you can’t do anything.”

“It’s all your fault. You can’t even hold on to such a great person.” 

(Again, check if you’re mind’s been messed with. Cult leaders also say they’re great, and they appear great to many.)

They’re thoughts that have been pumping iron and steroids in your mind for a long time; of course they’re loud.

You have permission to silence them. “Thank you, I hear you, and I don’t need you anymore”, is what you can say.

Or, more elegantly, what Zen master Shunryu Suzuki pens, “In zazen, leave your front door and your back door open. Let thoughts come and go. Just don’t serve them tea.”

Our Experiencing Selves have wisdom. 

You can serve that neglected part of you tea instead.

If you’re asking— like so many others— “What do I do in the situations I cannot get out of , yet?”. The answer is boundaries. Knowing you have the right to say no graciously (plus, the scripts). And, to create structures and systems that serve you, optimising your time and sanity. Want to confidently master your time, mind and relationships, quickly and thoroughly? Email me your biggest questions, I read every email; or let’s chat here to work together.


  • Dr Perpetua Neo (DClinPsy, UCL; MPhil, Cambridge)

    Psychologist & Executive Coach For Type A Leaders

    Dr Perpetua Neo (DClinPsy, UCL; MPhil, Cambridge) coaches Type A leaders to master their time, head and relationships quickly and deeply, so they enjoy sustained performance, peace of mind and sleep like a cat. Instead of managing problems via fads or yielding to burnout, DrP tailors strategies to her clients’ personalities and lifestyles, building lasting systems and structures. DrP specialises in The Big 3 that we mistakenly tolerate— anxiety, toxic relationships and panic attacks-- so her clients achieve multiple personal and professional goals concurrently, feeling confident and in-control of the rest of their lives.

    DrP is consulted on Forbes, Business Insider and Vogue, and her work  is in 36 languages. She writes for The Huffington Post, MindBodyGreen and Thrive Global. DrP works in English and Mandarin-Chinese, blending cutting-edge neuroscience, psychology and ancient wisdom. She flies globally or works via Facetime/Skype, for 1-1 work, workshops and speaking gigs. She also consults for media agencies on campaigns.