Find Mediators Near You:

Using Experience to Break an Impasse

Ever wonder why there are different views of what happened in every experience?

I get to see this almost daily. I sit down with people who have very opposing stories and differing views on both of them witnessing the same event. You have your version of the story. They have their version of the story. I piece together my own version of the story. Then there is the actual story of what happened.

Below, Daniel Kahneman describes two types of self, the experiencing self and the remembering self. We typically confuse the two, but they are two very different selves. The experiencing self deals with the now. What is happening right here, right now in the presence. The remembering self deals more with how you remember those experiences. The example that Daniel uses at the beginning is about a person listening to a wonderful piece of music. The person loves this piece and is thoroughly enjoying it until there is a disturbing noise at the end that ruins his entire memory of the piece.

We all have stories, we all tell stories, but if a story ends badly, that ending can be how we entirely remember that experience. A common example that I often hear is when I am talking with people that are separating. A couple decides after 10 years that they are no longer in love and that they would be better off apart, or maybe he had an affair, or she couldn’t spend money properly, whatever the case may be, they “bust up.”

When I sit down with these people they are often quite stuck in their memories of the marriage. It was all bad, there was no good, and that can often cause them to dig their heels in to their positions and not want to negotiate.

“We don’t choose between experiences, we choose between memories of experiences. Even when we think about the future, we don’t think of our future normally as experiences. We think of our future as anticipated memories.” – Daniel Kahneman

People also begin to “dig in” when they anticipate their ex will behave in a negative way in their future conversations. They are thinking of their future as an anticipated memory. So what can we do with this?

Bring them back to experiences. Often times when I encounter these folks and they are stuck at an impasse I bring them back to their experience. In the course of a marriage it couldn’t have been all bad…could it? Think of your wedding day, honeymoon, the first time you held your child, and so many more possible events. There was a time when the two of you got along. How can we bring those memories back and dwell in the experience in order to move forward with our new reality? Or said differently, how can we better live separately together?

Now I’m not saying we discount some of these memories, but rather let’s use our experiences as a springboard for how we want to communicate in the future. We don’t have to be all lovey-dovey, heck, we don’t even have to like each other, but we do need to learn to communicate so that we can deal with each other better in the future, and if we’ve already done that at one time in the past, let’s work towards that again.

If you can’t see the video, watch it here.

As Daniel said, “There’s a difference between being happy with your life and being happy in your life.” Which will you choose today?


Jason Dykstra

Jason is a Conflict Management Specialist who is helping organizations and congregations move from conflict situations to creative solutions. He specializes in relational and communication issues and uses his experience and training in mediation, group facilitation, conflict management coaching, speaking and teaching to aid you and your surroundings to better… MORE >

Featured Members

View all

Read these next


Conflict Tipping Podcast 31: Researching the End of the Peacebuilding World with Dr Julia Palmiano Federer

Peace, Conflict, and the Power of Inclusion: Insights from Dr. Julia Palmiano Federer What happens if you put two mediation fangirls who also happen to be intersectional feminists together into...

By Laura May

AFCC Appoints Bryan Altman as Executive Director

AFCC is pleased to announce the appointment of Bryan Altman as its next executive director. Bryan joins AFCC following a comprehensive and competitive search and a unanimous vote by the...

By James (Jim) Melamed

On Giving Advice – Video

This is the second in my short series of favorite conflict resolution videos suggested by readers of this blog. This one, It’s Not About the Nail, is a recent addition...

By Tammy Lenski