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Have you ever wondered why your brain is more predisposed to remember and take lessons from dangerous experiences you encounter during life than other stuff that comes your way?

To learn why, let’s take a look at a recent case in point:

Why Near-Miss Stories Get Remembered And Shared

Des, a friend of mine in Donegal, had quite the experience recently.

When driving home on a windy day with his teenager daughter, who was talking excitedly about how her team had just won a County final, Des was enjoying their chat and driving at a leisurely 65 km/ hour on a road where most folks drive at 100 km/hour.

All of a sudden, his daughter interrupted their conversation and pointing ahead warned: “That tree looks really weird dad.”

Des looked up and realised they were almost upon a tree that was bending over dangerously, far too far over the road. And while he didn’t see or hear the cracks, he instinctively believed 2 things were true: “that tree is about to snap in two”, and “It’ll crush us if I hit it”

…And in the same moment, when miraculously it seemed everything was happening in slow motion, Des also remembered thinking: “Now what? Are you going to floor the accelerator and try to get past the tree Des or swerve?”

His instinct made the choice. He slammed on his break and swerved right…hard! And it mostly worked. The full force of the tree hit the car right on the apex between the top of his windscreen and the left corner of his car frame. His daughter screamed, the car began to spin, but somehow, someway he managed to come to a halt inches before careering into a ditch or worse.

His gut reaction had been the right one. If he had tried to get past the tree, they would have been toast. If they hadn’t been hit by the tree at that exact spot and angle on the car – which turned out the single strongest point to withstand the blow – they would have been toast.

They were lucky they survived. And as a policeman who came to the scene later said, Des’s quick thinking and lack of speed had made all the difference…as had the sheer fortune that no other cars were around at that exact time either. Destiny had intervened and pure carnage was avoided.

So the day was saved but I have a question: What do you think the chances are that Des will forget that experience in a hurry?

Low, right?

That incident has now been etched into his brain, viscerally. And little wonder since his emotions and instincts – which determine what you heed and choose to remember from the gazillion of mostly humdrum things you experience day in and day out – were on red alert. But there’s more…

…Humans are also hard-wired to do two things after surviving a near miss experience:

  • Learn from how you handled that trauma (which you’ll store in your brain so you’ll be better equipped to deal with similar situations in the future – notwithstanding the fact that memories from trauma are commonly far from perfect), and
  • Share stories about what happened to you with others. And the latter is because, as Dr Sherry Hamby put it in Psychology Today, it’s quite healing for you to have a chance to pass on your new found wisdom to others

Most Lessons in Life Come From Stories You Experience or Hear

And as a grateful recipient of Des’s cautionary tale, I feel better off too.

Even though I didn’t experience what he did directly, I did experience it vicariously. I recreated all the scenes Des described in my brain as he spoke and imagined what I might have done had I been in his shoes. And I also especially wondered how I would have felt if my kids were in the car with me as well.

And, I’ve taken some lessons from Des’s experiences too. I’ll remember his tale every time I take that road and be minded to slow down (or better still, avoid heavily wooded roads when it’s super-windy).

Powerful things stories, aren’t they?