#77: A habit for capturing memories

One Idea. One Challenge. Once a Week.

People forget facts, but they remember stories.
~ Joseph Campbell

This week’s guest columnist is Matt Paprocki. He’s a dear friend and outstanding public speaker who, like most of us, started out awkward and built his excellence over time.  

Matt taught me the DIB formula – a simple and effective way to explain what you do at work. And he gave an exemplary TED-style talk last year that I encourage everyone to watch. 

Subscribe to Matt’s substack here.

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A few years ago I got advice that dramatically improved how I tell stories. 

It’s simple: every night, write down a few sentences about a moment that mattered to me that day.

That’s all. 

Some days, I write something trivial and uninteresting. Like, “Run to work today was a grind. Too hot. Power of habits”.

It was a short reminder that habits can help you do something that you wouldn’t have done otherwise—like run on a 100-degree day. 

Other days, my notes can bring me back to a moment in time. 

Two years ago I wrote, “Fiona and I ate oranges. Summer. Perfect”. 

There is nothing insightful about what I wrote. In fact, it took me less than a minute. 

But when I re-read that note, it takes me directly to that moment. 

We were in Assisi, Italy. My (then) 2-year-old daughter and I were eating fresh oranges early one morning in the shade of a small lemon orchard. In the distance was the rolling Italian countryside. 

Fiona wore a yellow-flowered summer dress. She twirled around while eating her orange. Orange juice dripped down her arm. 

I took a bite of my orange, and a breeze blew by. I could smell the sharp zest from the lemon trees. 

For a moment, Fiona’s dress stopped spinning as she looked at me and smiled. Not just a smile with her mouth, but a smile with her eyes. 

I felt like my heart was about to explode. 

I was overwhelmed by pure happiness and gratitude that I was her dad. God gave her to me, and this moment was perfect. 

And all at once, my mind left the moment. I stopped being present. The lizard brain that Bob talks about took over.

My heart started racing and I panicked, thinking that one day my little girl would grow up. One day, I would no longer be enough to make her happy. One day, she wouldn’t want to spend her summer days with her dad. 

All at once, I prayed I could freeze time, and I regretted not being a better father. Why haven’t I soaked up every minute with this sweet, innocent, beautiful little girl?

And then I felt the juice of my orange trickle down my arm, and I snapped back. 

Fiona was still in front of me, twirling. Hair glistening like gold in the sun. And it was perfect. 

The gift of writing one line a day is that this moment now lives with me forever. As I type, this memory is not an event that happened last year. It is the present. 

It’s a reminder to enjoy every day, every moment with my daughter the way I would enjoy a $500 bottle of wine. Something so precious and rare, that I need to savor every minute. 

If I had not written that one line, the memory may have been lost to me forever. 

So how do I use it? Every time I need to find a story, for a speech, for a donor meeting, I look at my journal where I write a few lines a day. 

Bob has written before about the power of this habit. 

In less than a minute a day, a few lines can bring back a vivid memory that improves your storytelling forever. 

“Fiona and I ate oranges. Summer. Perfect.”

***

IDEA

Make time to capture memories.

CHALLENGE

Take a moment to write down a moment from today, no matter how small. Find a time each day to do this for a week.

***

In the words of Bob Ewing: “Cheers,”

Matt

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