New research suggests that taking fewer photos can lead to stronger memories. So Ofosu and Leah put it to the test, resisting the urge to take a photo during a moment when they normally would have. Then, they compare notes to see if it really made a difference.
You can further explore mental wellness with Ofosu and Leah on the Balance app, where they're the meditation coaches. Learn more at www.balanceapp.com, and all new members can enjoy a free first year.
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OFOSU: Hi, what’s up? I'm Ofosu Jones-Quartey.
LEAH: And I'm Leah Santa Cruz. We're the meditation coaches on the Balance app.
OFOSU: And this is our weekly show -- Well Balanced.
LEAH: So Ofosu and I were discussing a challenge we both just completed. It's all about trying to stay in the moment while making strong memories from what we experience. Basically I became inspired when I came across this article the other day, uh, I sent it to you, Ofosu, uh, to remember the moment, try taking fewer photos.
So this article was about some new research where it's suggesting that we remember less about our experience when we take pictures. Which is interesting. Right. And I thought some of the key takeaways for me in the article was when people rely on technology to remember something for them, they're essentially outsourcing their memory. And this was what Linda Henkel, uh, a psychology professor at Fairfield University said. She said, we know our camera is capturing that moment for us. So we don't pay full attention to it in a way that might help us remember. Which I can kind of see how that makes sense, actually.
OFOSU: I mean, I think it's interesting that our brains would know that like, oh, okay, something else is doing this. So we don't have to.
LEAH: We get lazy. That old hippocampus is working too hard to store these memories.
OFOSU: We’re just going to keep this on the phone. We're good.
LEAH: Until you lose your phone and you have the right brains, the external hard drive is missing.
No, but it said studies have also shown that if you take photos with a lot of intention and planning that they can boost your memory. So that's, that's a very intentional photo, not like just snapping a bunch mindlessly.
OFOSU: Yes. I'm a mindless, bunch snapping person. If you see my photo gallery. It is a miinimum five pictures of the exact same thing.
LEAH: Hey, wait, stop, check your phone right now. Do you have it on you? I want to see how many photos you have?
OFOSU: Oh, watch this look, look at this. Can you see, look how many of these it's like 20 of the same photo!
LEAH: So wait, how many I have checked in my album. My recent says 40,619 photos.
I mean, that's over the course of several years, but yeah.
OFOSU: Yeah. In my recents, I have 22,000 pictures and you doubled me. That's insanity.
LEAH: So yeah, we officially take too many photos, but you know, I've been taking a lot of photos of my son ever since he was born, because I just feel like I don't want to miss these moments.
I didn't have a lot of photos of me when I was a kid. And part of me wishes there would've been more video footage or more photos of me. And so I have access to this really great camera that I can take all those videos. And, um, so I'm, I find myself doing several times a day.
OFOSU: No, yeah, no, I get it.
You know, I grew up in an era where you had to have a little bit of money to have a camcorder. I'm not that old. This is like having a handheld, but even still.
LEAH: Well my family had one of those big, massive camcorders that sat on your shoulder. And I remember one time holding it while I was filming everybody ice skating and literally my collarbone popped out of place cause it was so heavy!
OFOSU: Oh my gosh! So there's one video of me when I visited Ghana for the first time. And I think another video of me in, I think one of my family members in Ghana had a video recorder. And so I have two videos of myself as a child. So yeah, same kind of thing. It's like, oh, I want to capture all these moments. I realized though, honestly, that there's a lot of my two younger kids' lives like that I kind of don't remember cause I took so many photos and took so much video during that time. Cause they use like new dad vibes. Like I'm going to capture everything.
LEAH: Yeah. Now it's got me thinking with this article. Like, wait, what if I'm actually missing. By taking all these photos instead of the opposite.
Like what if it's counterintuitive? My intention is to capture it and remember it, but what if I'm actually making myself not remember? And then if I, you know, you lose your phone or the technology becomes outdated at some point, which eventually it will. And, what do you do then?
OFOSU: So yeah, all the pictures and videos that I had on my flip phones are completely gone, you know, and that was all their little moments on stage as kids, et cetera.
LEAH: So, yeah, I think it's so easy to think like, oh, CDs, they'll never be out of, you know, cassette tapes or the iPod, you know, everything has its end. Um, so, you know, just remembering that the best memory is in your brain. That being said, it doesn't mean that I'm going to stop taking photos all together.
OFOSU: No, no, but, but this makes us a little bit more conscious of how we even go about it.
LEAH: Yeah. So for you listening, um, this challenge I mentioned, I had us both consciously decide not to take a picture in a moment where we normally would. So let's just talk about that experience. And Ofosu you go first.
OFOSU: Okay. Yeah. Well, you know, it's pretty, self-explanatory what ended up happening for me. So why don't we just roll the tape?
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OFOSU: So today is my son's sixth birthday and, uh, for all of my kids, whenever it's their birthday, we blow up a bunch of balloons the night before. And when they come downstairs, um, to eat breakfast, the kitchen is full of balloons and big happy birthday banner and a poster on the wall, all kinds of stuff.
So we did that for my son today, and I just wanted to take a picture of him coming downstairs and that look on his face and him rushing through the balloons. But, uh, I, you know, I held back. I said, you know, I'm just going to keep this as a memory, um, instead of offloading it into the camera. And I also wanted to take a picture of him on the way to the bus stop cause he was walking with that big six year old energy. So I'll definitely take pictures tonight with a cake and, um, presents and all that stuff. But this morning, his morning reaction and his walk to the bus stop, um, were so precious and I think better held in my mind as a memory. So yeah, that's my no photo challenge.
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LEAH: Picturing it right now. I can just imagine the facial expression and seeing all those balloons and
OFOSU: Yeah, especially because we told them that there weren't any.
LEAH: So it was like surprise and delight.
OFOSU: He didn't get it. He was like, you guys didn't get me balloons. And we were like, oh my gosh, we forgot. We're so sorry. And he was like, are you sure you didn't get me balloons?
And I was like, well, there's only one way to find out. And then he took his sister downstairs and then that look on his face and then him racing through this, it's like jumping into a pile of leaves. I mean, there's a lot of balloons, so him racing into all of it was just like, ah, I, I certainly will not forget it.
Yeah. Especially since I was consciously restraining myself from taking a picture. Yeah. It feels, the memory feels like actually even more important, like my brain is holding it as an important memory and not a passive one. So it was pretty cool.
LEAH: Yeah. I liked that. I liked that because you had consciously chosen, I'm not going to take a picture and I'm going to remember this.
It's like you're saying to your brain. Store this one in the memory banks as like an important moment, you know?
OFOSU: Absolutely. Yeah. It just spoke to the power of an exercise like this. Okay. I'm curious. What about you, Leah? How was it for you to do the no photo challenge?
LEAH: Here's my moment.
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LEAH: My son just did something really cute.
He's now one year and almost four months old. And he owns a few different stuffed animals and he had about five of them all in front of him sitting on the couch and he decided he needed to grab every single one of them all at the same time. So his arms were just full of all these stuffed bears and sloths and dinosaurs.
And it was the cutest thing. And he, of course, was being very giggly and I thought, oh, I should take a photo. And then I stopped myself thinking I'm just going to be present for this. When there was a split second where I could feel the am I going to regret not taking a photo of this, and this is so cute - I need to capture it in my memory.
But then as I continued to give him my presence and just be with him eye to eye and, and smile at him, he continued on with the cuteness. And I think that initial worry about missing out on being able to recapture it in my mind was replaced with feeling like I had gotten the most out of this moment with him by just being there and being present with him.
It was really special.
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LEAH: And I've noticed ever since that moment, the times I pull up my phone to take a photo of him, he becomes so interested in the phone that he loses track of what he was doing in the moment. And that moment becomes lost, because suddenly he wants to grab the phone and be like, ooh, phone what's there.
OFOSU: What's there? You know what? This reminds me of this? Um, I D I don't even think it's a theory. It's a fact, like in quantum physics, that particles react differently when they're being observed. Like these, for whatever reason subatomic particles are being looked at, they suddenly changed their behavior.
So like, I think that plays out all the way up to this day to day existence. So yeah, by taking that phone out, you're altering the moment. I mean, it's not like phones are all bad, but I just feel like, you no pun intended, you know, we can just have some balance around it.
LEAH: Yeah. I know what you're talking about.
I mean, I know that when someone points a camera at me, yeah. It definitely changes my behavior. I'm like, wait, it's like, you become really self-conscious and so many of the photos I've taken in the past, and it's like a lot of selfies with my friends or people posing, but it's like, that's not real life just posing all the time.
We're being, you know, candid and natural. But most of the photos that we take, I don't think are always that way. This is not really like capturing real life.
OFOSU: Yeah, exactly. And then now we're in a culture of social media and reality TV where it's like, you are encouraged to put your life on display, but it's not your real life because there's a camera there.
There is some micro or macro performative aspect happening that is not really reflective of what happens when the cameras are off. I remember, I don't know if you can build core memories as an adult, but it's a core memory for me. I was teaching a retreat at the insight meditation society in Barre, Massachusetts, and the retreat was over.
And before me and my family went home, apparently everyone had been talking about this lake. And so we finally went. It was just me, my wife and my two older kids. And we went to the lake and I am not a swim in the lake kind of guy, but I was like, all right, well, let's do this.
And the lake just went out as far as you could see. And the sun was resting at the golden hour and it was just me, my wife and my two kids in the lake and looking at them and looking out and just that whole expanse of lake and trees and sun and sky. I remember saying to myself, this is like the best day of my life.
This is one of the most beautiful experiences I've ever, ever had. And I wanted to take a picture of it, but I was in the lake. So I just sent this like a little prayer, like, please don't ever, let me forget this moment. And that was over 10 years ago. And, uh, it's still very vivid to me. And, and even more importantly, the feeling of that moment is available to me.
LEAH: Yeah. Because you captured more than just the visual image. You captured the essence of what it felt like in your body to be there. And the senses, maybe the way it smelled, the way the feeling of the sun on your skin and the coolness of the water and all of those things.
OFOSU: I'm getting kind of emotional right now.
I'm um, I'm like welling up right now. Going back to that place, it was such a beautiful moment. Like pure beauty. I can see it as much as I can feel it.
LEAH: Well, I think that's going to be my new takeaway. I'm going to just tell my brain, please remember this moment. And I'm going to take a sensory snapshot of the experience.
What does it smell like? Like? What does it taste like? What does it look like? What does it feel like? And if I can just be mindful in the moment and capture all those elements, it's like reliving it in the future.
OFOSU: For sure! I don’t know how often we can do that so I'm sure our cameras will come in handy but I think for those super special moments we should take a heart snapshot instead. Leah, I love talking to you. You're the best.
LEAH: Oh, I love talking to you as well. It always makes me feel happy inside.
I'm going to take a snapshot of this feeling.
OFOSU: Yeah, exactly! I just appreciate hanging out with you.
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OFOSU: All right. Y'all thank you for joining us today and thanks so much for sharing Leah.
LEAH: Yeah, you too. And also we come out with new episodes every Monday, so be sure to subscribe or follow us on your favorite podcast app so you can get notified when our next conversation goes live, but until then have a wonderful week.
OFOSU: Yeah. Hey, find something to take a heart snapshot of. All right y'all take care of, be kind to yourself. Peace.
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