Clear Your Mental Cache

Ben Orenstein

When I was in high school, I was a pretty poor dancer.

This was confirmed by subtle messages from friends and even family. As a result, I recorded a fact in my brain: “I suck at dancing.”

Twelve years later, goaded by some friends, I attended an informal dance class. Surprisingly, I seemed to be picking up the moves faster than the other participants. Later, those same friends told me “you’re a natural.”

This was in conflict with something I “knew” about myself, so I shrugged it off.

Later, I attended another class in an unfamiliar style. At one point, a stranger told me “you’ve obviously done this before.”


It turns out, 31-year-old me who’s played a handful of sports in adulthood is substantially more coordinated than 17-year-old me who’d played none and was suddenly five inches taller than before.

The knowledge I’d cached about my dancing ability was out of date, but if you’d asked me about it before those classes, I would have insisted it was accurate. “No, trust me. I can’t dance.”

This experience has made me wonder what else I recorded in my brain long ago that no longer applies. What a waste to go through life with negative self-assumptions that aren’t even true anymore.

What about you? Are you sure you’re still terrible at math? Bad at singing? Lacking motivation?

Maybe your math teacher just sucked. Maybe no one ever taught you how to sing. Maybe the circumstances under which you formed your self-image no longer apply. Maybe you’ve changed.

Turns out, cache invalidation really is hard after all.