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Exploring the dark side of memory and how it impacts life for the better.

The Dark Side Of Memory (And How To Make Your Life Better)

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How To Stop Revisiting Those Memories

We’ve talked before about putting the brakes on negative thought spirals (and that’s a really useful technique, so if you weren’t with us yet for that one, we do recommend hopping back and reading it!).

We’ve also talked about optimizing memory, to include making moments unforgettable.

But what about the moments we’d rather forget?

First, a quick note: we have no pressing wish or need to re-traumatize any readers, so if you’ve a pressing reason to think your memories you’d rather forget are beyond the scope of a few hundred words “one quick trick” in a newsletter, feel free to skip this section today.

One more quick note: it is generally not considered healthy to repress important memories. Some things are best worked through consciously in therapy with a competent professional.

Today’s technique is more for things in the category of “do you really need to keep remembering that one time you did something embarrassing 20 years ago?”

That said… sometimes, even when it does come to the management of serious PTSD, therapy can (intentionally, reasonably) throw in the towel on processing all of something big, and instead seek to simply look at minimizing its effect on ongoing life. Again, that’s best undertaken with a well-trained professional, however.

For more trivial annoyances, meanwhile…

Two Steps To Forgetting

The first step:

You may remember that memories are tied to the senses, and the more senses are involved, the more easily and fully we remember a thing. To remember something, therefore, we make sure to pay full attention to all the sensory experience of the memory, bringing in all 5 senses if possible.

To forget, the reverse is true. Drain the memory of color, make it black and white, fuzzier, blurrier, smaller, further away, sterile, silent, gone.

You can make a habit of doing this automatically whenever your unwanted memory resurfaces.

The second missing step:

This is the second step, but it’s going to be a missing step. Memories, like paths in a forest, are easier to access the more often we access them. A memory we visit every day will have a well-worn path, easy to follow. A memory we haven’t visited for decades will have an overgrown, sometimes nearly impossible-to-find path.

To labor the metaphor a little: if your memory has literal steps leading to it, we’re going to remove one of the steps now, to make it very difficult to access accidentally. Don’t worry, you can always put the step back later if you want to.

Let’s say you want to forget something that happened once upon a time in a certain workplace. Rather than wait for the memory in question to come up, we’re going to apply the first step that we just learned, to the entire workplace.

So, in this example, you’d make the memory of that workplace drained of color, made black and white, fuzzier, blurrier, smaller, further away, sterile, silent, gone.

Then, you’d make a habit of doing that whenever that workplace nearly comes to mind.

The result? You’re unlikely to accidentally access a memory that occurred in that workplace, if even mentally wandering to the workplace itself causes it to shrivel up and disappear like paper in fire.

Important reminder

The above psychological technique is to psychological trauma what painkillers are to physical pain. It can ease the symptom, while masking the cause. If it’s something serious, we recommend enlisting the help of a professional, rather than “self-medicating” in this fashion.

If it’s just a small annoying thing, though, sometimes it’s easier to just be able to refrain from prodding and poking it daily, forget about it, and enjoy life.

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