I want to get a little bit scientific with you all for a moment so bear with me while I go down this anatomical rabbit hole; I promise I will make sense of it all towards the end. Now I want to ask you all a fairly profound question.
What about your life would change if your memories couldn’t hurt you anymore?
It’s a fairly mind-boggling question, because unless we face amnesia tomorrow, how is the awareness of those memories to dissipate? Now initially this may seem a bit contradictory as to what was mentioned in a previous section where I encouraged you all to own your history, your story, and to not be ashamed of the residual evidence left behind and I stand by that.
What this question is really intended to do is to make you wonder what life would be like if you could own your same history, walk your same path, but eradicate the pieces of suffering — how would this change things for you?
Our sense of past, which is nearly always coupled with the recognition of what is currently present, is likely the most important building block of our identity. Unlike short-term memory, long-term memory is what keeps us functional in our day to day lives.
So here’s where we get into the science of it all…
With each place we see, our brain matches a subset of neurons in the hippocampus (a centrally located brain area crucial to memory formation) called “place cells.” A combination of place cells is seen as its “place environment” and eventually creates a “place map.” But what does that actually mean?
Well this means that for every memory, you likely have a place, a time, an emotion, maybe even certain people, that make up the memory in its entirety. If only you could forget…
Forgetting to forget.
When trying to “forget” your memories, you need to think about the details of said memory. What is it about the memory that leads you down a destructive path? As you think about the memory, identify what it is that bothers you the most about the memory. Then recognize when it is that you are reminded of this particular memory. The quicker you are able to realize this, the faster you can begin to change your train of thought — remember the 6 second reflex? Kind of like that…
Thinking of the problem, rather than a solution.
Reminiscing isn’t always a bad thing, and even when it is in the realm of bad memories; however, it does you no benefit if you are not also thinking of solutions. As we all have heard before, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The same can be said about the reliving of memories. Are you using these moments of reflection to cultivate a plan of solution or are you drowning yourself in thoughts of the uncontrollable? Memories are also an uncontrollable of life — at least until someone invents a time machine.
Set aside time to think.
This may seem like an odd suggestion, but it works. I actually had a manager tell me when I leaned on her for support through a difficult breakup, that the key is to set aside time in the day to “be sad.” It seemed odd to me to imagine not feeling the emotions as they came and not being as upset as I was the majority of the day, but I took her advice and I tried it.
I chose 4pm.
I chose a time in the afternoon to let my emotions out, to allow myself to feel, and every minute before then, I told myself “just wait until 4.” By the third day, I had already proven to myself that if I could be brave until 4, I didn’t need to be sad at 4:01pm just simply because I was allowing myself to be. It was almost a subconscious way of proving to myself that I was stronger than my situation.
Schedule “thinking time.”
With a million things to think about throughout the day, it’s hard to stay organized with our thoughts. “Thinking time” isn’t just for the obvious, it’s also to give yourself the opportunity to be productive, maximize the positivity you feel throughout the day, and to not succumb to the unplanned stressors, because you will “think about it later,” or in my situation, you will prove to yourself that you don’t always have to give certain thoughts the time.
Do not lose sight of the world around you, but do not be stuck in yours either. What I mean by that is allow yourself to feel emotions when necessary, but do not fall into a place where you lack control of those thoughts and feelings. Call a friend, go to the gym, buy a puzzle, try a new sport or hobby, invest in a DIY project. Find productive ways to fill your time and I promise one day you will wake up and the pain will be lighter; not because you avoided the presence of its memory, but because you became stronger.
Be present and be aware and mindful of yourself and your surroundings. Manifest thoughts of positivity and strength. Be excited for the unexpected things that can turn out great and take each day and moment as an opportunity to gain from today, what yesterday tried to rob you of.