Dealing with Downward-Spiral Memories

Memories can appear from out of nowhere. The brain can bring them up in 1/16th of a second. We may see, smell, hear, think, taste, or feel something and it mysteriously serves up a memory that discourages and derails us.

When that memory is negative, consider this sequence of steps so that it doesn’t undermine you or keep reoccurring:

Greet It
Don’t deny or tamp down the negative memory. Note that “greeting” a memory is very different than “welcoming it with open arms”! Simply be reflective and aware that the memory is there.

Give it a New Label—Positive, Compassionate, Developmental
Relabeling negative memories can help keep them from re-appearing. It’s as if the old memory will stay there until you do label it with something positive, compassionate, and developmental in nature. Perhaps this is because the brain has a positivity bias. If you refuse to re-label the memory as positive, you’re working against your biological nature. Once the label is positive, the memory doesn’t need to keep coming back.

For example, the old label might be: “this situation was embarrassing.” The new label might be: “This situation is where I learned that I was only trying to protect myself by turning to [name the ineffective behavior], which didn’t really give me what I’d hoped for. I now know that I can respond differently if that happens again.”

Giftwrap the Re-labeled Memory
Now that the memory is no longer negative, wrap it or cushion it with a positive emotion, e.g., gratitude, peace, love, etc.

Go to a Strength
Finally, handpick one of your core strengths that you’ll lead with if similar triggers re-appear that originally caused the negative memory. For example, if Strategy is one of your strengths, what will your strategy be for responding to triggers.

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