The Power of Positive Memories

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

The manner in which you look back on 2021 can have a tremendous impact on how well this next year unfolds. Consider reflecting on the things which went well for a successful 2022!

Did you know that the way you remember past events influences your current and future thinking? Research shows that memory is not just for remembering things. The same brain functions which are active when we remember the past are used when we attempt to sort through current happenings and dream about the future. Lisa M.P. Munoz, in a article entitled Linking the Past to the Future Through Memory, notes, “Scientists know now that the same brain processes we use to remember the past, also help us plan for the future and imagine different possible scenarios.” Donna Rose Addis of the University of Auckland notes the same thing as she says, “Memory appears to be intimately linked to our ability to imagine our futures.” She goes on to say, “Being able to imagine the future allows us to mentally work through potential obstacles in our minds and to troubleshoot how we might best cope with those [difficult] situations.” [https://www.psych.utoronto.ca/people/directories/all-faculty/donna-rose-addis] In other words, how we look back on the past has a direct impact on our current — and future — emotional wellbeing. If we allow ourselves to be flooded with the negativity of the past year, our brain reacts to current events in the same way. And our hopes for the future can be tainted accordingly.

Our ability to reminisce in a positive manner empowers us with the ability to think of and try out creative and strategies for problem-solving. It can also decrease worry about dreaded upcoming events. Do you know of anyone who struggles with worry?

A recent study in 2020 showed that 78% of Americans who took the time to reflect on cherished events  more comfort during stressful times. In an insightful survey conducted by OnePolls, researchers discovered this: “Those who reminisced often were more likely to strongly agree that they were hopeful for what the post-pandemic future holds (34%), compared to those who rarely (20%) or never (14%) looked back on past events.”

 [https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/positive-memories-have-been-lifeline-during-pandemic/]

“Revisiting the past brings back the joy of the good times and the comforting security of being reunited with loved ones. Happy memories remind us of when life was less complicated.” — Dr. Krystine Batcho, PhD

Unfortunately, humans have a tendency to focus on the negative. And while negative emotions have an important role in enabling us to experience the full gamut of the human experience, paying attention to only the negative decreases our resilience and stress management…competencies of emotional intelligence which are vital to navigating tough times.  And, sadly, this slant toward what has gone wrong also diminishes our ability to experience future positive emotions.

Take a moment to notice the things you’ve shared with your family, friends, and coworkers lately. If you can’t remember, go back and read through your social media posts of the last year. Do you most often speak of positive, encouraging events, or do your words depict frustrating, negative things? 

This is not about pretending nothing bad has happened or is happening in your life. Of course there are tough times, annoying, hurtful, excruciating moments, happenings you’d probably rather forget. The accompanying negative emotions are normal, and healthy, believe it or not. Allowing yourself to go through the grieving process around your losses, disappointments, and hopeless moments is vital to emotional health. Acting like everything is perfect, when it isn’t, can prevent you from learning from mistakes, building endurance, and becoming more resilient. This sort of pretending will only stunt your emotional growth.  

What we are talking about is spending ample time reflecting on the positives as well. To combat this bias toward negativity, we have to make an effort to notice and remember the good ‘ole times. Again, I get it: 2021 was tough. But if you look closely, you may be surprised to discover that good times were snugly tucked in to last year’s happenings as well. And according to Dr. Barbara Fredrickson’s broaden and build theory, we can increase the likelihood of experiencing future positivity by cultivating these positive memories.

So, here at the end of 2021, before you launch into the new year with your resolutions and goals, take a moment to stop, and cultivate your positive memories. Try to remember some of the good things which happened this past year. What made you smile? What accomplishments did you achieve? With whom did you connect more deeply? Which of your goals did you reach? What miracles did you witness? Which challenges did you tackle? Who made you laugh? What amazing encounters did you have? What beauty did see? What things made you curious? What joys did life bring? What blessings did you receive? What random acts of kindness were you privy to? Think about how you felt when you experienced these uplifting events. Pull out your journal or a notebook and jot them down, pausing to offer up gratitude for each and every word you write.

Even better, grab a friend or close colleague and share these stories of abundance aloud. Share them on your social media pages. Write a blog. Post an article. Don’t underestimate the impact your edifying accounts will have on others. Most of us like to hear stories about what’s going right in this world. This kind of sharing is infectious, and breeds positivity and feel-good emotions for all involved. Research shows that even brief autobiographical storytelling can significantly impact our psychological and physical health, with the positive results lasting months after the storytelling. [https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-web-violence/201309/resilience-and-4-benefits-sharing-your-story.]  

So, do want to spend the last days of 2021 in a way that will start the new year on the right foot? Take a moment — or many moments — to reflect on the happy times of last year and get busy sharing your stories with others. 

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