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The most recent edition of The New Yorker magazine contains an article about neuroscientists who study the way the brain retrieves memories. What they’ve found out is probably the most important breakthrough of all time in the field of success training.
How the Brain Remembers
Most people think about human memory as a videotape or computer memory. When you remember something, you’re playing back the memory, which is vivid or vague depending on how good you are at remembering things.
It turns out that human memory isn’t like that at all. When you remember something, your brain is “rewiring” the connections between neurons, literally changing the structure of your brain. Rather than video playback, human memory is more like video editing. When you remember something, you are recreating, changing, and re-memorizing. The memory is subject to change every time you remember it.
According to the latest research, it’s possible to intentionally edit bad memories to remove the bad feelings associated with those memories. This new memory therapy is being used treat to PTSD sufferers.
What This Means to You
Your attitude and behavior—the two things that make you successful—are heavily influenced by your memories. For example, if you’ve experienced a painful failure in the past, you’re more likely to avoid taking risks, even when they’re smart risks. Similarly, if you’ve had successes in the past, you’re more likely to take actions to repeat those successes, if you have vivid positive memories about them.
The reason that this research is so important is that we now know that you can:
- Edit your bad memories so that they don’t hold you back.
- Edit your good memories so that they propel you forward.
In other words, you can literally rewire your brain to make you more successful.
How to Weaken Your Bad Memories
The method described in the article is almost exactly the same as a method that author and motivational speaker Anthony Robbins (of all people) has been training people to use for the past two decades.
To extract the poisonous fangs (as it were) of your bad memories, bring the memory into your mind, and then imagine it getting smaller and dimmer, like you’re watching a tiny black-and-white TV. Now add details that scramble the memory. For instance, if you’re remembering a time when you flubbed a presentation, turn the audience (the little bitty audience in the little bitty screen) so that they’re all wearing clown suits.
Do this five or 10 times and you’ll discover that the bad memory simply doesn’t sting any longer. If anything, the memory of that presentation will make you chuckle, because you have literally and physically rewired your brain.
How to Strengthen Your Good Memories
To make your good memories more powerful and motivating, you do the same thing in reverse. You call the memory up as vividly as you can, on a huge IMAX, surround-sound screen. Make it bright and loud. Most importantly, insert or increase the wonderful feelings that you experienced in that situation.
Do this five or 10 times and you’ll discover that what was once just a happy memory is now a driving motivation. The more you experience the memory, the more you’ll want to make it real again.
I’ve been using this method on and off for years, without really understanding why it works. Now that I know the neuroscience behind it, I’m going to make editing and improving my memories into a daily habit.