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How To Use Your Emotions To Memorize More Instead Of Letting Them Take Over Your Life And Make A Big Fat Mess Of Everything
You’re an emotional person, aren’t you?
Those uncontrollable feelings well up from time to time, perhaps even taking over the show. In other words, emotions replace the you that you know with someone quite different.
At least, that’s one way of looking at it. Emotions are different versions of ourselves. The self that becomes overwhelmed by laughter is different than the self who drowns in sorrow and misery.
But then eventually you find your way back. You become you once again.
The Only Problem Is That You Don’t Become You!
Strong emotional states change you, and I’ll bet you remember at least a couple of times that you’ve been changed so strongly by an emotional state that you’ve had no means of going back. You’re as chemically changed as toast is to bread.
The question is, to what extent is this change due to memory? Has the experience of emotion changed you as such, or does it impact your memory so much that you literally remember to be a different person.
Certainly, post traumatic stress disorder provides some examples of people affected by memories so strongly that constant recall of the traumatic event causes that new version of the person to hold fast.
But that state does have to be renewed. Even if the person feels that the memories are coming back of their own accord, they must at some level be participating in the reconstruction.
And such events don’t mean that trauma has improved memory in that instant so much so that the person remembers everything in sparkling detail. Traumatic memory in no way ensures accuracy and it can also lead to the repression of memory.
The Return Of The Repressed
Repression and suppression of memory is really intense because it is essentially an attempt to obliterate memories from the mind. But as Sigmund Freud made himself famous for saying, what we repress returns, usually in the form of a monster.
Post-Freud, we have some interesting research about the suppression of memory. For example, test subjects asked to repress feelings of disgust while watching a horror movie remembered far less about the story and with much less accuracy than those not asked to repress their feelings.
And plane crash survivors who remain calm have been said to remember more than people overwhelmed by hysterics.
I’ve experienced this memory effect myself following a near miss trying to land in Toronto. I was going there from New York to sit for a field exam when the plane suddenly pulled up and circled over the city. We late learned that another plane had still been on the runway ahead of us, and thank goodness the pilot pulled us out of there in time enough to avoid a fiery collision.
Although I didn’t go crazy in terms of screaming or crying out, my inner life went nuts, something that affected my memory for days and days after. While sitting for the exam, for the first time I felt a real disruption in accessing my Memory Palaces and mnemonics. All the more so because one person on the committee was in the warpath and doing her best to see me fail.
But luckily, I had relaxation on my side and calmed myself. I reminded myself of the combined power of memory and relaxation and without suppressing or repressing the feelings of terror I remembered from the previous days’s adventure in the sky, I managed to handle that remembered stress and the current stress at the same time.
And this is interesting because I could have broken down into tears or hysterics in that examination room because I was so fragile. But according to some theories, memories and the emotions tied to them don’t force us to act in particular ways. But these emotional memories do influence our actions.
And that’s good news because with the exception of hungry lions and tigers and bears (like during that examination), most everything that influences us, we can influence back.
The One Advantage You Can Use When Your Emotions Get Really Crazy
Emotions and memories share one major characteristic: they are both highly manipulable.
Think of emotions and memory like blinking and breathing. Both blinking and breathing happen on autopilot. We don’t have to think about them in the least in order for them to happen.
But we can think about them and control them – at least for a while. You can choose to have a staring contest, you can keep you eyes closed even though you are not sleeping or you can flutter your eye lids at anyone you fancy. You can do this entirely at will.
Likewise, you can influence your breathing. You can hold your breath, cause yourself to gasp and deliberately sync inhalations with exhalations as you walk or jog.
And so it is with memory. You can deliberately call up memories of your childhood. You can say, “I want to think about grade one” and deliberately call up – or try to call up – the name of your teacher.
Along with this deliberate action, emotions might also arise. And it makes for a good memory exercise.
Try This Amazing Exercise
Want to experience memory improvement? Try this:
Think of every teacher you can remember and explore at least one emotion associated with them.
When I did this, I was amazed by how many teachers I can recall by name. From grades one to twelve, the names of only three teachers evade me, not counting substitute teachers, of course.
And for each teacher I can remember an emotion. In some cases, the emotions are similar: frustration at being told what to do. In other cases, it is fondness, or the feeling of being liked by the teacher. And in yet other cases, yes, I can remember even the emotion of lust, even at a young age.
It’s a fascinating exercise, one that will teach you much about the depth and breadth of your memory. Even if you bump up against limitations, that’s okay. Explore them. Feel the borders. Give them a gentle push without trying to force them to extend.
Massage the name out if the woodwork, so to speak, by seeing yourself in the classroom, bringing up all the nuances and details of the atmosphere. Bask in what you can recall and more is much more likely to come then if you give up in frustration.
And If You Come Up Totally Blank …
…give it a rest. Come back to it. Maybe something will percolate.
And if the memory of bad emotions come up, massage them too. Explore how you can use your imagination to eliminate their power. You can change their shape, remove their color, turn them into a funny cartoon. You can manipulate those feelings in any way you want.
And because the negative feelings you’ll drum up from high school are probably tame, you’ll get good practice manipulating the really dramatic emotions that life will throw at you later. Because the only thing we know emotional states is that they will come. We cannot predict what they will or why they’ll happen. But even so, we can be prepared for them.
So take notes and remember to do these exercises to help you develop emotional control, starting with remembering all the teachers you can and at least one emotion you associate with each.
Then manipulate that emotion. Practice working it out and not so much eliminating it or trying to force it out of memory, but transforming it the way you can turn bread into toast, in a way that it can never return to its original negative state.
Practice this and you’ll soon be able to work with any emotion that comes up in real time with ease. That will help you remember more because you’re not repressing the unpredictable but letting it be.
Enjoyed listening to your podcast and reading your post, I found it very interesting.
Emotions are anchored to different events in our lives and those emotional anchors can sometimes leave us with negative reactions or behaviours that don’t serve us well.
I agree with you that we can change our emotional memories, I have often helped people do this using some NLP methods. I liked your exercise and the use of massaging the memory to change it.
I’m looking forward to learning more about your memory techniques, especially as I have problems with short term memory.
Thanks for your note, Susan!
The techniques I teach will most certainly address any short term memory issues you’re experiencing so please fee free to make full use of the material and post your questions. 🙂
Your article was referenced in Alex Limberg’s “The Blogger’s Guide to Telling Stories”on the Boost Blog Traffic website.
Massaging your memories seems like a fascinating way to coax them into a more positive state. Your comment about changing the color and shape of negative emotions reminded me of Professor Lupin and Boggart in the Harry Potter series 😀
Thanks for stopping by, Kitto. Alex’s article was great, wasn’t it?
I’ll have to look into the Harry Potter books for what Professor Lupin and Boggart do with emotions. Any particular books in the series that you’d recommend I go to first?
Thanks again for your post! 🙂