Negative Memories




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I was driving down the highway the other day when an old memory popped in my head. I’m sitting in an office with my boss and a powerful employee. Everyone is looking serious and I’m wondering what is about to happen. This employee is a manipulative troublemaker that bullies for sport. Up until that point, I haven’t been her target, but things were about to change.


She starts the conversation by explaining how “everybody” is complaining about me. My first reaction is shock and hurt but I quickly find my footing and remind myself who is “sharing” the information— someone that I don’t trust. I listen to all the negative complaints, not showing any emotion. All in all, I handle the situation perfectly, asking for specific proof for each judgment made about my behavior. I ask, “When did I ever demonstrate that?” She really can’t answer.

Now, back to today. I find myself becoming fixated on the negative statements that she had shared about me that day. I start running through the list and pondering whether they are true or not. I “feel” the emotion that I felt the day it actually happened. I become stuck on these thoughts and as you can imagine, nothing about this experience is productive or helpful.


We all know that it’s not healthy to look back and dwell on the past. In fact, Social Media is covered with quotes telling us not to partake in this particular behavior. For example, “The only time you should ever look back is to see how far you’ve come.” Or, how about this one: “Don’t look back with regret, look forward with hope.” However, no matter how many times I read that quote, it doesn’t help me stop myself from doing this now and then. Telling me to think positively just doesn’t change my behavior.


So why do I do this?


Ray Williams, an executive coach and author says, “In our brains, there are two different systems for negative and positive stimuli. The amygdala uses approximately 2/3 of its neurons to detect negative experiences. Once the brain starts looking for bad news, it is stored in long-term memory quickly. Positive experiences have to be held in awareness for more than 12 seconds in order for the transfer from short-term to long-term memory.”


Our brains like to hold on to negative experiences more than positive ones.


Not to mention the fact that from the earliest times, being aware of and avoiding danger has been an important survival skill. That ability for your brain to instinctively jump to “what’s wrong” instead of “what’s right” is wired inside all of us.



So what are you going to do about it?


Well, one thing that you can do is force yourself to acknowledge your own behavior. “Yes, I’m focusing on the negative. Yes, I know why my brain is doing this repeatedly. Yes, I feel the anger, hurt, frustration that I originally felt when it happened.


However, NOW I CHOOSE to think about something else.“


When you try too hard to not think about that negative thought or memory, you will accomplish the opposite— your brain will never let go. So instead, acknowledge your feelings and thoughts and then make a decision to think about something else.


For example, you can say, “I CHOOSE to think about what I’m going to make for dinner tonight”.


Accept that you will always have past negative memories and thoughts that pop up into your present life. However, you can learn to control your thinking by understanding why you take part in this behavior, acknowledging your emotions in the situation and working hard to distract your thinking.

Taking Control

image taking controlEventually, bad things happen. You’ll lose your job, get passed over for the promotion that you were counting on or botch that humongous deal that was going to change your life.


You will be miserable and think that life is over.


Yes, you will be incredibly disappointed and sad— that’s to be expected. However, your response to this life disappointment will greatly impact what comes next. Your resilience in the face of disaster will determine your success.


The bottom line is that your sense of control in each life event greatly influences the eventual outcome. Do you see life in a reactive mode? Do you feel like things happen to you? Or do you have a strong sense that you can control and manage life in a proactive manner? Do you live your life making things happen? This mind-set makes the difference in your ability to face adversity.


I have developed some questions that might help you take more control in your life and positively change your direction when bad things happen.


Ask Yourself:


  1. How does it serve me to stay where I am right now?


For example, say you just found out that your boss didn’t take responsibility for a mistake, but instead, blamed it on you. You are angry, hurt, devastated and disappointed. You are wondering why this happened to you and why you are so unlucky. However, how does it serve you to stay in these feelings right now? How will you benefit in any way? Sometimes when we’re hit with bad news, we can get stuck in the feelings, and those feelings can spur us on to make some really bad decisions.


  1. What can I control in this situation and what is beyond my control?


This is an important question to ask yourself because it gets you out of a victim mentality and into a more positive, proactive frame of mind. You can’t control what just happened, and you certainly can’t make the whole situation disappear. You have no choice but to accept that this has taken place. Now give some thought as to what you can control. You can control what plays out next in the storyline. You can control what action you decide to take next.


  1. How can I improve the current situation?


Now is the time to brainstorm. I want you to write down all the possible ideas that come to your mind. Don’t leave anything out just because it sounds crazy or not realistic to you. Be creative and write every type of ending you can think of for your storyline. Try not to judge or evaluate these ideas for now— just let your mind run wild and come up with scenarios.


For example, remember the previous situation with your boss? You can have a talk with your boss and calmly ask why. Or, you can confront him and demand answers. Or, you can immediately start looking for another job. There are many, many choices you can conjure up in your mind.


  1. Now evaluate these choices and number them in order of best ideas. Consider the outcomes for each idea. If you are proactively controlling the situation, you will have a number of action steps that you have created on your list.


  1. What have I learned from this experience?


Be sure to not skip this step! Is there something that you would like to do differently next time? There is always a lesson that you can glean from every situation. Do some soul searching and be honest.


Becoming truly resilient is a process. The more you practice, the more resilient you become in riding the waves of life.