Emotional Memory Management:
Positive Control Over Your Memory
Joseph M. Carver, Ph.D., Psychologist
Techniques for File Control
1. Practice paying attention to how your file system works. If you find
yourself in a bad mood, or even happy mood, use the approach, "What file is out?" You will then find the file, what feeling is contained in the file, and will then be able to have some control over the file.
2. If a bad file starts to come out, do something physical before the two-minute emotional release surfaces. If someone mentions a name or you have an event that brings up a bad file, for example, immediately pinch your ear, touch your watch, or do something physical that lets you know a file is out. You may then change files mentally or even verbally. When talking with others, we can verbally change files by stating, "That's kind of a sensitive topic for me, I'd rather not discuss that." The physical action helps remind us that we have control over these files.
3. Take a bad file and put a funny name on it - the funnier the better. If we have people we dislike or even hate, a funny name is helpful in controlling the emotional content of that file. Common names that might be used are "Bozo," "Beanie Weenie," "Air Head," etc. It is also effective to combine both the funny name and physical action.
For example, if we call a gossip-oriented relative "Sinus Drip", we can combine the pulling of the file with the name and the physical action of blowing our nose. Again, as the brain will only allow one feeling at a time, the humor and physical action usually is enough to kill the file.
4. Many times we go through a series of horrible experiences, often lasting for years. These may include bad marriages, periods of unemployment, traumatic childhoods, and so forth. Place all those files in one mental filing cabinet. Then place a label on the entire cabinet, one that reflects the condition at that time. Some clients have used such labels as, "Wild and rowdy years," "My misery years," and so forth. When a file from that period is brought up, instead of focusing on the file and allowing the emotion to surface, the individual thinks to himself, "That file is from my wild and rowdy years, it's not needed now." Lumping all files together in one general category decreases the emotional impact and prevents pulling specific files.
5. Together with your spouse or significant other, you may train each other to recognize when one file is out. When a file pops out, a simple time-out hand signal, a certain look, or a certain comment may make the other person aware that a file is out at the wrong time. This cuts down many arguments. Using this method, couples tend to stay on-track and discuss their concerns more at length, without being bothered by bad files.
6. Looks for "blocks" in communication with others. Often these emotional blocks are actually files being pulled in response to something the other person does. Do they sound like a relative/friend or do they remind you of something or some situation. Make a new file on that person.
7. Keep several good and mood-lifting files in close memory. If a bad file is pulled during the day, you then have good files ready to recall - and change your mood. Many people have files about vacation or other happy times to be used if a bad file is pulled. Always follow a bad file with a good file - it keeps your mood up.
8. In times of social crisis, create and rehearse a special file to cover uncomfortable questions - a "press release". During a divorce/separation situation, people frequently ask about your situation. Rather than pull up the "divorce" file, pull up a "divorce public relations" file that states "things are pretty disorganized right now with us. I tell you more as things settle down." Make the public relations file brief, short and sweet.
9. Practice file pulling, especially good files. Look at old pictures of happy times, high school yearbooks, etc. Observe the number of files that are pulled when you do this. It's amazing how much information your memory contains.
Rule: The Brain doesn't know if a file is real or imagined!
How can this be? The brain makes files based on information it is given, usually through our senses but sometimes through our thoughts. If we have a sweetheart, being in the same room will give us that warm, romantic feeling. However, looking at their picture and thinking about them will do the same thing - even though they are not present. Even better, simply thinking about them will produce the same feelings (pulling the same file). The brain only reacts to the file or image, it doesn't care how it receives that image or information, by physical presence, by reminders (pictures), or by "thought".
Psychologists at the University of Chicago took three groups of basketball players. Group One practiced foul shots each day for thirty days. Group Two was instructed to "imagine" shooting foul shots each day for thirty days. Group Three was instructed to do nothing. When tested, Group One (practicing shots) improved 24 percent. Group Three (doing nothing) had no improvement. Group Two, the group that only imagined shooting foul shots, improved 23 percent yet did not physically touch a basketball.
Why? As far as the brain knew, both groups that practiced (real & imagined) had shot foul shots daily but Group Two never missed! Group Two, never missing, was given more emotional confidence by their brain and the brain also memorized the foul-shooting pattern as though they were on the court. In Group One, their brain experienced the hit-and-miss pattern of actual foul shooting which did not build confidence.
Why mention this? We have the ability to build our own files, even when the actual real-world experience is lacking. Using our imagination, we can alter files by imagining new information. If shy, we imagine ourselves in gradually more and more social situations, talking with friends, being in groups, giving talks to groups, teaching, and finally being on Johnny Carson. If we have bad files on certain people, using our imagination, we "add" new information to the file. We really do this everyday. If we are wronged by someone, our anger becomes uncomfortable to the point that we begin imagining how guilty they must feel, how low their life really is, and how they will be unhappy the rest of their days. After our brain works on that file, we eventually feel sorry for them! While the brain does this job for us normally, we need to hurry the process along at times.
Pick a target problem for improvement - then design, imagine, and create a set of files to correct it. If you have problems dealing with your supervisor at work, imagine situations in which you first talk to him, then gradually stand your ground in a business manner. We can create files to help anything from tennis backhand to social withdrawal.
Making New Files
- Since our brain can't tell real from imagined experiences, practice making new files to replace your old. If shy, imagine or daydream social competency. If uncomfortable around certain people, imagine positive meetings and outcomes with them.
- Depressed and anxious individuals always imagine negative experiences -
and the brain changes chemistry because it thinks that experience happened. If we sit down and think that a loved one has died (even though they are in the next room), our brain will make us depressed and we will cry. If depressed or anxious, think the opposite of the brain's normal disposition - daydream or imagine only positive experiences. It may sound strange but your brain will think your life is better (it only knows what it's told!) and will chemically lift your mood gradually.
- Pick an area in which your are having trouble. Create/Invent new files to deal with that situation. If uncomfortable around your supervisor at work or your relatives, imagine positive scenes in which you solve conflicts or make adjustments.
- If confidence and self-esteem are low, imagine scenes in which your confidence is increased. Imagine being praised for your efforts, being successful, or finally receiving the acceptance/affection from those who have not provided it in the past.
There are other ways to deal with old files as well.
Changing, Destroying, and Contaminating Old Files
The brain's file system, just like the government's files, can be ruined and changed in many ways. One way to change a bad file is to alter it's content, to add additional information of your choosing - again, the funnier the better. If you have a file where a parent is scolding you, bring up the file, then add the fact that the parent is only six inches tall, standing on a desk, and shaking his/her little finger at you. We can also take a file, review the content and emotion, and find funny things about the file. With some imagination, we can rewrite a file which contained a fight or argument into something looking like The Three Stooges. If we put laughter/humor in the file, it changes the emotional content.
Files can also be "watered down". As an example, thinking about bad files while our favorite music plays in the background has a way of watering down a file, making it lose it's emotional impact.
1. Remembering hearing a good song for the first time on the radio and falling in love with it. However, after hearing it 100 times during the next month, it loses it's emotional value.
Files can be erasing by literally boring them to death or a "watering down" procedure. If we have the time and opportunity, we can set aside a time for file destruction. During the particular 15 minutes of the day, we allow ourselves to pull up files and see what's in them, feel some of the emotion, and practice changing the files.
2. We can also water down files by pulling them in different situations. If we have a bad file, pull that file when watching TV or video, listening to music, or when resting in the sun on the beach. While the file is out, add observations of your circumstances (the music, scenery, etc.) to the file, a technique that both lowers the anxiety present as well as spoiling the bad file.
3. Remember that humor is the best way to contaminate a file. If a bad file is out, find everything about the memory that is silly, humorous, or comical. If nothing is - invent something funny about that experience. Rehearse how things might have happened different, in a funnier manner, than we remember.
4. When a file is out, remind yourself frequently that it is simply a file of your past - Where you've been - Not where you are. We can watch movies of World War II but we must remind ourselves that we are not currently at war! Self-comments such as "I'm glad I don't live that way anymore!" or "Those sure were tough times!" are helpful. Compare old files with your current situation. This is helpful in old-file jealousy or suspicion, reminding ourselves that our current partner is not our old partner.
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