Pick a powerful memory, and take it with you.

Think of that perfect time, that perfect moment in your life. Yes, that time. Wasn’t it great? Everything just felt right. You felt invincible, or perhaps exhilarated. Maybe both. It was an intoxicating high, even if drugs were not (or were) involved. There was nothing quite like it before, and nothing quite like it since. 

I didn’t need to make a suggestion, you probably thought of something instantly. We all have those memories that stick with us, the ones where everything just ‘clicked’ or fell into place. Even if they were months, years, or even decades ago, we can describe the scene as if it happened yesterday. We remember the emotions we felt. We remember every detail. We remember every action, every word spoken. These memories remain while so many mundane days are swept away.

memories remember memory brain scan
Unless you’re one of those savants that can remember every day of their life since childhood.

Our positive memories are like gleaming jewels sitting on a shelf above the information shitstorm that is our day to day mental processes. But, what if we used them for more than just the occasional moment of nostalgia? What if we took something pleasant, and made it practical too? In video games, there are treasures that power up our characters in one way or another. World of Warcraft‘s Crystal of Insanity boosts all of your character’s stats for an hour. Holding a Mega Stone enables a Pokémon to evolve into a more powerful form. Equipped items in Dark Souls make it slightly less likely you’ll die another painful death.

Your happy memories can be your own equipped, stat-boosting items. Pixar’s existentially terrifying masterpiece Inside Out visualized the concept perfectly: Riley’s emotions keep a stock of golden, happy memories to provide jolts of happiness when she mopes about moving to San Francisco. Your memories aren’t just one-time use items though. You can use them over and over, in many different situations.

The Science of Positive Memories

The power of a positive memory is more than just a motivational platitude. Per usual for this blog, there is science backing this pro tip up. A University of Liverpool study tested the power of positive recollection to surprising results. Participants participated in a mental imagery task known as the social ‘Broad Minded Affective Coping (BMAC).’ The first section of the study measured response to self-attacking thoughts (self loathing or shame), then a control group was instructed to recall a happy memory involving close friends before both groups took an evaluation of feelings of social safety and cohesion.

The result? You guessed it, the group instructed to recall positive memories reported relaxed and positive feelings of social safety.

Nostalgia is more than just an overused word 90’s and 80’s kids hammer into the ground, it’s a documented, effective coping mechanism our brains have developed. A sultry hit of nostalgia takes a hammer to feelings of lonliness, anxiety, and boredom. It makes us friendlier to strangers and friends and family alike. Speaking wistfully of the past can create idealism for the future.

star trek positive memories nostalgia
Only 2390’s kids will understand.1

Deploy Nostalgia

So now, let’s look at three different situations that some positive memories can be utilized to make a difference in how we react. There are many, many more than this, so use this as a starting place to figure out how this technique can make wistful improvements in other areas of your life.

As stated before, a nostalgic trip down memory lane can fight feelings of depression and isolation. Let’s add a specific plan of action to that. The next time you find yourself slipping into a funk, try searching for a specific memory of a time you felt on top of the world. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a memory either, it can be thinking of a person or place you love. Your memory of winning the cosplay contest may not shake a depressive mood entirely, but it can let in a few rays of sunshine when you feel like you’re stranded in the darkness.

pet rats positive memories
My personal favorite is remembering baby pet rats.

We can also use a different kind of positive memory for a shot of confidence when we need it. Maybe you need a little bit of reassurance before a job interview or need the cojones to ask out that guy/girl you’ve fancied. This time, try to find a time that you were just in the zone. It could have been a time you effortlessly talked up a crush or absolutely dominated in a sport/game. Those feelings of confidence and invincibility will leak out of the past and give you a boost in the present. You’ve done it before, so you can do it again.

Lastly, there are times when we just need that shot of willpower to finish something difficult, whether that be a grueling project at work, a nightmarish homework project, or maybe just that last quarter-mile stretch of a run. Somewhere. sometime in your life there is a time you remember overcoming something difficult, no matter how ‘minor’ the victory was. Hell, it could even be the time you racked up the best video game score in your squad.

The memory resurrects feelings of pain and struggle, but also sweet release of finish and victory. In the moment, all we can feel is the torment and temptation to quit, especially when that light at the end of the tunnel is too far away for us to see just yet. Pull up that memory of the time you persevered, you overcame, you won. The deciding factor in persevering or quitting can be an easy reminder of the uplifting thrill at the end of the ordeal.

runner olympics track field positive memories donkey kong nintendo
“Just remember the time you beat Tim’s high score at Galaga!”

Choose Your Equipment

External motivation is always nice, but deep inside of our own minds we have the tools to incite ourselves to action. When we’re lacking in determination or joy, we can borrow it from a time we had those emotions in excess. These motivators cannot be taken away. So long as we’re not waking up at the beginning of a JRPG with a case of amnesia, we’ll always have this toolbox help us with our problems even if they can’t completely solve them.

Our memories are powerful mechanisms. Unlock your own mental arsenal today.

1 Yes, I’m aware The Next Generation took place in the 2360s.

Runner photo by Mark Sadowski, used under the CC 2.0 license.

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