Most of us spend a lot of time worrying about money, health, work and family. What if there was a way to use your own memory to stop worrying (or at least stop worrying so much)? Writer Nick Jehlen explains how.
Image remixed from Shutterstock.
There is a moment in the movie Memento, when Leonard (who suffers from amnesia), resets in the middle of a chase:
Leonard Shelby: [running] OK, so what am I doing?
[sees Dodd also running]
Leonard Shelby: Oh, I’m chasing this guy.
[Dodd starts running toward Leonard with a gun raised]
Leonard Shelby: No… he’s chasing me.
That was the point when I began to identify with Leonard. Maybe it never happens to you, but on a regular basis, I find myself in the kitchen or with my hand on the closet door and I stop short, realising I had an intention a second earlier, but no idea what that intention was anymore.
Sometimes I’m able to figure out why I’m staring into the fridge, but more often I struggle with it for a few minutes and then try to move on. I’m sure I’ve lost a half a dozen great ideas this way, and hundreds of mediocre ones, and it struck me a few years ago that there might be a way to get some benefits out of these brief bouts of amnesia.
There is a limited amount of stuff we can fit in our brains, and an even more limited set that fits in our short-term memory. In order to remember something for more than a few minutes, we have to move it from our short-term memory into our long-term memory. There are lots of tricks and techniques for doing this, but knowing a little about this process also opens up the possibility of turning the tables on ourselves: we can decide to forget stuff we’d rather not pop back up in our heads later on in life.
For me, this means embarrassing moments, of which I now have plenty saved up and don’t need any more, thank you very much. Embarrassment isn’t a great motivator for me. Remembering one of these moments — including things I did when I was five — cause me to cringe, and sends me spinning away from what I’d like to be doing.
Which is why, when I do something embarrassing, I follow a little script:
1. Remind myself that I might be able to forget this moment, which gives me some relief and allows me to…
2. Immediately start to focus on doing something else, which means that…
3. I don’t move this short-term embarrassment it was into my long-term memory.
It doesn’t always work, but my collection of embarrassing memories is somewhat smaller, and that’s certainly worthwhile.
Maybe embarrassing memories don’t cause you pain down the line, but if there’s a category of memory that haunts you, try a little elective amnesia.
Nick Jehlen is a partner at The Action Mill, a design firm with offices in Philadelphia and New York. He designs tools that create space for challenging conversations and improving how people work together. He blogs at actionmill.com and tweets at @actionmill.com.