Have you ever wished you could change the past, forget a painful memory, or see something in a more positive light? Well, here’s the good news–you can rebuild your memories to bring yourself greater peace, happiness and success. If you’re thinking, “that’s ridiculous” or “isn’t that lying to myself?”, just hold your horses first. In this article, we’re going to share the scientific basis behind this concept, with actual exercises that you can apply to rebuild your memories. Read on!
Your Brain and Virtual Reality
In “Buddha’s Brain“, psychologist Rick Hanson (Ph.D) shares neuroscience discoveries that explain how traditional Buddhist practices work. We won’t go into the details here–feel free to check out our online summary which outlines the key book ideas below.
We’ll now zoom in on how our brain works with regard to perception and memory.
Take a few seconds to imagine yourself standing on the freezing peaks of the alps, surrounded by pristine white snow with frigid winds howling around you. Now, imagine yourself in a huge meadow filled with colourful flowers in full bloom, with the sun warming your face. Do you realize how quickly your brain can conjure these images/experiences? That’s because our brain works like a simulator and is constantly creating its own virtual reality. [You can get a more complete understanding of our brain and its long list of mental biases in “Thinking, Fast and Slow“]
• It fills information gaps, and combines different experiences/ knowledge/ impressions to simulate events. Likewise, each time your brain calls up a memory, it modifies it by filling gaps and reinterpreting details, all without your conscious realization.
• Each time we do something (e.g. recall a painful event and think, “it was all my fault”), our brains create a neural connection to the associated feeling or behaviour. The more we repeat the thoughts/actions, the more these connections are reinforced.
• When you hold 2 things in your mind at the same time, your brain also forms new neural connections to associate them. So, here’s how you can rebuild your memories (and thus change your past) to heal pain:
(i) Deliberately call up positive thoughts/feelings while recalling a painful memory. This forms new neural connections to gradually dull the old pain.
(ii) Be aware each time you feel upset, and identify the underlying reasons for them. Then, neutralize it with positive emotions using the same approach above. That’s it–by using just a few seconds each time, you can gradually build new, positive structures in your brain to alter your thoughts and actions.
Neuro-Associative Conditioning (NAC)
Our memories define our perception of the past. So, to change your past you must learn how to modify your memories. This is one of the 6-step system designed by Anthony Robbins (in “Awaken the Giant Within“) to disrupt your disempowering patterns, and establish new, empowering ones. Let’s take a quick look at how it works.
Rebuilding your memory falls under step 3: disrupt an old pattern to break it. Specifically, Robbins explains how you can interrupt a negative pattern, e.g. guilt and self-blame over a past incident, which hinders your ability to cope with similar situations in the present. The key is to jumble the memory beyond recognition (so it no longer has power over you):
• Play the negative memory in your mind like a movie.
• Then, replay it in fast-forward mode, scrambling and changing the components so it becomes a comedy, e.g. reverse the movie, give someone a pig’s nose, add silly music…
• Each time you do that, you’re weakening old neural connections and building new ones. Have fun and repeat this until the old feelings no longer surface when you think of the situation.
So there you are. A simple secret to reshape or change your past, so you free yourself up to truly create the future. Remember: there’s absolutely no point in holding on to negatives memories. To begin with, your interpretation and recollection of the events may not even be the “truth”, due to perception flaws and biases. Instead, use the tips above to release yourself from those negative influences, make the most of the present, and shape the future!