Selective Memory: A Gift, not a Curse

No wonder brain farts happen: Thanks to our uberconnected, always-on world, the sheer volume of facts the average person fields each day is likely 100 times higher than what people encountered in an entire lifetime a century ago, says Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas. “Too much information can bog down the brain,” she says. “If we had to remember every single thing we were ever exposed to, we probably couldn’t do higher-order thinking or make decisions.” That’s because your mind isn’t a balloon you can inflate indefinitely; it’s more like a hard drive with limited capacity. And it may need to get rid of some memories to create space for new ones, according to the journal Cell.

This is actually good news. Who doesn’t have a few crappy breakups, fights with a BFF, or embarrassing moments they’d prefer to forget, Eternal Sunshine-style? True fact: Many new memories—especially “unnecessary” facts, faces, and events—are thought to be eliminated from your recollection by an automatic molecular mechanism in the brain. “Active forgetting,” as it’s called, is believed to be so critical that disrupting it can contribute to serious mental conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer’s, and schizophrenia. But you can play a role in this process too. In fact, learning to control what your brain keeps and tosses can help you and your mind get healthier and happier.

Lock down the happy times and stop ruminating on the bummers with these mind-manipulation tricks. Science proves they work!

1. Channel Idina Menzel.
In other words: Let it go, let it goooooo. Forgiving a wrong—that time your ex cheated, the gossip your frenemy spread about you—may reduce its emotional impact, new research shows. Think of the person you’re pissed at and mentally repeat I forgive you (even if you haven’t quite yet).

2. Chat it out.
When you witness an upsetting scene, spilling the details—instead of letting them play on a loop in your head—can help stop them from being “sealed in,” per research. This is thought to work best if the experience is discussed right away, but even talking out an old hurt can help you move on.

3. Inhale. Exhale.
Meditating (even for a few minutes) can help the brain detach a memory from the emotions that keep it lodged in your cranium, says Gary Small, M.D., a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA. When a past pain surfaces, try using a meditation app like Simply Being.

4. Switch your POV.
If your friends—all of them—forgot your birthday this year, it likely wasn’t a group diss; they are busy and will feel terrible when they realize their goof. Accepting that people’s behavior usually isn’t about you can defuse bad feelings and prevent negative memories from latching on, says Chapman.

5. Shift gears.
Your boss snapped at you, and it’s eating you up. Make a to-do list, plan a fun trip—any activity that flexes your brain’s center for planning and organizing. This can reduce emotions associated with an unhappy memory, says Chapman, which lowers the odds of locking it in permanent storage.

 

(Source: Women’s Health Magazine)