A Blast From The Past

“I use memories, but do not allow memories to use me.” -Deepak Chopra

Memories can be very useful. They are helpful for our day-to-day survival when it comes to things such as learning new skills at work or navigating without Google maps. They are also handy for personal reflection and learning from our mistakes.

There is something comforting about snuggling into thoughts of our childhood or past relationships when something triggers these memories—in particular, smells.

Ever wonder why when you get a whiff of perfume it takes you back immediately to someone you once knew? It’s because the part of your brain that interprets smells is connected to the areas that handle memory and emotion—known as the hippocampus and amygdala.

The interaction of these two parts is responsible for why we remember emotional experiences more than neutral ones and why reflecting on certain memories elicits associated old emotions—i.e. thinking about an argument with a friend can make your blood boil again, just as remembering a fun date with your partner can put a smile on your face.

If reflecting on our past can cause an emotional response, we might want to choose what we recall and contemplate wisely!

 So how much time do you spend thinking about the past?

Whether it’s something that happened a few years ago, last week, or replaying a conversation that just took place, we seem to be inclined to reflect on what has been.

Though there is value in learning from experiences and sentiment in recalling happy moments, it would serve us well to pay attention to the “now.”

Opportunities live in the present moment.

Let’s say, you are worried about putting your hand up to project manage at work because you remember a past experience which didn’t go as planned. As you reflect on this old memory—dredging up self-doubt and anxiety—someone else takes on the role. That opportunity has now gone.

Letting go is healthy.

Getting caught up in how things “used to be” can make you miss out on life as it is. This is especially reflective in friendships and relationships. As people grow and change, you might find yourself comparing the “new” person to the “old.” In doing so, you might miss out on who they actually are!

You want a healthy relationship with yourself.

If you spent a whole day reflecting on the past—from thinking about what happened at work the other day to ruminating over an old conversation—you would miss out on experiencing life as it is now. Going through life mindfully and as present as possible will allow you to know yourself more intimately. You will find that you are less concerned with how you used to feel and more aware of how you currently feel.

How can you actively spend more time in the present and less time with your memories?

  • Feel your feet on the ground. This is a simple form of awareness which can be difficult to maintain for an extended period of time—but practice makes perfect! Next time you have a few moments, take a deep breath and focus on your feet. Where are you now?

  • When an anxiety-triggering event arises, recognise that this is linked to old memories. Acknowledge the lessons you learned but focus on what you can do in the now.

  • Meditate to cultivate mindfulness. There is nothing more useful to bring you to the present than sitting still and following your breath as it goes in and out.

Memories are a large part of who we are and they have much to offer. As you reflect, remember that the only thing you are able to influence, is the present.