MEMORY IS A SHAPE-SHIFTER

Updated: Aug 29, 2019

The Limitless Creativity of the Mind


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"Memory can be distorted in many ways" Make it Stick - (Brown, 2014)

I teach guided meditation and Creative Visualization and have done so for many years. One of the meditation processes I teach is a guided exercise to help reduce the current day impact of past traumatic or difficult events. In the process, the memory of the event is played as it is remembered, and then is, as if a movie reel, rewound and played again recreated, recalling it in a way that the outcome leaves the individual feeling empowered. We replay this newly constructed memory over and the result is a reduction in the impact of the painful memory and an increase in feelings of wellness in relation to the new more empowering memory.

"Hypothetical events that are imagined vividly can seat themselves in the mind as firmly as memories of actual events" Make it Stick - (Brown, 2014)

Why does this work? There is a method called Cognitive Re-framing that is sometimes recommended by psychologists. It's a way to consider experience in a way that allows one to feel a greater sense of control, to reduce stress and create a sense of peace. Reframing changes the way a memory impacts us by changing our perception of the event. A major challenge or trauma can be turned into a opportunity for courageous growth and turn long standing blame or resentment into understanding and self-empowerment. Part of this technique is to literally replace thoughts that carry negative emotions with more positive ones. The intentional re-creation of an event, a new perspective on its outcome, can short circuit its nagging or continual power over a person's sense of wellness.

"Imagination inflation refers to the tendency of people who, when asked to imagine an event vividly, will sometimes begin to believe, when asked about it later, that the event really occurred" Make it Stick - (Brown, 2014)

What this means is that memory is highly suggestive. And emotions can be great binders of our perception of an event and our ability to recall it. Brown (2014) states that the points of memory that are retrievable because of an associated emotion may leave out gaps that we fill in for ourselves. The fact that memory is malleable, that we can't always be sure our memory is accurate, means that when we really want to remember something precisely, it is important to find ways to make that information not only retrievable but to have it make sense in the greater scheme of our knowledge.


“Memory is a reconstruction. We cannot remember every aspect of an event, so we remember those elements that have greatest emotional significance to us and we fill in the gaps with details of our own that may be consistent with our narrative but may be wrong.” Make it Stick - (Brown, 2014)

When it comes to remembering something one must remember precisely, Brown (2014) suggests making frequent use of retrieval practice (practice remembering - flash cards and low stakes quizzing for example) and testing, peer instruction, or elaborating by putting the information into your own words and understanding it in the context of information you already know. Also Brown insists that we continue to study important material even if we think we have it down pat as that may not be the case. He discourages cramming for exams or studying the same thing over and over again, and rather encourages spaced out practice interleaved with information that is new and different.


Have you ever re-framed a memory? Has a memory every re-framed itself? Have you ever had a memory of an experience that over time changed to one of understanding or learning?




Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., III., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.


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© 2019 by Lisa Holloway

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