“We are what we remember of ourselves,” says Michael Anderson, a professor of cognitive neuroscience on the College of Cambridge who research reminiscence. How you’ll keep in mind your life as an 80-year-old will rely on the methods you maintain on to, or let go of, reminiscences. Your mind is at all times within the means of forgetting, however Anderson believes you may overlook with extra intentionality — what he calls motivated forgetting — and which you could get higher at it with observe. “You sculpt your memories,” he says.
Reminiscence depends on what cognitive scientists name retrieval cues. Say you’re attempting not to consider a painful breakup, however then the identical sort of blue Prius your ex drove pulls up subsequent to you at a pink gentle. Recollections flood in. In the event you’re attempting to overlook one thing, grow to be attuned to that reminiscence’s retrieval cues so you may reshape the best way your mind responds to them. You’ll be able to attempt to keep away from such triggers, however that technique not often works. A Vietnam Battle veteran may take care to shun something harking back to warfare and nonetheless get yanked again into fight imagery whereas attempting to order dinner at a restaurant. “How could you anticipate that a bamboo place mat would remind you of war?” Anderson says.
Quite than complete retrieval-cue avoidance, attempt a method known as thought substitution. In the event you had a bitter argument along with your sister and consider it each time you see her, work to deal with different, extra constructive associations. Observe till your mind sees her face and surfaces these higher reminiscences first and never the battle. You too can work on what cognitive scientists name direct suppression. “You just kind of put up the mental hand and say, ‘Nope, I don’t want to think about that,’” Anderson says. Whereas these two mechanisms for forgetting typically work collectively, they’re neurologically distinct. Thought substitution depends on the left prefrontal cortex; direct suppression on the suitable.
Your skill to overlook is set, partly, by your particular neural structure. Research additionally present that excessive stress and lack of sleep will make you worse at motivated forgetting. Individuals who have skilled extra adversity of their lives are higher at it than individuals who haven’t identified such hardships. In the event you’ve lived by means of one thing traumatic, it’s unlikely that you just’ll be capable to wipe the expertise out of your mind completely. What you are able to do is restrict the extent to which these reminiscences will intrude, undesirable.