This is the time many of us make New Year’s resolutions which often result in feelings of guilt when we don’t follow through for whatever reason. One popular resolution is “to exercise more this year.” Recently, someone sent me a photo of a trip we took together; it jogged my memory. I loved where it took me, and I have come to refer to this experience as a “memory jog.”
What if we thought of exercise for the mind in terms of memory jogs? Such an exercise could be good for an improved mood and spirit. We can think about it as a way of providing an uplifting experience for ourselves and others. A photo or a song can be super memory joggers. A reminder of a moment in time (did I really wear my hair like that? Oh those shoulder pads! I made that Tie Dye tee shirt in my dorm; Those dishes were my grandma’s…). A place, a journey, a person, a life event, any of these can lead us to recall a memory. The key is to allow whatever thoughts and feelings accompany us on that jog to get the richness of the experience. I have previously written about the power of “re-experiencing” events. A memory jog can be an invitation to reflect on a previous experience for enjoyment as well as instruction. What do we learn from it if we intentionally bring the perspective of NOW to THEN? For some, it can be falling down the proverbial rabbit hole (something I have also written about) which may take some preparation or some grit.
Breathe deeply and settle in. Re-experience the moment! Invite your memory to become aware and conscious of whatever detail comes forth…colors, sounds, physical sensations, even background music. Reminders of the past can elicit emotions that are connected to our original experience, and those memories can be of value. They may increase or maintain positive feelings. These positive feelings, in turn, contribute to our general well-being. We can elicit positive emotions from pleasant autobiographical memories that are vivid and rich.
Our ability to savor or maintain positive feelings can increase our ability for emotion regulation, and therefore help us adapt to stress and contribute to our resilience. The more we practice, or the more we exercise, the more we may find ourselves strengthening these memories and making them easier to access in the future.
Ultimately, reminiscing about positive past experiences produces positive emotions, which may be rewarding in and of themselves. Equally, if not more so, we may find that the longer-term benefits of drawing upon our internal resources of memories to help us regulate our emotions, especially in times of stress, will promote better well-being.