You know those times when you’re minding your own business, and out of the blue, an old memory pops into your brain, making you cringe? Suddenly, you’re back in time, reliving the event as if it were happening now? This exercise will help you strip that memory of its power over you. Try it the next time you find yourself at the mercy of a drama from your past.
Step 1: Pick a Troubling Memory. Think about a memory that often pops up in your head and upsets you. Give it your full attention. Don’t try to get it out of your mind. Don’t try to minimize it. Don’t argue with it or tell yourself it shouldn’t upset you.
Step 2: Rate How You Feel. On a scale of 1-10, where one is the worst and ten is the best, rate how you feel when you think of it.
Step 3: Run the memory as a movie in your mind. This time, though, when you run the movie, focus only form, not the content of what is happening. Ask yourself the following questions:
- How does the movie begin? What do you see in the first frame?
- Is it in two dimensions or three?
- Are the images sharp or soft? Close or far? Clear or out of focus?
- Notice the colors. Are they vivid or dull? Is there a dark, ominous overcast?
- What is the scale of the imagery? Which parts look big? Which seem small?
- Where do you see it? Is it ahead of you? Behind? Up? Down? Close? Far?
- Are you in the movie? From what vantage are you watching it? Does it feel like you are watching yourself like a third party, or are you seeing it through your own eyes as if you are in the movie?
- Do you notice anything else?
Step 4: Change Your Vantage Point. Experiment with changes in how you see the movie and run it again.
- See the movie on an actual screen as if you are in a theater. Make it two dimensions. If you are in the scene, make sure you are watching yourself on the screen, that you are not watching from inside the scene.
- Make the movie, far away, out of focus.
- If there was sound, make it softer and softer.
- If there are villains in your movie, turn them into cartoon images. Grow their ears; grow their nose; stretch them out like a rubber band. Shrink them down. Make their voices squeak or not come out at all.
- Run it in double time.
- Run it in slow motion.
- Experiment with the changes. Try this several times.
Step 5: Rate How You Feel. Check in with yourself. After playing the memory this way, did you feel the same as when you played it the first time? Did your feelings have the same intensity? Which, if any of the changes made a difference in how you felt?
Step 6: Stream the Movie with a Bad Signal. Start running the movie again, and this time, stop and start it every couple of seconds – as if you are streaming with lousy reception. Keep hitting the play button and seeing the annoying little circle spinning as the video reloads. Run it again and again, but never allow more than a few frames to go at a time. Make the screen go black. Start it again. Make it too frustrating to play.
Step 7: Again Rate How You Feel. See how you feel now. If you feel better, celebrate!
Step 8: Try to Run it Again. At this point, it should be getting difficult to run the movie in its original form. Each memory is like a file in your brain. With this exercise, you are corrupting that file so that it cannot run the same again.
Step 9: Jot Down What Worked. Which of these changes helped the most? Keep track of them for the next time.
Step 10: Repeat as Needed. Old memories that have repeated often are more entrenched in your brain than newer ones. If you find that an unwanted memory starts popping again in a few days (or weeks or months), just repeat the sequence.
Play around with the different variations. See if you can come up with some of your own. Once you get the hang of it, try it with experiences that you would like to forget as they happen. The newer the experience, the easier and faster it will work, and the longer it will last.
Let me know how it goes!