Growing up on a ranch in Wyoming, I have some painful memories. We never bought milk at the grocery store; instead, we had Spot, a mangy-looking Holstein who often grazed on weeds rather than grass. She kicked, and twitched her filthy tail, so Dad had to hobble her every night when he milked her. No one liked Spot; she smelled bad and her milk was tainted with the taste of weeds.
I complained every time I was forced to drink a glass of milk. Chunks of coagulated cream floated on the top, and there were flecks of dirt—or something worse—resting at the bottom.
“You need milk to grow tall and strong,” my Mother would assure me. I held my nose and drank the weedy stuff, leaving as much of the dark flecks at the bottom as I could.
Much as our body is built on the foods we eat and drink, our mind is built on our memories and experiences. As we all know, the residue of our experiences can be thrown into two piles: those than are beneficial and those that can cause harm.
Studies have shown that even when positive experiences outnumber our negative ones, the pile of negative and painful memories will always grow faster. Our mind is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones! The solution is not to suppress negative or painful memories, but rather to encourage more positive ones.
Years of survival among saber-toothed tigers and marsupial lions have created a human brain that is designed to change through negative experiences, not positive ones. Natural selection shaped our minds to respond to situations that contain threats to life. The cost of failure to respond to a life threatening situation could be death, whereas the cost of failure to respond to a life opportunity does not carry the same dire consequences.
This explains why the negative experiences and painful memories from our past stay in our mind for so long. Your experiences really, really matter. To pull the weedy, painful memories from our mind and replace them with positive ones takes active effort.
1. Painful Memories Are Usually Best Healed When Replaced With A Positive One
Like pulling weeds, the pesky things won’t go away unless they’re pulled out by the roots. Mental toughness is being inquisitive about our memories. Look at your life as an investigator would look at it:
Delicately probe the deep roots of a recurring negative memory. The tips are often found in childhood experiences. Deliberately interrupt that negative memory with a positive one in order to pull it out at its core. When you do, you’re building new, positive neural connections.
- When you remember a childhood feeling of sadness, recall being loved by other people in your life.
- Give those positive feelings of love and appreciation 20-30 seconds to really sink in.
- Add the power of language by saying: “I got through that, I’m still here, and people love me.”
2. Let A Positive Emotion Be The Antidote
You cannot run away from or resist painful memories or focus exclusively on positive ones. But by being mentally tough, you can learn to manage the way in which painful memories interfere with your current outlook on life.
When you have a positive experience today, take the time to let your mind absorb it fully so it can help erase the power of a similar negative experience from the past.
Leadership begins with the way you lead our own life. Be an example to your team, and when you feel upset and negative, feel around for the tip of the root of whatever is bothering you. Over time, you can build new, positive structures in your brain.
© 2013 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.
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