The secret to letting go of bad memories

A monk and his disciple were walking through the woods, when they came upon a muddy stream.

A beautiful young woman, decked up in silk was standing on river bank, clearly hesitant to step into the muddy river.

The monk walked up to her, explained to the lady that he can carry her across the river on his back and did so, while his aghast disciple watched him.

The monk, disciple and the lady reached the other side of the river. The lady thanked the monk and left. The monk and his disciple continued on their journey.

The disciple kept mulling the incident in his head. He came to a point where he could no longer remain silent.

He asked his master, ” Master, what you did there wasn’t right. How can you carry a young girl on your shoulder? We are monks. We have vowed not to touch women.”

The master looked up calmly and said “I put her down a long time ago – beside the stream. Why are you still carrying her?”


We tend to carry around memories, emotions and grudges, even after they no longer need to be a part of our lives.

We are all a product of our past. Our past experiences mold our present and determine our future.

leave behind you baggage.

We tend to remember bad experiences more than good ones.

Have you ever tried to learn a new language from your friend and learnt all the bad words in the language in no time?

Memories are just like that. Bad memories are easier to form and stick around longer.

Positive and negative memories are processed differently in our brain. The negative memories involve more emotions – so we tend to remember them more thoroughly and use stronger words to describe them.

In an experiment, where the participants gained or lost an equal amount of money- it was found that the participants showed more distress over losing the money, than the participants showing joy for gaining money.

The reason for holding on to bad memories is evolutionary. When we were hunters and gatherers, we had to rely on our near deaths and unpleasant memories to survive the day. Today, it’s just unwanted emotional baggage – something that is holding us back from having a better future.

Brain work is exhausting, be it making a decision or re-living bad memories. Not to mention all the fear, guilt and negative emotions that crowd our body and mind, when we recall bad memories.

But there is hope. Our brain is malleable and it is possible to move past our past.

Memories trick us

Shortly after the 9/11 tragedy, a few psychologists recorded the memories of a few hundred people. After a year, a follow-up survey was done on their memories.

37 percent of the details recounted by the participants were different. Within 3 years, the number of details that differed in the participant’s memories rose to a shocking 50%.

Some of the details that changed were tiny, while others told an entirely different story.

What happened here? None of the participants lied. The strength of their emotions made them believe their version of the story was the right one.

Memories can be manipulated easily

Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has demonstrated that as many as 50% of the people in any given study, can be tricked into believing a fabricated event.

For example, false memories such as getting attacked by an animal or being lost in a mall and crying can be planted in the participants memories by using a technique called “false feedback”.

“Memory works a little bit more like a Wikipedia page: You can go in there and change it, but so can other people,” she says.

The secret to letting go of bad memories

Most of us believe our memory “works like a video camera, accurately recording the events we see and hear so that we can review and inspect them later,” say psychologists Dan Simons and Chris Chabris.

But our memory is actually a putty and it can be molded by every person who has access to it.

Have you ever been in a situation where your memory of an event and your friend’s memory are completely different, although both of you experienced the same thing at the same time?

This is because, every time we recall a memory, we are not remembering the event itself, but the last time we remembered that event.

So, every time we recall the memory – a new memory is formed.

And this is the secret we can use to discard all our bad memories.

How to let go of your bad past?

Step 1: Get into a positive state of mind.

This is the most important step.

The problem with therapy sessions is, it takes you into your bad memories when you are in a weakened state already. How can you pull yourself up when you are already drowning?

The trick is to go back to your past from an empowered state.

Empower yourself:

  • Write all the things you are grateful for.
  • Celebrate the good in your life – even the tiny ones.
  • Spend time with your loved ones.
  • Develop a hobby.
  • Do what you love.
  • Become the person you will rely on.

Now you are ready for the next step.

Step 2: Bring out your demons

Remember how in Harry potter, Harry uses his positive memories as the shield to chase away dementors?

That is exactly what we have to do.

Use your current empowered state as a shield and bring out your bad memories.

“Have a positive experience be prominent in awareness while the painful one is sensed dimly in the background,” writes Dr. Rick Hanson in his book Buddha’s Brain.

When you recall your bad memories on the strength of you current good ones, your memory of the bad event changes.

It doesn’t matter if a memory is true or false, it only maters how it affects your present and future.

Step 3: Rinse and repeat.

Use the malleability of you brain to your advantage.

Change and shape your memories – replace it with new ones that contradicts the painful old ones.

Ask yourself:

If you are moving to a bright happy place, and you are allowed only two suitcase full of memories. What will you pack?

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