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Why you should choose to make certain memories more vivid

For better or worse, we all have memories of the holiday season. And our expectations of what will happen and of how people will act this year can’t help but be influenced by memories of our past experiences.

In the amazing book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, Barry Schwartz writes:

“We assume that the more available some piece of information is to memory, the more frequently we must have encountered it in the past…but frequency of experience is not the only thing that affects availability to memory. Salience or vividness matters as well… In addition to affecting the ease with which we retrieve information from memory, salience or vividness will influence the weight we give to any particular piece of information.”

This means that what makes certain memories the first that come to mind is strongly affected by how vividly we’ve imprinted them, like through strong emotions, or with our senses like sight, sound, taste, touch.

Many neurology and psychology studies have shown that our memories can shift, both consciously and unconsciously.

How does this relate to NoCo? I started thinking about how often we colorfully tell stories about things that annoyed us or made us angry – and how sometimes we can fail to paint equally vivid stories of the good things in our lives.

I’ve heard people come back from a vacation and say that it was great, and share a few highlights, and then describe in detail some problem they had with their reservation or a transportation mishap or aggravations with their traveling companions.

Think about when you’ve been told stories about family gatherings in which you hear little about the delicious food or thoughtful gifts, but plenty about the annoying conversations and embarrassing moments. (I’m plenty guilty of talking about family gatherings in just this way myself.)

Do you see where this is going? The tendency to give brief highlights about the good and then weave richly illustrated stories about the bad contributes directly to what we remember about any given event. The vividness of any complaint makes it the dominant feature when you retrieve a memory, shoving aside other more pleasant things that were also true.

This doesn’t mean that you should ignore those things that are annoying to you. But it does suggest that you should pay attention to staying more balanced in your retelling of any event.

Bring alive the positive things through details that touch the senses like color, flavor, sound. And if you do find yourself needing to talk about negative things, stick to the facts. Keep negative stories short and dull, stripped of emotional and sensory details.

Specifically, try to tell 3 positive vivid stories for every negative one. This is the “positivity ratio” described by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson to be the tipping point between “whether people languish or flourish.”

If you do, the next time you’re asked about it, your memory might be just a little sweeter.

The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less
Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life

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