The ‘paracetamol’ of your mental health kit bag is to limit the impact of negative experiences or memories on your sense of self. For example, you delivered a presentation and it went badly, you stumbled over your lines and forgot half of the messages you needed to get across. You really want to avoid the pain of that presentation affecting your confidence to deliver your next one. The good news is the ‘paracetamol’ can help that memory hurt you less.
The following exercise assumes you have spent some time with the mental vitamins part of the kit bag. in particular, that you have had an opportunity to play with some neutral memories and become used to this process before you work on a memory that has a negative emotion attached to it.
Exercise: Reducing the pain of a negative memory
This exercise is designed for you to work with memories that are uncomfortable to look back on but stop you from being your brilliant self today. Please do not use the exercise for memories that are genuinely painful, upsetting or traumatic; for these, it is best to seek the guidance from someone who can support you.
- Yes this exercise starts by asking you to feel a bit uncomfortable, sorry. Spend some time thinking through your memory of the unhappy experience. Explore how the memory is stored using the the different ‘vitamins’ for each sense (see below) – for example, is it loud or vivid in your mind, are you replaying it through your own eyes, feel yourself reliving the physical tension of your emotion etc. You might want to write some notes down about how you experience the memory.
- OK, let’s change this memory. Once you have your list, you can start tweaking the information so that you are reducing the impact. To do this, look at the ‘vitamins’ in the right hand columns of the lists below, these make the experience more significant and emotional. Where your memory has one of these qualities, you may want to try tweak the memory so it is more like the equivalent in the left hand columns. As an example, reliving the experience through your own eyes is one of the most common visual stores. When you recall the memory again, try to move yourself out of the memory so that you are looking at the scene with you in it instead. Work with each of the ‘vitamins’ on your list one at a time.
- Notice as you reflect back each time, how you are feeling about the memory. Very occasionally, a tweak might not have an impact or it prompts you to remember something else about the experience. If this happens, make some extra notes to later tweak that part of the memory too. It is just means that there is additional information that you hadn’t recalled initially, and this is ok. Carry on with the tweaks until you find that you have less emotional reaction.
- Go back to the memory a week later, notice how the memory is stored and do the same again.
For good measure, you might want to spend some additional time remembering a similar situation where things went better. For example, you gave a presentation and it went better than you planned and you felt good. You could play with this memory in the opposite direction to above. Try to ramp up this memory by making the tweaks towards the right hand column.