Everyone has memories that they would like to erase completely. A disturbing incident, an embarrassing situation, the humiliation of being insulted by a loved one – it could be anything. And no matter how hard you try to forget it, the memory refuses to leave you alone.
It’s not necessary to block out all unpleasant thoughts. There are times when you need to reflect on things that went wrong in order to understand their significance and personally learn and grow. But when the only purpose these thoughts serve is prolonging your pain, you need to get rid of them and move on.
Forgetting is important, as it raises our ability to think and remember only what matters to us, thereby keeping us calm and happy.
According to recent research, people can actually train themselves to forget things deliberately. Here’s how to forget something you don't want to remember.
- Push the thought away. Consciously deciding not to think about bad memories can help permanently erase them. When you are reminded of something you do not want to think about, don’t let your mind go there. Let it go blank and avoid making the connection.
- Forget all the details associated with the memory. For flushing memories out of the brain, forget the related details or background aspects of the memory. The details may include smells, sounds, scents or images associated with the event that you do not want to remember.
For instance, if you do not want to think of a hurtful event, push the details related to it out of your mind. It could be a song playing in the background or the faces staring at you at the time.
- Do it on a daily basis. Blocking out unpleasant memories is challenging. Any thought that is suppressed tends to rebound. For instance, if you want to block out thoughts associated with a car accident, your brain is searching for any thought of a car accident to block it out. This makes the thought more accessible, i.e. when you are not blocking it out, the thoughts come rushing back. So, you need to practice blocking the memories on a daily basis. You need to push it away from your consciousness regularly.
- Don’t give the difficulty of blocking thoughts too much importance. Blocked thoughts tend to rebound more when you give the difficulty of blocking the thought too much importance and meaning. Recognize the fact that blocking a thought is difficult, and keep working at it without obsessing over it.
- Avoid triggers. Certain images, objects, scents or places can bring back a bad memory to your mind. Throw away objects or images that make it hard for you to forget something you don't want to remember. Avoid going to places or spending time with people that remind you of your painful past.
- Distract your mind. Another strategy that you can try is replacing the bad memory with a good one. If you find a good substitute to an unwanted memory, it will be easier for you to forget the bad one. If the thought of a past failure keeps haunting you, try to think of all the times you have succeeded in the past. Don’t let the bad memory change your mood. The moment you catch yourself focusing on a bad memory, shift your thinking to a happier memory.
- Associate something positive with the bad memory. Learn to associate the unpleasant memory with a good memory. This will help you overcome bad feelings.
For instance, think of your embarrassing moment while enjoying a good movie or doing something that makes you happy. The positive association will make your negative memory less painful.
- Acknowledge the memory. Another theory suggests that acknowledging the memory and the negative emotions associated with it will help you deal with the painful feelings. Feel angry, sad or hurt. Yell, scream, cry your eyes out – release your emotions in a safe place to help diminish their power over you.
- Use ritual release to erase the memory. This is a mental exercise where you create a ritual to release the negative emotions or memory trapped inside your mind. Write down every detail of the memory that you wish to forget. Allow yourself to write freely, knowing that no one else will read it. Then, burn the piece of paper.
When you see the paper being engulfed by the fire, you mentally release the memory. Tearing or shredding the paper into pieces instead of burning it also helps.
- Practice mindfulness. Learn to focus on the present moment, instead of thinking and worrying about your past that cannot be changed or anticipating the future. Don’t go through your day on autopilot. Notice and pay attention to small details, sights, smells and sounds. Regular meditation practice will help you be mindful and more present in each moment.
- Live your life fully and create good memories. Be around people who make you happy. If possible, travel and meet new people. Socialize as much as possible. This will help you form new good memories that will naturally cause your bad memories to fade away.
- Keep yourself busy. Take up a new hobby or a physical activity. Explore your creativity and get involved in arts and crafts. Expend your energy creating something or volunteering.
These things will keep you busy, giving you less time to spend thinking about bad memories.
- Talk to someone about it. Talking to a friend or family member whom you trust about the unpleasant memory may help. Their advice, views and similar stories can give you a different perspective on things and make it easier for you to forget something you don't want to remember.