CO-AUTHORED BY KATHERINE CROSS
Katherine Cross delights in supporting others as they explore possibilities for thriving in their lives. An experienced educator, she continues to use her talents to support and guide others in their life journey.
The new year is a time for reflection and for contemplating goals and new directions. As we think about taking on something new, we often consult our memory file of past experiences to guide our decisions. If our intention is to grow, we need to be mindful of the criteria we use when searching those files.
Our brains retain negatively-charged memories more than the positive.
When I'm uncertain or even nervous about a choice, my brain almost naturally seems to use the search criteria for failure, shame, embarrassment, or mistake. This in turns signals my whole being to be cautious, think about limits, be fearful, or doubt myself. My fight-or-flight response can be activated in an effort to protect me from anything I have labeled as painful or bad. Everything in me wants to avoid those feelings, so remembering those experiences causes me to shut down and make choices that will prevent them from recurring. These memories make me think I'm not competent. They focus my mind on limits and encourage me to quit.
This is the inner Guardian on high alert. Our memory defaults to searching for similar experiences in the past that may have threatened our safety or security. This aspect of self wants to keep us safe, but, in its wonky state, it tends to function with outdated material. What threatened or humiliated my 8-year-old self may no longer be a valid measure for my adult life. My search criteria need to be updated.
Consciously focusing on positive memories creates an I Can file.
Because our positive experiences typically aren't as highly charged, they aren't recorded in our minds in the same way as threatening or embarrassing memories. They can even be forgotten or misplaced in the memory file. So, if we want to evolve and explore new territory in our lives, our challenge is to train our brain to use new search criteria.
When we reflect, each of us can remember times in the past when we surprised ourselves by succeeding, when we overcame odds while fearful, or when we were tenacious and did well in challenging circumstances. Empowered moments like these leave us feeling good about ourselves and our capabilities. We can deliberately store these positive memories in a file labeled I Can. With practice, these can become our new default. Our inspired inner Champion can draw on these memories to encourage us, to make us believe in ourselves, and to help us find a way, even when there are challenges.
If I am going to attempt something challenging, new, or markedly different in my life, which memory would I call on to reassure me that I can --
- The time when I dropped the baseball in the final inning or the time when I successfully delivered a speech I'd been afraid to give?
- The time when I missed a cue and played the wrong note in a musical performance or the time when I overcame a deep fear of water and swam the length of a pool for the first time?
- The time when I did poorly on a test and all my friends did well or the time when I summoned the courage to enter my first half-marathon and finished?
Fear, anxiety, and uncertainty can override and hijack our memory file if we let it. When I am mindful of which file I'm allowing my brain to consult, which "mind movies" I'm running when I'm on the threshold of a new challenge, I am taking responsibility for my beliefs, my choices, and my capacity to take thoughtful risks. My I Can file is the file that helps me learn, grow, and evolve.
The idea here is to retrain your brain to go to the I Can file first, instead of to the I Can't file. The I Can file contains the memories that help you believe in yourself and your capabilities. Whenever you're filled with doubt, scan through your "mind movies" for the times when you achieved a goal, were proud of your abilities, received genuine praise, or surprised yourself with what you were able to do. Consciously call on your I Can file to empower yourself as you seek to live an inspired, expansive life of discovery.