Eliminating the Influence of Nerve-Wracking Memories: A Sample Playlist

When an unpleasant memory invades your mind, it can disrupt a great mindset, stress you out and set you off in a downward spiral that will further lower your mood and cause even more stress.
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girl listening to music while lying in the grass
girl listening to music while lying in the grass

If you think about it, you can remember times when you felt on top of your game, when your mind was relaxed and flowing. These images can be useful to you psychologically and physiologically. You can, for instance, use them to help you achieve a better, more flowing mindset any time -- and especially when you are running low on your psychic energy.

You can, for instance, by combining various positive images from your mind's memory files make fast and helpful changes in your brain's neurochemistry and help yourself toward a more optimized mindset when the need arises. Then, by calling these memories up regularly, whenever you are in a specific situation, you can train your brain to act the way you want it to in these targeted instances. Consistency here is an important element when using this technique to try to reverse the influence of nerve-wracking memories.

A song can generate images in your mind. As this happens, you can call on your memories to infuse more images and guide the direction your music induced "mind-movie" will take. In my book Your Playlist Can Change Your Life, my co-authors and I talk about the role of dopamine in this process.

As we discuss, a pleasurable mind-movie will release dopamine. You feel a sense of reward -- for the song you are listening to and for your mental movie as well. With repetition, you will even feel a dopamine reward (pleasure) just for beginning the process of generating your mental movie. This works, for example, like when you are going out to get food because you are hungry. Locating the restaurant, pulling into the parking lot, seeing the menu and virtually every step of the process of "getting your food" can bring with it a certain amount of reward or pleasure. And then of course, eating your meal adds further pleasure. In a way, your mind and body make a pleasurable experience even more rewarding.

When an unpleasant memory invades your mind, it can disrupt a great mindset, stress you out and set you off in a downward spiral that will further lower your mood and cause even more stress. In Your Playlist, we talk at length about the science of using music as a conditioning tool to push your brain's reset button and get you back into a better mindset when painful memories invade. You can even stop your painful memory from coming to you altogether and keep it from recurring.

As we explain in Your Playlist, "When you recall a memory, it carries with it the same emotional weight it had when you last remembered it." But with music you can weaken that negative effect. "Although a memory comes to your mind with a certain emotional intensity, you can treat it right then and there with your favorite song and positive imagery and dilute it. Next time the bad memory invades you, it will be less severe than before because you have watered it down." With repetition, it is possible to completely dilute the memory's effect.

One person I know played the Four Tops "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" a lot after the death of her father. This tune ignites warm and beautiful memories of her mom and dad dancing together in the living room with the stereo on when she was a child -- cozy and safe. With repetition, the song was able to replace painful memories with pleasurable ones and heartache with joy.

If you want to ramp up the effect of a calming song even further, play it several times and then follow it up with a piece of faster livelier more invigorating music.

You may, for logistics, not be able to use your playlist each time you experience a bothersome memory, but if you use it with consistency, your mind can begin to go there automatically. Training your mind as you would your body in a gym is the basic idea behind using focus skills and brain training to make favorable changes in your life. Most individuals report positive effects in two to three weeks.

Playlist Tip: Always use songs that you personally like a lot. Here are some that others have enjoyed.

  • "I Can't Help Myself," The Four Tops
  • "Cherry, Cherry," Neil Diamond
  • "Twist and Shout," The Beatles
  • "Gonna Make You Sweat," C + C Music Factory
  • "Paradise City," Guns N' Roses
  • "Twisting the Night Away," Sam Cooke

For more by Joseph Cardillo, Ph.D., click here.

For more on sleep, click here.

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