Useful Memory

On a recent trip to an artist community, my wife commented that my memory of the location of various shops was better than hers. I said “That just means that they hold greater interest for me.”

This short dialogue got me wondering about memory, how it works and how we can use it to our advantage. First, let’s explore what triggers the creation of a vivid, lasting memory.


Our most vivid memories are those attached to powerful emotions. Memory is formed when we experience great joy, stark disappointment or frustration. 

With little effort, you recall moments in your life that were especially joyful. So joyful that you can’t help but smile as you relive the experience. One of the beautiful aspects of memory is that the emotions we feel are as vivid as those felt when we first had the experience.

Similarly, your memory of failed attempts, lost relationships, regrets and disappointments are equally vivid because of the emotions attached. Unfortunately, we experience these unpleasant emotions each time the memory arises. The good news is that there is a way to alter your memory of these experiences to make them more useful and enjoyable.

Altering memory

Obviously we don’t want to alter the joyful memories. These are the memories that help us regain joy during difficult times and spur us onto greater heights with anticipation of even greater joy. 

We do, however, want to alter the memories filled with regret and disappointment. The way to do that is to determine what you learned from the experience that will help you in the future. In doing so you trigger joy…the joy of having learned something that’s going to make life better for you in the future.

Then, in the future, as the memory surfaces again, you may initially experience the regrets and disappointment of the original experience, but you’ll quickly convert these emotions to the joy of what you learned from the experience. You’ll also enjoy the boost in confidence that you gain and the joy it affords.

With this simple technique of determining what you learned, you no longer languish in regret, you no longer experience feelings of guilt, you no longer feel diminished. Instead, you feel capable, confident and purposeful. These feelings return to you a state of joy.

For you

The next time that you experience a joyful memory, savor it. Remind yourself that it’s yet another blessing in your life that makes your life full and rich. 

When memory of unpleasant experiences surface, remind yourself that memory is driven by emotion and that you have the ability to choose which emotion you feel. You can wallow in regret and disappointment or you can choose to focus on the knowledge and awareness you gained from the experience.

If you choose the latter, your regrets will be replace with the joy of being more knowledgeable and more capable as a result of the experience. You’ll see the experience not as an unfortunate one, but as a gift of insight and knowledge that will serve you for the rest of your life.

All this is accomplished by asking yourself “What did I learn from this experience?” whenever you have an unpleasant experience…one that you choose not to relive with disappointment and regret, but as a stepping stone to a brighter future.

For our kids

As the kids in your life have unpleasant experiences, ask them “What did you learn from this experience? How will what you learned help you in the future?” As they see and appreciate the value of the experience, their memory of that experience becomes one of gratitude for the lesson learned instead of ongoing regret, disappointment and diminished confidence. This gift will be one of the great treasures in their lives.

Let others know that you love them by sharing this blog post. They’ll appreciate that you care.

I love hearing your thoughts and experiences, please share your joyful memories in a comment.

If you’d like to enjoy great confidence, check out our Confidence Self-Study programs (opens in a new link). 

If you’d like to enrich the lives of others by teaching them to be more confident, check out our Teaching Confidence Instructor Certification program (opens in a new link).

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2 Responses

  1. bill prenatt

    Dale, Several years ago in a sales meeting, my guest speaker told the story about how his family business lost everything in a fire. He apparently practiced your thinking. He said that he learned that he learned to focus on what he and his family could respond to the situation and not focus on the terrible tragedy.

    They eventually rebuilt their company stronger than ever. I thought that story a first-hand example of your article. As always, I appreciate your insights into how to live a better life!

    • dfurtwengler

      Great story, Bill. It’s one that plays out time and again by countless people who overcome life’s challenges quietly and effectively. Too bad stories like this seldom make the “news.” Thanks for sharing this experience with us, Bill.

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