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It's Okay To Forget The Bad Days

It's Okay To Forget The Bad Days

Parenting kids with special needs can be tough. There are good days, bad days and just-can’t-make-it-another-day days. But while you may not have a whole lotta control over which kind of day you’re going to have, you do have control over how you remember it.

Memories aren't just stored automatically. Our temporary short-term memories are only consolidated into long-term ones if we repeat them and make connections with other memories. So replaying stuff in our minds actually encodes it for long term storage. 

That’s great news, because it means we have some choice over which memories make it onto our permanent record. Memories will fade over time if you don’t bring them out for a re-run or link them up to other memories, so you can choose which memories to strengthen and renew by bringing them out of your mental closet more often.

So how can you train yourself to remember the good and let the bad fade away? Well here's a little trick that works for me...

Make a good day library

When things are tough, it’s easy to get snowed under by the weight of not just the current bad day but of ALL the bad days you’ve ever had. Stress is really good at highlighting the bad stuff and making you forget all the good. It’s like being in the trenches of a war - when all you can hear is the whizzing of bullets flying past your head, you start to forget what home looks like.

So make yourself a collection of good day memory triggers. Stuff that reminds you of the fun times, the days when the kids were happy, the moments that make you smile.

My good day library has these kinds of things in it...

  • Photos of fun times and victories (no matter how small)

  • Clippings of artwork and achievements

  • Videos of laughter and smiles

  • Souvenirs from vacations

  • Much-loved stuffed animals and toys

  • A container of baby powder

Yes, baby powder. Don’t limit yourself to just photos, put all of your senses to work sparking those happy memories and strengthening the connections in your mind for all the things that make you feel good. Sounds, sights, touch, smell and maybe even taste! Although I don't recommend putting bacon in your good day library. But pictures of bacon? Totally awesome idea.

As you experience these good day reminders, your brain brings those memories out of the closet and dusts them off, spruces them up and makes them like new. It even shows them off to some of your other memories, which hook up and form stronger bonds. The more often you look at your good day library, the stronger those connections will be. Your brain is going to make memories with or without you, so you might as well take control and tell it what to put in there.

So here’s what you do.

When you’ve had a particularly crappy day, take some time to process it - talk about it with your spouse, rant to your friends, write it down in a journal, blog about it. Do whatever you need to do to work through it and get it out of your head. Then reach for your good day library. Spend some time flicking through the things you’ve saved and really think about them, triggering the good memories and letting your mind experience them all over again.

There’s only one rule - flood your mind with the happy memories more often than the crappy ones. Renew the good instead of solidifying the bad.

Why make a good day library?

Having a collection of happy memory triggers will...

  • Remind you why you put up with the crap

  • Give you strength to keep going for another day

  • Show you how far you’ve come

  • Remind your brain that success IS possible

  • Motivate you to keep trying when everything seems impossible

  • Help release lots of stress-busting feel good endorphins

  • Give you a chance to celebrate victories more often than just the day they happened


The bottom line

Is there any need to keep the bad memories? Do they serve any purpose whatsoever? If the answer is no then it makes sense to do what you can to wipe out those suckers.

Training your brain to strengthen the memories of good times is easy, free and doable. It won’t stop the hard days from happening, but it’s definitely something you can try that can help you to cope with them better.

This article was first published in October 2012.

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