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Our Memory Depends on the Words We Use

Personal Perspective: What do you remember?

The truth of happiness and the power of life lessons lie in the combination of experience and their aftermath. Good or bad, what did you learn? What will be your attitude and the narrative you keep about the experience? How will you view your past, and subsequently, your future?

Change is not always comfortable, that’s for sure, but it is inevitable. In that regard, we get hit, we get up, we move on and we remember it in words. We create our own narrative by what we say and how we say it. This becomes our story.

Everyone has stories. How do we want to tell them? How do we want to be remembered as telling them? We all quote our parents and grandparents. Might they be surprised at what we remember coming out of their mouths? Might we be surprised by what others remember about us? We need to be conscious of how we talk about our lives. Words and attitude are important.

We will never remember an exact incident or experience.

We will only remember the words we use to describe it.

Our mood, our legacy, and our life are all about the language we use to record it, digest it, and express it.

How will we record good times in our minds? And then how will we record the bad? Of course, there are negative memories we don’t ever want to forget. Remembering our failures will only boost us closer to our successes. Remembering the death of a loved one can only strengthen our love for them and allow us to reflect on the beautiful memories of them. Remembering our most difficult emotions can keep us motivated to move forward so we hopefully do not return to that struggle. What is critical is to also always remember why an incident is important in your life. What did you learn from it? How did it change you?

As you trudge through a challenge, search for and reflect on the lessons you learn, the people who come to help, or the blessings that result from it. Whether it was cancer, addiction, or trauma, for me, the memories will always be the silver linings. There is no doubt in my mind that they were the greatest teachers and the most twisted, yet rewarding, gifts in my life. That is how I choose to remember them.

It is also an interesting fact that negative memories are much more prevalent in younger people, primarily in their twenties. Our lives during that period are more uncertain and the future is more frightening. As most people age, they become much more focused on the moment and appreciate what is currently in their lives. There is also too much to remember. The memory disc is full. So, we tend to delete what didn’t matter, what doesn’t matter, and what might happen.

There is also muscle memory. You hear the theme song of "Gilligan’s Island", and instantly you remember every word. No one ever forgets how to sing “Happy Birthday” or the National Anthem. What about prayers? Your all-time favorite movie or dessert? Things start to get a little shadier with names and birthdays. Most dancers know muscle memory when they start to dance to a specific song and remember the entire choreography. Our brains are a muscle.

Certain memories will be very general, particularly in a shocking or traumatic event. If we are attacked by a bear, do you think you will remember the flowers or bushes around him?

Humans are not alone. Our pets have great memories. All they need to hear is a single word and they will either jump for joy, sit still frozen, or run to the other room.

When life hands you an ugly, rotten lemon, be fully aware of the shock and pain. It is crucial to allow the natural feelings that result from it. And then, as you journey through the aftermath, search for the love and the gifts that you might never have received without that lemon. Write them down. Document exactly how you decide to remember this adventure. Take photos of the glorious parts. Be hopeful that you will see the light, it will come from inside you.

A kind and compassionate doctor told me one time that our bodies don’t remember pain. Otherwise, we would always feel that pain. “And” he added, “a woman would never have a second baby!” So therefore, our minds can only remember holding that beautiful baby and the love that was felt immediately after that pain.

Photographs are incredibly important. How many times on social media do you see the mother giving birth? We only see her love, holding the baby. Most of the photographs we have saved in boxes are photos we want to remember. It never hurts to go through them when you want to be happy.

How do you remember your childhood? Are there still tragic incidents that you cannot release? Are you not able to forgive? Remember that resentments are like swallowing poison and expecting the other person to suffer. You are the only one suffering.

A child is never responsible for the trauma they might have endured. However, the healing must come from forgiveness, in whatever way you choose to discover it. Peace and ultimate joy can only come from within you.

How do you describe your career? As I mentioned, what we might perceive as failures are actually our greatest motivators toward success. How did your failures lead to another chapter in your life

Finally (and I do mean finally) what words do you want on your tombstone? My favorite was that of a woman who owned a bar I often went to in college. Every night, at 2:00 a.m., Momma Fry would climb up on the bar and scream, “Time to go home!” Everyone would throw napkins and straws at her. It was a nightly tradition and she loved it. 30 years later, hundreds of people attended her funeral, and you know what her tombstone said? “Time to go home.” Everyone threw napkins and straws as they lowered her.

Those final words are your final choice of how you want to be remembered.

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