Have you ever thought about how your memories impact your personal growth? At first glance, it might seem that memories, or looking back, wouldn’t have much to do with growth, or moving forward. However, memories and connecting with your life’s experience actually provide tremendous personal growth. Here’s why.
Why We Need Our Memories
Last month, I mentioned the surprising result of suppressing memories. Research shows that when we block things out, the hippocampal processes our brains use to create new memories is compromised. In other words, suppressing memories makes our brains find it harder to create new memories. Blocking things out that we don’t want to remember actually makes it harder for us to create memories of things we do want to remember.
Every thought we have, every word we speak, every action we engage in – indeed, our very sense of self and our sense of connectedness to others – we owe to our memory, to the ability of our brains to record and store our experiences. Memory is the glue that binds our mental life, the scaffolding that holds our personal history and that makes it possible to grow and change throughout life.” ~Larry R. Squire & Eric R. Kandel, “Memory, From Mind to Molecules”
Wow. Have you ever thought of that? Memory is what makes it possible to grow and change as we live.
Carol Stewart understands the power of memories. In her article, “Memories Connect Us,” Carol suggests that relationships wouldn’t exist without the memory of them, without the memory of yesterday’s relationship to build on. Life without memories, she writes, would be like the movie Groundhog Day where relationships would have to start over from zero every day. So memories connect us in three ways:
- helping us understand who we are
- deepening existing bonds with others
- rekindling old bonds
The trick, though, is to actually get in touch with your memories. Retrieving them, putting words to them, and giving them a place to exist outside your head is what clarifies and defines your memories. Memory can dim or even play tricks on you when it’s sort of just floating around in your head. Writing down memories gives you a chance to sort through and validate them. Even remembering hard times is worth something because of the strength you gained as you overcame, or the lessons you learned in the process.
What Looking Back on Memories Can Do
Reminiscing helps us realize we’ve grown. It brings with it a certain sense of perspective and appreciation. Like reading old love letters helps us remember details and can even make us fall in love again, looking back, in many circumstances, helps us count our blessings. It helps us recognize the good in a situation (or after one) and increase our gratitude. Looking back is empowering.
In “The Secret Ingredient to Self-Care and Wellness,” I wrote that recording stories, or memories, is therapeutic. I’ve experienced this first-hand. Time spent recording memories (journaling, scrapbooking, etc.) is time for reflection. I love re-living precious moments. The work of writing down my experiences (usually with pictures) makes me put into words something that I did, saw, or felt. It validates my experiences, but it also helps me sort out thoughts and emotions. In a way, it helps me make sense of life. What made it great? Why was this experience particularly hard for me? What did I take away from this event, and how does it contribute to my life or who I am? This whole process of writing and assigning meaning contributes to my personal growth.
I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” -Flannery O’Connor
How to Preserve Memories for Personal Growth
Preserving memories requires getting them out of your head, writing them down. The two main ways of preserving memories are word-only (like a journal) or using both the written word and photos.
Writing down your memories in a notebook is a straightforward way to preserve them. I personally need to type because my brain goes so much faster than my hand that I end up skipping things I wanted to write. If you write your story in a computer document, just be sure you print it. I’ve said it many times, but technology is fickle, so a hard copy is the way to go. You can always just start chronologically with your earliest memories, elementary school memories, and so on. Or you can just start writing down memories of your life experience as they come into your head. In “Know Thyself Through Your Own Story,” I listed several great resources for life story questions that can give you a jump start and trigger memories and stories. Have a look at them at the link there if you need some helps.
I find that having an audience in mind is a good help, too. Writing to a best friend or writing to future grandchildren can help guide your mind. What would you want those people to know about you? Don’t feel self-conscious about that question. A humble person I know answered, “Nothing.” But when he thought about it more and realized that HE wants to know more about his grandparents, he understood how important his own story is to his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Don’t just write facts. Look deeper so you can see your personal growth. That alone will expand your soul.
I find that pictures are tremendously helpful in preserving my memories. Photos have tremendous power for bringing back memories and moments in an instant. Remember when I wrote about Reminiscence Therapy a few weeks ago? That’s the real deal. In most cases, thoughts and pictures and everyday things I do or enjoy or struggle with don’t have pictures. However, in many cases, the great, enjoyable, and special parts of my life DO. Looking back at photos helps me remember events (and memories) much better than events that don’t have pictures. You may want to use photos to jog your memory as you go through the process of recording your memories, but don’t forget that you can actually tell your story WITH photos, too.
Here’s an example of memories preserved with pictures in a lovely little hardbound storybook. Look through the preview of this book right here so you can see it page-by-page.
Call to Action
There really is no time like the present. We fool ourselves sometimes into believing that things will settle down after school starts again or after the holidays. They don’t. We should know that by now, but we always seem to think that we will somehow be less busy in the future. If you set aside time to meditate, read, study, or exercise, you can think of recording your memories and your story as having the same healthy benefits. If you don’t take time for yourself to do any of those things, might I suggest you would especially benefit from taking moments for yourself to preserve your memories.
A simple computer document or handwritten account will allow you to preserve your memories for personal growth. Include as many details –as many memories– as you can think of. You can always narrow down or reorganize them later if you like. Follow the suggestions in the previous section and you’re on your way.
If you would like to publish your memories as a book, it makes your already-unique story just that much more unique. (I might add that it also makes quite a special family Christmas gift!) A life story published with pictures brings the whole story to life and puts names with faces, too. Publishing your own book isn’t as complicated as you might think, either. I’ve got five simple steps to help you get started right here.
I have been doing this kind of thing for myself for 13 years, and for a few years now I actually hire out my experience in making heirloom-quality books (like the ones shown above) for other people. Looking back at your own life and making a record of it is indeed therapeutic. Leaving a lasting legacy this way is a gift for those who come after you also. The great thing about telling your own story is, well, that YOU get to tell it.
History will be kind to me because I intend to write it.” -Winston Churchill
Three books shown were published here; templates are available for each one.
- Amazon.com. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Memory-Molecules-Larry-R-Squire/dp/0805073450
- Heritage Makers. (2018). Retrieved from http://heritagemakers.com/jenniferwise
- Heritage Makers Gallery. (2018). Retrieved from http://www.heritagemakers.com/gallery/#/t/52532
- Wise, Jennifer. (2017). Evolve. Retrieved from https://www.livegrowgive.org/know-thyself-story/
- Wise, Jennifer. (2017). Evolve. Retrieved from https://www.livegrowgive.org/making-connections-using-family-stories/
- Wise, Jennifer. (2018). Evolve. Retrieved from https://www.livegrowgive.org/an-important-part-of-family-history-my-story/
- Wise, Jennifer. (2018). Evolve. Retrieved from https://www.livegrowgive.org/why-every-human-heart-needs-his-or-her-family-history/
- Wise, Jennifer. (2018). Evolve. Retrieved from https://www.livegrowgive.org/your-loved-ones-story-part-of-your-family-history/
- Wise, Jennifer. (2017). Life Tales Books and Personal Publishing. Retrieved from https://lifetalesbooks.blogspot.com/2017/01/why-you-have-to-print-your-photos.html
- Wise, Jennifer. (2018). Life Tales Books and Personal Publishing. Retrieved from https://lifetalesbooks.blogspot.com/2018/03/the-secret-ingredient-to-self-care-and.html
- Wise, Jennifer. (2018). Life Tales Books and Personal Publishing. Retrieved from https://lifetalesbooks.blogspot.com/2018/05/memories-connect-us-guest-post-by-carol.html
- Wise, Jennifer. (2018). Life Tales Books and Personal Publishing. Retrieved from https://lifetalesbooks.blogspot.com/p/how-to-get-started.html
- Wise, Jennifer. (2018). Life Tales Books and Personal Publishing. Retrieved from https://lifetalesbooks.blogspot.com/p/ill-make-your-projects-for-you.html