Pretty much all the memory experts rely on association to trigger remembering anything from test answers to someone’s name. The good news is that it works. It does take some training to learn how to quickly access a random association to attach to the thing you’re wanting to remember. The bad news is that this same triggering mechanism can work against us.
Sometimes our memories barge into situations when they are not welcome. Other times, they confuse us with a twinge of long-lost pain that only hinders the resolution of a present tense problem. Here is a non-exhaustive list of ways that memory by association can fail us.
- Distraction from the issue at hand
I could be wrong, but I think we all struggle with ADD to some degree. Getting back on track after a distraction can trip up anyone. Such can be the case with a triggered memory. You may be right in the middle of an important project, writing or facing a deadline when a song comes on that takes you on a long rabbit trail of memories. Don’t get me wrong, these associated memories can be an enjoyable ride. It’s just when the timing is off that we need to catch ourselves early on in the process and get our focus back.
2. Unwarranted fear or excitement
When that first cool morning of fall finally arrives and everyone else is loving it, my first reaction is a twinge of fear. That cool air brings with it an association to a bleaker time in my life when we were struggling financially and lived in an old, drafty house in Tennessee. Winters there were a dreaded time for me to just make it through without busted pipes and another barren Christmas. It takes a few days for my mind to catch up to the fact that I now live in a nice house in Pensacola, Florida where the winters are quite mild, to say the least.
The other side of the coin can also be a challenge: unwarranted excitement. Marketers know this and use every trick in the book to trigger the longing and desires that lurk just below the surface of our consciousness. Did you know that there’s even a spray with the scent of “new car” that dealers use to trigger that desire of ownership?
That’s why it’s always good to give yourself some space between the urge and the action. It just may give you the time you need to make a more sensible decision.
3. Hold us back from moving forward
Fear of failure or even fear of success has been a major hurdle for me and many others, I’m sure. Being presented with, discovering or creating a new opportunity can in itself trigger past failures or successes and heap those possibilities into the process. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Weighing the cost vs. the results is always a good idea. However, it is important to be sure that what took place in the past even applies to the opportunity at hand.
I’ve been guilty of succumbing to the paralysis of analysis. It’s easy for me to over research, dwell on the “what ifs” and let my perfectionism keep me from just launching the thing and let her fly.
4. Cloud tough decisions with nostalgia
We all have them: tough decisions. It may be nothing more than trying to de-clutter the house, the storage building or garage. Even the smells of certain objects bring up nostalgic memories of where they came from and the people who may have owned them. It’s hard to let go of some of that stuff, even though it may be tucked away in a place you only dig through once a decade.
Sometimes, the triggered memory can even be filtered over time to not include some essential elements of the facts. I used to travel full time on concert tours with groups and as a soloist. There have been times I have been tempted to replicate some of that experience as the memory from a picture takes be back. However, it’s easy to forget the struggles that today may even be a deal breaker when it comes to making a rational decision about actually hitting the road again.
5. Inaccurately tarnish someone’s reputation
It is even possible to attach the attributes or flaws of a person you have known in the past onto someone with whom you are becoming acquainted. It may be in an interview process and could easily cloud the decision making process. The new person may have similar eyes, mannerisms or even cologne and we can erroneously be prejudiced either positively or negatively about them.
It is sometimes harmless, but other times critical, when this takes place. It would be good to acknowledge the association and even verbalize it. It can be fun to talk about, but if it is about developing a long term business relationship or collaboration, it would be well worth the effort to look beyond the similarities and be sure the individual possesses the actual traits, talents and skills you are needing in this role.
So, where do we go with this? I guess the most important thing is to just be aware that it happens and to learn to recognize it and use it to our advantage rather than our detriment. Memories are a great thing to treasure and certainly can bring joy to our lives. But, like any other aspect of our lives, they need to be captured and find their proper place to flourish.