We all have memories we treasure. Others may be so painful that if we had the choice, we would delete them from our memory banks. What we may not know, is that our memories – even traumatic ones – can create a positive treasure map that guides us through our career and other decisions in our adult lives.
How do we make our “memory bank” work in our favor? The first thing to know is that our earliest and most vivid memories create the most dominant conclusions about our place in the world (and they can be stubbornly resistant to change, but never impossible). We just need to know how to process them. Dramatic experiences from early childhood – whether very positive or painful – turn into “rules to live by” in order to bring on more of the good stuff or to prevent the bad stuff from happening again.
The only problem is that a child’s interpretation of events is usually distorted and inaccurate to some degree. As real and true and significant as the conclusion feels, it usually has some “all-or-nothing” thinking that comes with it. This can be a tremendous disservice to us in our adult lives and in our careers. It can create self-imposed limitations that may inhibit our growth and success.
I use an acronym, GEM, to teach people a little “do-it-yourself” psychotherapy. GEM has three steps:
1* Gather Essential Memories
2* Gain Enlightened Meanings
3* Generate Empowered Movement
If we learn to apply the GEMs in our lives, we will discover a treasure chest of personal growth that guides us toward our greatest strengths. That’s how we can find the gem sparkle in our spirit!
Special occasions can sometimes serve as an interesting starter example. Think back to your earliest memory of Christmas (or other holiday celebrated in your family). Mine was when I was eight years old. It amazes me that I don’t remember a Christmas before that, because I remember many things as far back as age two (honest)! At age eight, though, my older sister and I were recruited to help put all the gifts under the tree for my three little sisters. It was very exciting, especially because they were getting a kitchen set – with “some assembly required!”
After my younger sisters were all in bed, my mom, dad, older sister and I started working on the assembly of the little stove. It was the first time we had worked together as a team. In fact, it was the first time Dad got involved in the Christmas job at all, as usually Mom was Santa 100%. In the midst of our work, one of my little sisters got out of bed and came toward the living room doorway. We heard her seconds before she appeared in the doorway, in just enough time for us to kick into high gear. Mom jumped up and blocked her view, escorting her to the kitchen for the requested glass of water. Dad quickly moved the little stove out of sight while my older sister and I covered as much of the evidence as we could with our own little bodies. We were all intent on keeping the big gift a happy surprise for Christmas morning.
When anything unusual happens in our life, we tend to remember it more vividly. Think about an early Christmas or other memory of your own. What was the scene? What single frame of the scene stands out? What were your feelings at the time? What made it unusual? Was it something you wanted to create more of in the future, or try to prevent from ever happening again? What conclusions about your place in the world did you reach? What expectations did you form about how life “should” be?
In my example above, the single most vivid frame was of the team rising to the occasion of keeping my little sister from seeing the surprise gifts prematurely. My feelings were contentment, happiness, excitement, and importance. I loved being part of this team that had assembled for the greater good of our family Christmas. It was unusual that my assistance had been enlisted this way. Usually my older sister and I babysat together, but it was in our parents’ absence. This time we were all present, working as equals in the team and it seemed like a wonderful miracle.
Positive memories such as this can give us a great sense of what to strive for. In my example, one of my unconscious conclusions became “Everyone should work as a team of equals at ALL times.” The all-or-nothing part was the expectation it established for recreating a similar team for all tasks, all the time. The overall guideline was fine, but to impose the ‘always for everything’ part, would leave me disappointed in some of the education, career and family projects I tackled if I hadn’t amended it to a more realistic expectation.
Learning to revisit our memory banks in this way serves as a wonderful tool. It helps in removing unhelpful distorted conclusions that may have steered us poorly in certain adult decisions. That is step two in the GEM process – Gain Enlightened Meanings. We correct our rules going forward and that’s what frees us to engage in step three: Generate Empowered Movement.
Keep in mind, positive memories usually don’t create large obstacles, but they still may contain some all-or-nothing beliefs that turn into unrealistic goals. Without realizing it, our brains form expectations based on erroneous meanings we attach to our experiences.
When memories are painful, the GEM process is still the same, but negative conclusions are more painful to process. We must discover what conclusions we reached from them and then correct the inaccuracies.
Common examples of negative conclusions reached from a painful memory often include statements such as:
“I am not important.”
“I am inadequate.”
“I’m not valuable.”
“I’m not good.”
Then unwittingly we believe our erroneous conclusions and they become a roadmap for our choices and our assessments of our own value. We take over where someone else left off. It is our responsibility to discover these inaccuracies in our self-perception and correct them. It takes much repetition to create new belief systems, but that’s where the positive changes become empowered.
For the third step of GEM, then, we Generate Empowered Movement by creating corrected beliefs. Restructure the old inaccurate messages with the new:
I am important.
I am adequate.
I am valuable.
I am good.
Then add what we want to do to the remainder of the belief, for example:
I am important, so I will contact my work associates for the upcoming seminar.
I am adequate, so I will actively participate in the team project (or family event).
I am valuable, so I will voice my ideas in this meeting.
I am good, so I will feel proud and be active in my life.
Get in the habit of gathering your memories for this new purpose – enlightened meanings and empowered movement. They help you achieve your unique success and you can take these GEMs to the bank! More importantly, when you discover the treasure in your GEMs, the positive changes you make flow more easily and you treasure your life.
For an exercise manual on how to master these steps and spark new light during dark times, go to the products tab and get the E-book, Mindful Prosperity: GEM Guide to Mental Wealth.