Thanks For The Memories


There are four kinds of memory

  1. Short term memory
  2. Working memory
  3. Long term memory
  4. Muscular memory

However, none of these terms really identify what memory means. Memory is essentially about association.

We remember because of our associations between things and people, and the strengths of those associations.

If you learned to ride a bicycle and you did a lot of riding, there is a strong set of associations with your muscles. The same would be true about dancing. Walking is muscle memory. You don’t hold onto the other forms of memory like you do muscle memory. Your life doesn’t depend on them nearly so much as you think.

Memory is not nearly so much about the past as it is the use of past associations to prop up and inform forward moving decision-making, planning, and living today.

A lot of memories are just as well forgotten when they don’t serve us to move on in the transitions of life.

Memory is not identity. Identity is much more.

We depend too much on memory to secure our identity. What if you could not tell someone who you were without referring to the past or to your work? What if you couldn’t tell people your story as a way of identifying yourself? We have an increasing number of centenarians who do not let memories get in their way and they are not “super-glued” to their opinions.

The brain is always covering over memories and recovering them with new material to be stored. The brain is also always trying to build new, more meaningful associations between neurons. You have heard that neurons that fire together, wire together.

It is also true that when you sleep, cortisol is busy in the stress of your negative dreams, defragging many of those useless associations that don’t serve the ongoing development of the brain. That’s what nightmares do – they defrag your brain using cortisol or stress in the process. Consider that your nightmares are your “cleaning crew.”

The brain is always changing. It is only when we will not let the brain change that we need to worry. The stronger your opinions, the tighter your perception squeaks, the more at risk you are.


As you grow older, your brain is going to change the amount of diddle you can remember because it has a larger task. The energy that used to go into ridiculous song lyrics, answers for tests, the names of people you don’t care about, phone numbers and things that make you think you are losing your memory, is trying to be redirected into a larger vision of yourself and the world,  literally a “new identity.”

You are losing some of your short-term memory, and it’s very natural. You might argue that there are people who never forget a thing, no matter what age. So it is possible to hoard memories like we hoard junk.

Right now, there are memories and associations your brain is waxing over, building a kind of scab over, neurons of memories that aren’t useful for an evolving mind. And it’s all very, very normal. What is not normal is to refuse to allow the brain the cleanse and rewire itself, and for the structures of the stages of neurocognitive development and wisdom to emerge.

We treat memories as though they were all precious gold. A few are, most are not, and you usually know the difference. But you are making a big mistake to rely on them for meaning. Don’t allow yourself to say that your memories are all you have. That’s a terrible admission that you aren’t using your brain to grow and evolve into the next stages of your life.

Memories are not simply pictures of the past; they are working elements in the brain that move us on and move us forward to a wider and deeper comprehension and consciousness of reality. If we are moving ahead in a healthy way, we are learning to know ourselves more accurately, to see others more clearly, absent of our projection onto them of what we need them to be for us.

We are freer, and we allow everyone around us greater freedom from our expectations.

© Dr. William K. Larkin 


About the author

Dr. William K. Larkin
  • James Beeman

    Memories are primarily about people and associations – associations of meaning are literally clusters of feelings, thoughts, and responses captured in a collective association. When we go through a transition, the brain often mistakes not being able to remember information from the last season of life as forgetfulness and nothing is further from the truth.

    Rather, how we view this type of response is from an understanding that as our brain evolves so does the meaning and association of events and people in our life. At the Applied Neuroscience Institute, we want to focus on the future – of what we want, of what we want to associate with those events, people, or achievements, and of growing our sense of fulfillment and meaning making machine – our brain.

    Sometimes our memories serve us well as we proceed through life and at other times they don’t. Our brains are helpful in that as we allow our brains to grow, evolve, and rewire, the associations in our brain that are beneficial to us will stay and we will be able to recall them, while those memories that do not serve our brain well will likely begin to fade and not be recalled.

    In other words, all of our memories are not created equal. Some are worth more than others. Our brain will filter our memories out based on how much we let our brain evolve. As we leave behind different experiences, and allow our minds to evolve, our projection onto others will fade and we will see what really was going on and not be focused solely on our experience in the situation.

    While the memories are brains provide to use are somewhat helpful, the future vision and meaning making are much more important and helpful to growing the positive mind! This is what we focus here at the Applied Neuroscience Institute – the future – it’s more important to move forward, to move up, to progress than it is to think of the past and spiral down.

    Don’t waste time trying to make meaning from the past, rather focus on the progress of the future.

  • jeris hollander

    When we allow ourselves to be defined by our old storyline and the memories from which it is created, we are in many ways stunting our own growth during the developmental stages of our lives. Many of us grip strongly to negative past memories, allowing these associations to influence our present decisions and state of mind. Remaining attached to these associations only perpetuates that negativity, inhibits our evolution, and promotes victimization.

    I had an intense conversation recently with a close friend who went through a messy divorce several years ago from a man who was disrespectful, and generally unkind and unloving to her throughout their brief 6 month marriage. Although she is happily remarried, she continues to allow her discontent of the past marriage haunt her. She learned a great deal about herself and the type of relationship that she truly desired, yet the negative memories perpetually intrude upon and impede her current wellbeing. Fixating, ruminating, and focusing her attention on the discomfort she felt back then immediately puts her into victim mode. Choosing to let these memories define her is perpetuating the cycle of victim mentality and inhibiting her from moving forward in gratitude and contentment with her current reality. I read a quote recently that said, “the past is a place of reference, not a place of residence.” Living in the negative associations created by memories of the past does not serve our highest good – we must learn from the past, let it go, and allow ourselves to evolve and grow in new and more positive directions.

    As Dr. Larkin states, “If we are moving ahead in a healthy way, we are learning to know ourselves more accurately, to see others more clearly, absent of our projection onto them of what we need them to be for us.” We must chose to detach from our old story line in order to form a truly healthy, loving and compassionate relationship with ourselves, others, and the world around us.

  • Sandra Lintz

    I was a committed Capricorn with exciting career goals over a period of a good 30 years. I would achieve and advance only to set my sights higher and higher. Those were the days! Looking back is satisfying. I was hot stuff! It’s strange to not be that person now, to not be able to feel what I felt then, now. As I look forward I do not see similar goals as being satisfying any longer. However, I am not surprised by my changing perspective and priorities. When I was in high school I read Gail Sheehy’s books Passages and Pathfinders and I also observed other people go through transitions through the years. I’ve read about this and I have seen other people tread here. My here and now is not familiar. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “In nature every moment is new, the past is always swallowed and forgotten; the coming only is sacred. Nothing is secure but life, transition, the energizing spirit. No love can be bound by oath or covenant to secure it against a higher love. No truth so sublime but it may be trivial tomorrow in the light of new thoughts. People wish to be settled. Only As far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.” Journeying forward is the key to flourishing and thriving. Living in past memories; clinging and dwelling in the past leads to decline. The journey consists of stages and transitions. So this sense of being unsettled is hopeful.

    Memories show me what my identity used to be but I am in transition and I know my memories, although many are pure gold, inform me greatly about what I no longer want.

    I am grateful to have recently learned about making new attachments, increasing my positivity and gaining an increased awareness of what my personal strengths are so that I can navigate forward successfully. Thanks for the memories and thanks for fresh experiences. Thanks to all of the people in my life and life itself for teaching me how to fish so that I might, as a Chinese proverb says, eat for a lifetime.

  • Dr. gloria wright

    When I get upset, I become acutely aware of the old tapes in my memory. When family criticizes me, there are immediate thoughts that pop in my head: “That’s not fair. That’s
    not what I meant. They’re taking that comment out of context.” Etc. I realize
    it and don’t like the old scripts. It has taken a lot of thought management to
    stop these obsessive worry messages. It’s an uphill battle, but I am making
    some progress.
    These old tapes are much like the muscle memory of riding a bike. They’re still there and
    are easily accessed. I will be so grateful when they fade and are replaced by
    more positive thoughts. As Og Mandino recommends, “Make good habits and become
    slaves to them.” This is my aim….
    When I moved into semi-retirement, it was quite an adjustment. A lot of my identity was
    wrapped up in my work memories. I no longer had my work in the Republic of
    Panama to talk about. My international work was no longer in the forefront of my
    conversations. Building a new identity without the exciting work of my past was
    How interesting was it going to be for me to talk about gardening, playing bridge and
    pickleball? Who would be interested in my being chair of my Care Committee at
    church? Would others want to hear about the online courses about Positive
    Psychology that I was taking? What has meaning in my life has shifted. I was
    shedding an old identity and building a new one.
    When I down sized and moved from Atlanta to NC, it was a challenge to “let things go.” I
    moved back to where I grew up and still have some family here. But it’s as if
    my family didn’t know me as an adult. They weren’t very interested in my
    professional life. I had to realize that they didn’t really get me – get me as
    who I am now. Their old images seeped into my own identity. I realized that I
    needed to detach with love and not try to change their perceptions of me – as erroneous
    as they might be. I couldn’t change their minds about who they thought I was or
    what they thought I meant. It’s sad that they don’t have an open mind to see
    me, but I’m the one who gives that air time in my head.
    I am building new memories and new meaning in my life. Sometimes I can feel the
    excitement of building a new life for myself. It’s an ongoing process. But so
    am I!

  • Audrey Sloofman

    What a relief to learn short term memory loss as we age is useful!! And it makes perfect sense. There is so much data coming at us each day, how could I ever remember it all? And why would I want to? As I enter my “golden years” (wow I really have to come up with a better term!), I can see things with so much more clarity then when I was younger. I am able to see patterns, to understand others and myself so much more easily. The details don’t really matter. And I never had a very good short term memory anyway, so now I have a good excuse! I am grateful that I can now put my focus and energy into embracing, appreciating and using this ability to make sense of all I remember.

    And thank goodness my brain has been cleansing and rewiring itself all these years. I would hate to be creating my future with the thoughts and memories from my 5, 15, or even 25 year old self. I have learned so much and changed by reevaluating each of my memories. That’s why I get to be wiser than a 30 year old!

Copyright © 2015 The Applied Neuroscience Institute