Working With Unpleasant Memories

Don’t Let Your Past Mess With Your Present

By Rod Macdonald, Certified Coach Practitioner and Tonic’s Resident Coach

Q: “I’ve never suffered any trauma or abuse, but I can’t seem to get past the negative memory of getting fired from a job a few years ago. I am still upset about it and want to get past it.”


A: Li, generally speaking, we all have unpleasant memories we have the power to manage. If they are related to trauma, then a therapist is the way to go; however, there are some steps you can take to begin the process of reframing the memory in a way that not only makes it less unpleasant, but also turns it into something you can benefit from. First, rate the unpleasantness of the memory from 1-10, with 1 being very mildly unpleasant to 10 being the most unpleasant. Try these steps in order and see what happens:

  1. Sit up tall or stand strong: This creates a physical rallying of resourcefulness.
  2. Breathe slowly and deeply: This activates the parasympathetic nervous system to reduce stress.
  3. Remind yourself the memory is not happening but is simply stored data: This intellectually reminds you that the memory is not real, but just data in your brain.
  4. Be grateful to your body and brain for attempting to protect you: This introduces positive feelings around your real reaction alongside the past situation.
  5. Extract the lesson available: Instead of focusing on the unpleasantness, focus on what you learned from the situation, about yourself, or others. For example, “I learned how resilient I am,” or, “Sometimes other people make decisions for reasons I won’t understand.”
  6. Reinforce your knowledge and wisdom: Acknowledge that the lesson you have extracted has now made you wiser and better able to deal with current or future challenges.
  7. Practice leveraging the renewed memory: Reframe the memory as neither pleasant nor unpleasant, but simply as something you learned from. Also, imagine a situation in the future that you or someone close to you may face and how this reframed memory may help you. 

Once you have gone through the steps, check in by assessing the memory on the same 1-10 scale you used earlier. The amazing thing is we get to decide what to do with the memory, even if we didn’t have a choice about the original experience. This power is yours for the using and can change your life if you use it.


Combining over 30 years in the field of self-development, Rod is the CEO of the Certified Coaches Federation, one of the largest coach education companies in the world, and a speaker, coach and author. For more information on the Certified Coaches Federation, visit

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