Emotional Footprints

Ever hear a song and find yourself immediately transported back to prom or some other significant event in your life? Yep. That’s an emotional memory, which is a strong force in the brain. Although some cognitive information fades, the emotional footprint sticks with you long after the incident has passed.

It was a great weekend, returning to Nebraska to work with 300+ educators over the course of two days. I was setting up on Saturday morning when the first participant arrived. It was reflexive, but upon seeing her, I beamed and gave her a big hug. I couldn’t tell you her name or other details at that moment, but was keenly aware this was not our first interaction. [Thank goodness, as it’s frowned upon to accost strangers.] Turns out, this was Kristi’s sixth time attending one of my daylong sessions over the last decade or so.

That is the power of an emotional memory. The amygdala, a structure in the brain that processes emotions, is strongly connected to the hippocampus, an area associated with memories. This potent pairing can make or break us when it comes to daily interactions, as strong emotional states, both positive and negative, easily encode into long-term memory. As the familiar quote reminds us, “I may forget what you say, but I’ll never forget the way you made me feel.”

If you ever find yourself traveling through Nebraska, I highly recommend visiting the good people of Kearney and Grand Island, as they will leave you with quite positive emotional memories. Trust me. I speak from years of experience.