There are many reasons for wanting to know how to forget something. Tips such as processing your emotions and prioritizing self-care may help you.

Sometimes, memories fade on their own. But other memories may stick around or pop up unexpectedly.

Memories work by encoding or learning new information that triggers neuron signals to create a network connection.

Your brain stores the information and network connections in your short- or long-term memory. Then, it retrieves the memory during a process of “recall” when you experience senses, such as sounds and sights, that the specific neuron pathway.

Long-term memories often have strong emotions attached to them. These emotions can be positive or negative.

While you likely won’t forget long-term memories entirely, you can employ strategies to stop them from disrupting your thoughts and interfering with your well-being.

A note about traumatic memories

If the memory you’re trying to forget is tied to a traumatic event, it can be difficult (and potentially harmful) to try to forget it on your own. The following tips are intended to help with forgetting memories that cause general distress or embarrassment.

If you’re experiencing traumatic memories, consider working with a trauma-informed therapist. Not sure where to start? Our guide to finding a therapist can help.

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The following strategies may help you forget things you’d rather not remember.

1. Identify what leads to your unwanted thoughts

Try to make a mental note of the feelings, sounds, and sights that may be correlated with difficult memories. You may also consider writing about them in a journal so you can reflect and learn.

When the memory you want to forget comes to mind, pause for a moment to see if you can identify what caused the memory to come forward. Was it a particular social situation? Were you in a certain setting? Was there a sight or smell that seemed to trigger it?

Once you have a better idea of what causes the memory to reappear, you can work to either avoid these things or practice grounding techniques when you do encounter them.

Learn more about triggers and how to identify them.

3. Identify the positive aspects of the memory

It can be difficult to completely forget or replace unwanted memories. According to research from 2021, finding the positive meaning of negative memories may reduce their impact on you. Keep in mind that this approach is not recommended for traumatic memories.

Difficult experiences can mold you and help you grow through your journey to healing. As you observe unwanted memories come up, it may be helpful to consider any positive aspects of the situation. Did you learn something? Did something positive happen as a result?

For example, maybe you had to give a presentation at work. When it was your turn to present, you froze, unable to decipher your notes or think of anything to say. After a minute or two of awkward silence, you manage to get through your slides but don’t feel great about how the presentation went. Weeks later, you still find your mind replaying the incident.

It might be hard to immediately see the positive meaning in the example above but think about what came after.

Maybe you sought out some tips from a co-worker who’s overcome a similar challenge. Or maybe you developed some new de-stressing strategies to help you better prepare for future presentations. Maybe you still find presenting to large groups challenging, but a co-worker with similar challenges felt relieved to see they weren’t alone, and you’ve since become close friends.

You don’t have to completely embrace the painful memory as a good thing, but identifying some underlying positive aspects can help dull the edges.

4. Practice self-care

Tending to your core needs by prioritizing quality sleep, eating a balanced diet, and getting regular exercise can boost your overall well-being.

When these core needs are taken care of, it may be easier to keep your mind grounded in the present. While this may not necessarily help you forget something completely, it can help to reframe the memory and make it feel less distressing.

5. Try exposure therapy

Exposure therapy is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that involves gradual exposure to something you fear or try to avoid. It’s often associated with treating phobias, but it can help with fear-based memories, too.

Similarly to self-care strategies, exposure therapy may not help you to entirely forget something. But it can help to reduce the impact of negative memories.

A variation of exposure therapy called prolonged exposure may be particularly helpful for traumatic memories.

6. Talk with a professional

Working with a mental health professional can help you cope with unwanted memories, even if they aren’t traumatic.

They can help you identify potential triggers of the memory and guide you through thought exercises to help reduce the impact of the memory on your family life.

There’s no guaranteed way to forget something. And even if the memory fades, it may still come up from time to time.

When this happens, consider these strategies to find relief in the moment:

  • Practice deep breathing techniques: Breathing techniques help reduce stress and anxiety associated with memories you want to forget. When they come to mind, focus on your breathing and try some new techniques.
  • Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness involves focusing on the present and releasing worry or rumination. When the unwanted memory comes to mind, refocus your attention on sight or smell in the present moment, minimizing the detrimental impact.
  • Follow up the thought: When a negative memory comes to mind, try to follow it up with a good one. You could also write negative thoughts in a journal, and shift to a happier topic to finish your writing. Eventually, positive thoughts and memories will come to mind more often.
  • Find positive activities for distraction: While you don’t necessarily want to ignore your feelings, it’s perfectly fine to change your mental channel with a distraction occasionally. Texting a friend, going outside, or simply watching a funny video can all help to redirect your thoughts.

While you can’t erase memories, you can take steps to help lessen their impact on you with some thought exercises. Working with a therapist can also be helpful for learning how to deal with unwanted memories.

If the memory you want to forget is tied to a traumatic event, be sure to work with a professional.