In The Boscombe Valley Mystery, Sherlock Holmes says: “You know my method. It is founded upon the observance of trifles.” The Victorian master detective relied on noticing seemingly insignificant details to solve crimes. We must do the same as we strive to increase our emotional cohesion. One of these details is what we remember and—more particularly—what we forget.

Memory formation

While working towards an understanding of unconscious shame, I’ve noticed that unconscious traumas and beliefs affect memory formation.

While working towards an understanding of unconscious shame, I’ve noticed that unconscious traumas and beliefs affect memory formation.

In Hessa – my first experience of porn I describe how I recovered the memory of my first sight of porn some three decades after the event. It was so shameful that I repressed the memory of it all that time. When I recovered the memory, it was very clear in some details (the location) yet hazy in others (. who I was with).

Here’s another example from around age 10. I used to take the bus into the Swiss town of Lugano every day. One day, a friend got me to read some graffiti on the back of a road sign. It read asino qui legge—‘whoever reads this is a fool’.

I recall the shock as if it was yesterday—the sense that I’d been duped, that I was a fool. It was so strong that, half a century later, I remember the sign was on the left-hand side of the road, and it happened after school, not before. Once again, the location is clear yet the other participants are not.

In both cases, I forgot these events—or parts of them—because I didn’t want to remember them. This happens far more often than you might think.

Don’t you forget about me

Have you ever had a situation where you asked someone to do something, they agreed, but it didn’t happen? When you followed up, they said that they forgot. Again, they promised to do it—yet that didn’t happen either.

Eventually you gave up and got whatever it was done some other way. You may have made a mental note that the other person was unreliable or ‘flaky’ and you wouldn’t ask them for help in the future.

Or perhaps you’re the one who makes promises but then forgets? Either way, a consistent emotional principle is at work here: we remember what suits us and forget what doesn’t.

Do what you say

One of the first laws of emotional mechanics that I remember understanding is Do what you say, say what you do. It’s a simple principle. If you’ve said you’ll do it; do it. If you don’t want to do it, say ‘no’ in the first place.

Obey this principle and your life will clean up swiftly. Others will come to regard you as someone who is clear and reliable. They key to it is recognising when we agree to something then forget about it ‘accidentally on purpose’.

If this is you, don’t worry. Another evolutionary principle comes to your aid.

In Our lives are constant feedback loops I’ve written how our emotional weak spots are constantly reflected back to us so we can notice them and heal them. One of the ways this happens is through reflecting what we forget. These things are hard to spot because they’re only noticeable by their absence.

“The observance of trifles”

Yet, if we want to evolve a next-level version of ourselves who is emotionally responsible, we must notice them. Like Sherlock Holmes, our method must be founded on “the observance of trifles.”

So when you make a promise, write it in your diary. Then make sure you follow through. If you don’t—or even if you feel annoyed, frustrated and disinterested at following through, recognise that there’s something about this situation that’s unconsciously bothering you. This is the key to resolving it once and for all.

Once you’ve identified an underlying situation, it’s time to dive into your evolutionary toolbox. In 7 Steps to clear emotional blocks I describe a simple process for addressing these issues.

The more you clean up your unconscious, the less tricks your memory will play.

Photo by Luca Laurence on Unsplash