With my current research into a Narrative Approach to coaching I have become fascinated with the role that memory plays in our experience of the moment and what we can do to transform its effect.

What are memories?

In my map of the world memories are stored, internal representations of previous experience.  Some of these experiences we enjoyed or endured directly.  Others came to us indirectly maybe through the media, in its many forms, possibly via someone else’s description: reading a letter or a book, seeing a film.  Sometimes memories are created in the imagination.

Our memories are ‘filtered’ by our natural tendency to delete, distort and generalise and it is the filtered version that we carry around believing it to be true.

What can memories do for us?

Among the many things that memories do for us is to create a sense of connection to people, places and events that we tend to consider as a connection with our unique past.  This can be a double edged sword.  When we connect to something positive we can revivify its energy and feel it again, with its exciting, calming, joyful or other affirming connotations.  In this way we can deepen and prolong its effect.

Of course the same is true of less positive memories and this is where our attention can become fixed in a less than helpful way.  Coaching has enormous potential for making changes here.  There is a wealth of approaches available to anyone looking to make a difference to the effect of their past on the present, of which NLP is just one.

My particular interest at the moment is on the aspect of our memories that can have a negative impact on the present outside of our normal awareness.  Of course we know that when we recall a negative memory we are likely to feel the sad, angry, or anxious emotions associated with that incident.  What is easily over looked is the fact that there is so much of our past that we do not consciously remember.

It might be that we decided “Never to think of it again”.  Of course this doesn’t remove it from memory; it is simply that we choose not to recall it.  Many of my clients have been surprised to find that an emotion they are experiencing today is linked to a memory they never think about.  Sometime simply recognising the connection is enough to make a real difference to how they feel.

And there can be so much more to memories than events, impressions or thoughts from our own past.  When we consider recent events as having happened in the context of our lived history we begin to see that context makes a difference.  If I saw a huge spider yesterday, my memory of seeing it will be coloured by the combined effect of having seen spiders in the past.  If I have been living with a phobic fear of spiders, my memory of seeing one yesterday is likely to be traumatic.  If my phobia was cured a year ago the memory is likely to be something along the lines of amusement at recollecting how terrified I once was and relief that I am no longer trapped in that very uncomfortable way of responding.  If I have since become a practitioner helping people change their phobic response I am likely to look back and think how grateful I am for the entire sequence of events that led to me having something to offer.

So the context of both experience and memory is significant and this can be taken a step further.  The very context has its own context.  That recent event; seeing a huge spider yesterday, happened in the context of my own lived history.  It is here that I might look for the origin of my fear of spiders.  Perhaps my mother screamed at the sight of a spider when I was three years old.  I may not be able to recall the event but that doesn’t stop it having an effect on my present experience.

Like unpacking a set of Russian dolls, we can find deeper and wider contexts for contexts. My lived history can be viewed in the context of a remembered history; perhaps my mother can remember that a similar thing happened to her when she was very young.

Even remembered histories can also be contextualised.  Let’s say there is an existing narrative of generations of my family being frightened of spiders.  This would have made it very difficult for the three year old me to express an interest in spiders however fascinating I might have found them.  I am being influenced by a story far removed from my experience.  In this way memories can connect us to things where there appears to be very little, or no direct connection.

The spider example may seem trivial but once we apply the argument to far reaching and significant beliefs and values, triggered by emotions which are themselves triggered by history – recalled or not – we can begin to see that the individuals we consider ourselves to be are the product of many generations of historical and social influences.

Can we change the effect our memories have?

Once we begin to understand our memories as thoughts, knowing that thoughts can be changed, we begin to see that we can have more choice about their effect.

When we stand back and view our terrified three year old selves as being powerfully affected by someone else’s thoughts we begin to realise that the fear is no longer real.  Effectively we are giving the three year old the understanding and insight that we now have as an adult and this makes a huge difference.  Now when we go back to that memory we understand that out terror was unnecessary and suddenly the years of compounded fear melt away.

Of course it is easier to make this kind of change with the guidance of a skilled coach.  She will have techniques and lines of questioning that allow you to act as an independent, wise and objective observer to your own experience and then integrate your new understanding in the present so that when you step out into the rude, wide world you are ready to notice the difference.  Once you practise noticing the difference, not only have you made the change you wanted to make, you are strengthening your new view of yourself.

The Presuppositions of NLP


I knew that NLP was right for me as soon as I discovered that its presuppositions, the guiding principles that underpin all training and practice, aligned completely with my own beliefs and values. I know that there is integrity in all my learning, teaching and working with clients.


One of the most intriguing aspects of my NLP experience has been encountering statements such as “The presuppositions are not true”. What this does is appeal to our open minded curiosity encouraging us to question what we hear. Much of what we hear we generate ourselves and so we can begin to question our own assumptions. Are they true? Or are they simply rules and habits which have come to accept automatically? As with the presuppositions, if we act as if they are true they determine the responses we get. Internalised guides may be helpful and yet is often valuable to go in and test them from time to time asking the question “Is this belief serving me well?”


In this blog, one of the things I intend to do is exactly that: I will be reconsidering some of my presuppositions and inviting you to join me in the enquiry. If you would like to begin by reading my understanding of some NLP presuppositions now click here to go to my article on NLP presuppositions.

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