When bad memories arise, focus on their trivial details—weather, scenery—and they’ll pack less power. In a study in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, subjects described emotional memories, like getting an honor or failing a test. When they then focused on the unimportant minutiae of the events, an MRI showed that the brain centers that process and control emotions teamed up to reduce the emotional impact—like, say, a mom distracting a crying toddler with a toy.
“This suggests you have some control over how upsetting events affect you emotionally,” says Nancy Franklin, Ph.D., an associate professor of cognitive science at Stony Brook U. Of course, if someone was killed by lightning in your haunting memory, maybe focus on the traffic instead.