If you are of a certain age, you may be familiar with the name Marilu Henner. A film and television actress, Henner became famous for her role as Elaine Nardo in the sitcom Taxi during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the 90’s she went on to host her own talk show and has written several books on diet and health; but it is her role on Taxi for which she is most remembered.
Henner also remembers her time on the show. In fact, she remembers just about every detail from every episode; from what she wore to what each actor’s lines were, and even what the weather was like on each day of filming. She remembers the minutiae from other days of her life as well, because she is one a handful of people around the world diagnosed with hyperthymesia. This condition is also known as “total recall syndrome.” Henner can remember just about every detail from every day of her life since she was 11 years old.
Imagine having every moment of your past available for recall instantly; everything you ate, wore, and did played back in your mind as if it had just happened. Would that be a blessing or a curse? You’d be able to relive all the best moments of your life any time you wanted, but then you’d also be subject to the worst of times suddenly flooding back as well. My wife often jokes about my poor memory, but I’m starting to think there are some details of my past I’d just as soon forget.
Scientists say that, for most of us, emotion plays a huge role in what we remember. It’s why I can’t recall what I had for lunch yesterday, but remember in vivid detail where I was and what I was doing on September 11, 2001. Lunch didn’t make much of an emotional impression on me. The raw emotions I experienced on 9/11 anchored the events of that day firmly in my mind.
Dr. Shahram Heshmat of the University of Illinois at Springfield says that “emotion acts like a highlighter pen that emphasizes certain aspects of experiences to make them more memorable.” In other words, strong emotion equals strong memory. The stronger the emotion associated with an event, the more starkly the details of that event are highlighted in the memory centers of our brain.
Knowing this, can’t we use the power of emotion to influence how people remember their interactions with us? Shouldn’t we? After all, if our goal is remain top of mind – if we want customers to return for more business and coworkers to act in ways that make our jobs easier – shouldn’t we do our best to create strong positive emotions associated with our time together? It seems to be me that this very concept is the strongest competitive advantage we could develop.
Think about it. What if every time a customer thinks about our organization, positive emotions were to flood over them? They may not be able to recall exactly what we said or did to make them feel so good, but that’s OK. It’s the emotional aspect of the memory that counts. It’s the positive feelings, more than any specific detail that makes us want to continue in any relationship.
In 2012, Henner published Total Memory Makeover: Uncover Your Past, Take Charge of Your Future. In an interview about her book, she described her own feelings about her unusual gift. “Your past is in you and on your mental hard drive … whether you remember it or not. It’s what makes you behave and do things in your present. So why not explore it for all it’s worth?” She’s learned to use the power of memory as a resource, utilizing it to craft the future. I find that a tip worth remembering.