+44 (0)1322 286826 | info@ebwglobal.com

Improve resilience by taking control of your memory

Page 1 of 26

How emotional memories improve resilience.

Think about the best film you have watched or your favourite piece of music or your most memorable sporting event. Which of the following emotions do you feel: anger, sadness, envy, happiness, optimism, excitement, positivity?

Not surprisingly, recalling memories makes us feel emotion. Our memories are not rational they are closely tied to the emotions that we felt at the time of the memory. Emotions make our memories powerful and salient, they make the experience of recall human. 

How about your most powerful emotional work memories, are they negative or positive? 

Do you remember when you gave a disastrous presentation or when you made an inappropriate embarrassing remark to your boss? What about when you got your first promotion? How about when you delivered a major project and you and your team received an award for outstanding achievement?

When you think of memories that elicit powerful emotional responses, you are likely to find the most powerful memories are the positive ones.

According to researchers, this phenomenon is called the fading affect bias (FAB), which refers to our tendency to forget negative emotions faster than positive ones. When we hold on to positive memories, we are kept happy and resilient, thus ensuring humanity’s survival. 

Research on this phenomenon is not new, the first studies were completed as far back as the 1930s, but it was only recently that any cross-cultural research was carried out. 

Psychologist Timothy Ritchie, from the University of Limerick in Ireland analysed the data gathered by other researchers around the world. He was interested to know whether this phenomenon was found cross culturally or was unique to North America.

More than 560 participants worldwide, from African-Americans and New Zealanders, to Ghanaians, Germans, and Native Americans participated in the study. They were asked to remember events in their lives, both positive and negative, and rate their emotions (1) when it happened, and (2) while they were reliving it.

The researcher's results suggested that the FAB phenomenon is found across a wide range of different cultures. All the ethnic groups remembered positive events better than they recalled bad events. What is interesting is that this phenomenon is not affected by age, you are no more prone to see the world through rose tinted glasses if you are in your 20s or in your 50s. 

The EBW View

While the study has some limitations - all the participants, for example, were assessed using the English language, not in their own language - the main takeaway is that most people are likely to recall more positive events than negative events.  We do not know why people do this, but focusing on the memories with positive emotions makes it easier to adapt to changes and develops our psychological resilience.

Focusing on positive emotions helps us to cope with adversity, bounce back from setbacks and reframe negative situations as challenges, making us more resilient.

However, building resilience in the workplace is not just about focusing on positive emotional memories,  remembering the past with “rose-coloured glasses” can be a “double-edged sword”. While it helps one maintain a positive outlook and can make us more resilient, it can also mean that we do may not recognise or pay attention to indicators that suggest ongoing situations may not be as positive.

Building resilience is about understanding how we recall our emotions and what impact they have on our perception of ongoing events. It is about learning to recognise the bias in your emotions and feelings that helps you understand and cope with difficult situations.

Understanding your emotions and how your memories make you feel is all part of the process of developing superior Emotional Intelligence and resilience in the workplace. 

Start developing your resilience today with these simple tips:

  1. Take time each day to focus on your emotions. What are you feeling? Consider how the emotional memories that you used that day affect the way you feel and how they are affecting your view of the world, as well as your actions.

  2. When people are recalling events, focus on their feelings and emotions, are they positive or negative, and how do their emotions subsequently affect your thoughts and behaviour?

  3. Be honest with yourself about what you can or can’t do. Focus on your strengths and derive your self-confidence from them. Admit that you can’t do everything and acknowledge those who can do what you can’t.

The importance of understanding resilience in work can’t be underestimated. With these 3 tips, you can survive and even thrive in trying times. 


Ritchie, T.D., Batteson, T.J., Bohn, A., Crawford, M.T., Ferguson, G.V., Schrauf, R.W., Vogl, R.J., & Walker, W.R. (2014). A pancultural perspective on the fading affect bias in autobiographical memory. Memory. PMID: 24524255 


Discover How Business Emotional Intelligence Transforms Leaders and Teams

The EBW is the EQ tool of choice for many world-leading companies, including: