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Leverage Past Wins to Fuel Future Successes

The first thought a person has when hearing a word is called a flash memory. For example, if people hear the word “campfire,” they may think of marshmallows or of a time they got burned. The flash memory associated with a word, person, or topic shapes how a person feels about it. When people’s flash memories are negative, they avoid the person or thing that spawned the memory. In contrast, people gravitate to those people or things associated with positive flash memories.

People’s memories help them process the world around them and guide them through life. However, new information can influence how people remember things. It is possible for a person to shift his or her flash memories and those of others. By providing new information and highlighting success stories, a person can make someone else’s memories more positive. When rewriting flash memories, there are three keys to success:

1. Spotlight the wins. Positive broadcasters can motivate others by highlighting current and past successes. In studies, athletes who received praise and encouragement in addition to instruction put more effort into subsequent activities.

2. Select the package. Positive stories have much more impact when they come in the form of a personal message. For example, fund raisers at a college worked harder and raised more money after getting a visit from a scholarship recipient. Messages are best delivered in person or by video.

3. Choose the frequency. Repetition is the key. One study found that it takes three exposures for a person to connect to a message.

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