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50 Memory Triggers To Unlock Your Best Stories

By Melissa Brown, MD

memory triggers for personal stories

The Secret To Connecting With Your Audience

Wanna know the secret to creating great emails, blog posts, speeches, or podcast episodes?

Stories!

Telling personal stories is the best secret to creating a connection with your audience, whether it’s oral stories as in speeches, podcasts, or audio content, or written stories in emails, blog posts, or social content.

A good story, well-told, will help create a bond between the storyteller and the audience. This is not only an emotional bond but a chemical bond, too.

There’s scientific evidence that stories elicit a biochemical hormone called oxytocin in the brain of the audience members who are hearing or reading a story.

Oxytocin is also called the ‘love drug’ or the ‘cuddle hormone,’ since it’s associated with human mother-child bonding and breastfeeding. The presence of oxytocin makes people feel more connected, trusting, and empathetic with the storyteller.

Everyone Has Stories!

But what if you’re like a lot of people and you think you have no interesting stories?

You may feel like your life is boring. That nothing exciting ever happens to you–nothing that you can turn into a story to share.

Well, first of all, that’s not true. You DO have great stories. We all do.

Everyone has little slice-of-life moments that can be turned into compelling stories to share in your writing.

Store Your Stories Somewhere

vintage library card catalog

The trick is to remember your stories when you want to share them.

The best way to recall your stories is to record a few details of each story in a story bank or library–always recording them in the same place. This way, you’ll always know where to find a particular story when it’s time to do some writing.

Recording a few snippets of your stories will help jog your memory. You can then choose one of the stories when it’s time to sit down and write.

Trello works well for collecting your stories.

A special notebook or journal works well, too. This could be the place where you quickly write a line or two to jog your memory in the future about a particular story. Or use it as a diary and write notes about your day every evening.

You can also use online cloud storage, like DropBox or Evernote. I like Evernote for its easy indexing ability for your stories.

Remembering All Your Stories

How do you remember all your great stories?

Here’s a tip that helps jog your memory banks. Use a book of writing prompts to randomly pick out a prompt. Thinking about how you’ll answer that prompt will send you on a trip down memory lane. Chances are you’ll be able to remember at least one slice-of-life story for that prompt.

Also, any time something triggers a memory from your past or something happens in your day-to-day life, write it down or record it digitally. You don’t have to write the whole story down until you’re writing it for a purpose, like in an email or blog post. Just get down the bones for now.

Using Science To Trigger Memories

In her book, Revelations in Air: A Guidebook to Smell, author Jude Stewart writes about memories triggered by scent. She describes the sense of smell as a form of “emotional time travel.” Her opening sentence in the book speaks volumes; “Smell is a tesseract, collapsing space and time. It unlocks memories and grants us access to scenes we can only enter in imagination.”

Scientific studies confirm what author Stewart describes; that scents are a powerful memory trigger. There are several explanations for that, having to do with the area of the brain responsible for emotions and the sense of smell. These scent-triggered memories can be more vivid and realistic when an actual scent triggers the brain’s specialized memory banks. 

Until the unlikely time comes that we can deliver actual scents via blog posts, let’s use this piece of science to trigger some of your hidden memories that might have been lying dormant for way too long. If you want to actually experience these memory trigger odors in real life with the real smell, please share your experience in the comments below.

For now, just use your imagination to slowly conjure up the scent of the following list of 50 items–one at a time. I’ve even created a workbook for you to use to go through the list.

50 Scent Memory Triggers

What memories are sparked by these aromas? 

  1. Melted chocolate
  2. Chalkdust
  3. Fresh-mown grass
  4. Lilacs in the springtime
  5. Suntan lotion
  6. Pipe smoke
  7. Sweat
  8. Horses
  9. Chlorine swimming pools
  10. Wet dogs
  11. Rain
  12. Fresh-baked apple pie
  13. Sour milk
  14. The pages in a brand-new book
  15. Freshly turned-over dirt
  16. Rubbing alcohol
  17. Campfires
  18. Fish
  19. Mothballs (I don’t recommend inhaling these, though, since they’re toxic.)
  20. Oranges
  21. Cigarette smoke
  22. Rosemary
  23. Lemon zest
  24. Fresh-brewed coffee
  25. Roasted nuts
  26. Peppermint
  27. Burning rubber
  28. Roasted garlic
  29. Fresh tar or asphalt
  30. Licorice or anise
  31. Basil
  32. Freshly popped popcorn
  33. Burnt toast
  34. Pumpkin Pie Spice
  35. Cedar
  36. Vicks Vaporub
  37. Carnations
  38. Peanut butter
  39. Baby powder
  40. Bleach
  41. Crayons
  42. Fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies
  43. Rising yeast dough
  44. Banana
  45. Beer
  46. Cloves
  47. Vanilla
  48. Roses
  49. Bacon
  50. Lavender

You may be able to fill up your story bank for a long time into the future with just these 50 scent prompts.

Please share your experience with these memory sparks. Leave a comment below to let me know which of these 50 was the most powerful trigger for you. How many stories did you come up with?

If you love the idea of collecting your stories with these scent prompts, be sure to get your copy of the workbook I created.  Just click on the button below.

This blog post may contain recommendations for products, services, and events. In some cases, the links provided are affiliate links. That means that if you click on the link and then buy a product at the site recommended, you won't pay a penny more and the author may earn compensation as a thank you. You can be assured that any of the promoted products have personally been used by or researched by the author for you and found to be high quality before being recommended. 

About the author

Dr. Melissa Brown's career journey has always had an element of teaching. After retirement from clinical pediatric practice, Dr. Brown has taught and mentored as a healthy lifestyle coach, author, and speaker. She currently teaches solopreneurs and coaches how to stop being the world's best-kept secret. Her mission is to help you: Create great content. Impact people. Change the world.

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