Can't stop rehashing a fight with a friend or an embarrassing episode at the office? Your brain may be wired to hold onto cringe-worthy memories, suggests a study from the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. When asked to block out memories of a series of photographs, the study's 218 participants had a harder time letting go of evocative images (such as a war scene) than mundane images (such as a clock or a spoon). "What people may want for their own well-being doesn't necessarily mesh with what the memory allows," notes lead study author Keith Payne, Ph.D.
Still, it's not impossible to keep your mind from replaying painful incidents, says Trinity University psychology professor Paula Hertel, Ph.D. When a bad memory is triggered, focus on a better one. "If you pass a restaurant where you last ate with your ex, think about a birthday dinner a friend once had there," Hertel says. It's not easy, she adds, but, if practiced consistently, this strategy has the potential to help you move on.