Nostalgia: Memory or Motivation?

This morning, I was listening to a podcast called Hidden Brain, which is produced by NPR and can be found here. The discussion surrounded nostalgia and how it has come to change. In Clay Routledge’s book, “Nostalgia: A Psychological Resource”, the author discusses the origin of the word. Originally and very simply put, the word was meant to describe Swiss soldiers’s emotional and physical responses in the 17th century as having a cerebral disease. Now, the word is associated with sentimental longing. As I listened to this podcast, I couldn’t help but wonder about pictures, music, words, etc. that would trigger nostalgic feelings. For example, for those of you who used AOL Instant Messenger, which is shutting down after twenty years, you might have nostalgia towards messaging friends after school, screen name choices, and even the many away messages that you left that were more complex than a simple “BRB”. Take a moment here to reminisce.

How do nostalgic memories make us feel? Happy? Frustrated? Longing for different times? If nostalgia has the power to make us feel multiple emotions at once, why not use those emotions in an active way?

Clay Routledge also spoke about how he felt when his daughter graduated high school. He had an overwhelming wave of memories, which led to him feeling happy, and even a sense of accomplishment for his daughter knowing this was a stepping stone to future endeavors.

What if we had nostalgia about our own accomplishments to build self-confidence?

My mind began to race. If we could use our nostalgia to build self-confidence, why not use it to motivate ourselves? When I talk about goal setting with athletes, I ask them to think about goals they’ve achieved in the past and to think about why they succeeded. If we connect our past accomplishments more to our emotions surrounding those accomplishments, would that help increase motivation?

For example, in high school, I set a goal in my senior season of field hockey to score one goal. I was a defensive player, so my scoring opportunities were extremely limited. My co-captains knew of my goal and helped me achieve it by helping me convince the coach to move me into an offensive position one of the last practices of the season. My coach knew we were having fun and allowed me and one of the other captains to play forward together since we were a bit of a duo on defense. Within a few minutes of scrimmaging, I scored my first goal ever with an assist from my defensive teammate. I remember feeling so overwhelmed with excitement, accomplishment, and relief. I had finally done it, no, we had finally done it. After years of playing a sport I loved, I achieved my goal with help from my team. A couple years later, I was playing in a summer league and got the opportunity again to play forward since we were short on players that night. Again, I scored a goal, and could not believe how the same emotions flooded over me.

Using that experience, I wonder if that could have been motivation for me to step outside my comfort zone and practice to play a more offensive position when it came time to my college career. By using those feelings and emotions that focus around those memories, I believe that I could have motivated myself to become a more versatile player.

If we can pair positive emotions to past successes to increase intrinsic motivation, that would in turn help goal setting and potentially, self-confidence. It now makes me wonder, what other possibilities can become realities if I connect my positive emotions to goal setting and ultimately to my motivations?

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