I have a confession. 

It’s been seven years since my retirement from mixed martial arts and I still suffer from situational amnesia.

In my 13-year career, I can only remember parts of the good and not much of the bad.

There’s no cure but I’m hardly concerned because this is by design. 

Despite how it sounds, situational amnesia is not a degenerative condition or a brain disorder. 

I first acquired situational amnesia from my mental performance conditioning coach Brian Cain. During my run in the UFC, he trained me to use situational amnesia as a tool to insulate myself from negativity or doubt before a match.

We are our own worst critics. Any failure or mistake becomes magnified a thousandfold. When you experience a major setback, as I did in my defeats against Anderson Silva, it can mentally break you. 


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Why we Obsess Over Negative Things

The human brain is hardwired to pay more attention to negative things than positive ones.

Everyone’s probably heard this: The caveman is not admiring the beautiful roses because he’s busy keeping watch for the lion that jumps out from the bushes.

The media has leveraged this psychological bias to churn out a torrent of negativity. Headlines frequently scream disaster, and there’s yet another report on a major scandal, or that someone did something to somebody. 

This isn’t to say that there is no value in negativity. One school of thought believes that our attention to negative events has adaptive value. 


There are always lessons we can learn from failure. We can train our brains to apply that knowledge to similar situations in the future.


The Value of Situational Amnesia

Our culture today prioritizes information retention. There are many resources that focus on teaching us how to think faster, be more analytical, and absorb more information.

Given what we know about society today, does situational amnesia have any value?

Dwelling on negativity and failure is always a present danger to our mental health, so a case can be made that selectively forgetting the bad moments can be very beneficial to our well-being.

In the book ‘Forgetting’, Dr. Small, the Boris and Rose Katz Professor of Neurology at Columbia explains why forgetting benefits our cognitive and creative abilities, and even our personal and societal health.

There’s an active mechanism within our brain that filters out unnecessary information to clear up space for long-term memory storage. 

This helps to alleviate the informational overload that we encounter on a daily basis. Being able to turn off and selectively forget certain useless details helps us prioritize, think better, make decisions and be more creative. 

In one of my previous posts, I shared how my nutritional choices would regularly result in decision fatigue. Having too much to think about can be agonizing and in certain cases, I could definitely see the value of situational amnesia.


How to Use Situational Amnesia to Your Advantage

You can use situational amnesia to your advantage, just like I did during my run in the UFC.

The lead-up to a match is one of the most critical moments for any combat sports athlete. A strong emphasis is placed on maintaining your mental integrity before the fight. 

My boxing coach used to remind me “Don’t fight the fight before the fight”.

We stay away from all the media chatter and analysis because we feel confident in our preparation. The last thing we need is for a negative soundbite or an analysis from a previous loss to jeopardize that confidence heading into an important fight.

Unfortunately, we can’t avoid every source of negativity, and this is where situational amnesia really shines. By actively letting go of any memory of my past losses, I am reconfiguring my mind to focus solely on my preparation, which is the source of my confidence.

Situational amnesia can be applied in many different ways. Remember Brandt Jean? His choice to forgive his brother’s murderer was not a choice to forget his brother. Instead, he chose not to hold on to the hurt and resentment, because it would only imprison him with pain.


Situational Amnesia vs. Forgetfulness

Although forgetfulness and situational amnesia are related, I prefer to see the latter as a skill in your mental toolbox that you can apply to help you become a better person.

Memory loss, forgetfulness and dementia are all signs of aging. 

In the time that our mental faculties are still intact, we ought to be vigilant about maximizing the ability of thought.

What do you think of situational amnesia? Have you or do you know anyone who has benefitted from it?

Hop on my Instagram and share some of the creative ways that situational amnesia has helped you in your life!