The Link Between Our Sense of Smell and Positive Memories

Have you ever experienced a scent or sound triggering a happy memory from your past? It’s amazing how our sense of smell and hearing can transport us back to a joyful time. This phenomenon is also utilized in caring for Alzheimer’s patients, who often become agitated or distressed due to the confusion caused by their condition. By using familiar smells and sounds from their past, they can be brought to a state of calm by reconnecting with those memories.

Reflect and Visualize

During goal-setting sessions with my clients, I emphasize the importance of visualization. One of the techniques I use is asking them to recall a moment in their lives where they experienced pure joy and happiness, whether it was yesterday or in the distant past. By reliving this moment and fully experiencing the sensations of joy, they can set clear and meaningful goals for themselves in any aspect of their lives.


woman presenting - self-compassion

Although this visualization technique may seem new to some, it is widely used by professionals such as athletes and speakers. By repeatedly visualizing a performance in their mind, athletes and drivers can improve their skills and performance on the field or track. Similarly, speakers often practice and visualize their presentations beforehand. Dancers also use visualization techniques to relive past performances and improve their technique. While they may not physically execute the full moves, they can still recreate the experience in their minds.

Utilize Your Childhood Memories

We can utilize the power of sensory experiences to identify important components of our goals. One way to do this is by reliving moments that evoke positive emotions. For example, when you encounter a particular smell that brings you joy, take a moment to question it and relive the experience.

Recently, I was hit with the overwhelming scent of chlorine. The smell instantly transported me back to a happy moment in my childhood. As an only child living on a farm, my grandparents’ pool was a special place for me. The pool, handbuilt in the ’40s, was a popular destination for people and children alike. I remember the feeling of connection and engagement I experienced when adults would supervise me in the pool.


child enjoying swimming pool - self-compassion


Swimming with my friends was another source of joy. We would create elaborate stories, pretending to be mermaids or Olympic athletes. We played games like Marco Polo and sang songs until we were exhausted and starving. The warmth of the sun on my skin and the scent of chlorine evaporating from my body are still vivid memories.

Reliving this sensory experience reminded me of the values I hold dear – connection, joy, and playfulness. It helped me identify what I seek out and strive for in life. Just like professional athletes and speakers who practice visualization techniques to prepare for real-life events, we too can use sensory experiences to identify meaningful goals.

power of sensory experiences - memories

Connecting Memories to Your Core Values

Next time a happy memory triggers your senses, take a moment to pause and reflect by asking yourself these questions:

  • Do these sensations still exist and are they connected to my goals?
  • Are they currently present in my life and driving/motivating me?
  • What specifically about that memory brings you joy? Why that moment?
  • How does that moment inform your past memories?
  • What do you place value on about that moment?

Asking yourself these questions will help reveal the core of who you are and establish some of your core beliefs:

  • Is that present in your current life?
  • Where can you incorporate those sensations and values into your life now?
  • What makes you place value on that situation? That’s the key.

Can you share with me your happy memories and stories? What sound or smell reminds you of your happy place? Although there may be negative ones, I’d like you to focus on the positive memories. I’m sure there are some beautiful and incredible stories out there, and I would love to hear yours. So please, share your story with me.

Questions to Connect Your Memories to Your Core Values

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About the Author

Barbara Clifford - The Time Tamer
Barbara Clifford (The Time Tamer) is a co-founder of The Hinwood Institute. She is the lead trainer and coach in Time Management. She is a recognized leader in Stress Management. An experienced coach, speaker, columnist and facilitator, Barbara’s work with The Hinwood Institute assists people to unclutter mess, make order from chaos, and swap the shackles of overwhelming for freedom. Barbara’s clients move from the relentless hamster wheel to waking inspired, motivated, making decisions with purpose and achieving peak performance. She lives in the desert of Alice Springs, Australia working with people around the country. Her professional experience has included contracts with small business, Not For Profits, Aboriginal Organisations, Media, Marketing, Aged Care, Universities, Health Services and Cruise Ships