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You most likely recall exactly where you were, and exactly what you were doing, when you learned of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.

I most certainly do!

I clearly recall my disbelief and total amazement. I recall exactly where I was standing when I first heard about the news. And I even remember precisely what the weather was like at that moment. That total moment was permanently seared into my memory!

But do you recall where you were on this date last year? Chances are you don't! And neither do I.

“Now...why IS that?” you might well wonder.

** The Memory Puzzle
Why did we both obviously "memorize" the details of our lives on 9/11/01 – but can’t recall much of anything about our lives on this day just a year ago?

The innermost recesses of our brains contain the secret of why we remember some things so clearly...and others not at all.

To a large extent, learning and memory are functions of a banana-shaped portion of our brain called the “hippocampus.” But our ability to recall certain moments very clearly is a function of another part of our brain.

This second important piece of the memory puzzle is located very close to the hippocampus, and is called the amygdala (ah-mig-daa-la).

Your amygdala is triggered by emotion – pure and simple. And it especially responds to very strong emotions, whether positive or negative.

** Emotion and Goal Success
This emotion-triggered aspect of the amygdala holds the secret to why intense emotions like passionate desire and fear are such powerful forces in our lives.

For example: If you have a passionate desire to achieve a goal, your amygdala will take actions to *blaze* the memory of your desire into your brain's learning and memory center -- your hippocampus.

You will then become literally “possessed” by an unstoppable burning desire to achieve that goal.

And since your hard-working hippocampus will hold that desire right in the front of your memory banks -- it may seem that suddenly *everything* reminds you to pursue your goal.

That’s why success is inevitable IF you set goals you have a *passionate desire* to achieve.

The Key word is PASSION.

** The One Thing to Avoid
But there is one thing that can cause the undoing of a passionate drive for success. And that’s the *big S* -- chronic stress!

We all know stress is bad for us. But today’s neuroscientists have now proven beyond a doubt that chronic stress actually causes physical damage to the hippocampus.

As you recall from previous articles, your neurons are something like trees: They have branches (called “dendrites”) that reach out to communicate with other neurons (brain cells).

Bruce McEwen of the Rockefeller University’s neuroscience laboratories studied the brain cells of stressed mice.

He discovered that the dendrites of the mice were both fewer and shorter as a result of repeated stress. (Due to such shrinkage, your hippocampus cells would receive far *less* information than normally.)

And McEwen found the opposite in the amygdala (the portion of your brain that regulates emotion.) Chronic stress actually causes the neurons in the amygdala to *grow* and become *more* active.

** The Cause of "Generalized Anxiety"
As with mice -- chronic stress causes the cells of your hippocampus to shrink. And at the same time, it causes your amygdala cells to grow.

This is NOT a good thing!

As the amygdala grows, many people will suffer from increased emotional instability – along with deep feelings of anger, fear and anxiety.

And at the same time, their shrinking hippocampus becomes less capable of “grounding” their feelings by connecting those emotions to specific causes.

This often leads to a feeling of “generalized anxiety” -- a vague feeling that "something" is wrong . . . without any clarity on what that “something” could be.

This brain phenomenon can be viewed using magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). “You can actually measure the altered volume of the hippocampus in disorders like major depressive illness,” researcher McEwen tells us.

** A Possible Strategy
The best possible approach is to certainly trigger burning passion for your goals. But at the same time, be *sure* to include some stress-releasing activities in your busy schedule.

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