Olfaction, also known as sense of smell, is the most primal and mysterious of our six senses. Throughout human evolution, our sense of smell has been a key to our survival. Humans are capable of distinguishing thousands of unique odors.
Smell is often the first warning of safety or danger, friend or foe. Smells have the power to drive your behavior on an instinctive and subconscious level. Luckily, you can also harness the power of smell and consciously use it to your advantage.
It’s ironic that most people undervalue the power of scent. Fragrances have the ability to evoke both positive and negative psychological states of mind and reactions in milliseconds.
From an evolutionary standpoint, a negative smell, such as a dead animal, can trigger an instantaneous reflex to take flight. A positive smell, such as burning wood or baking cookies, can trigger a sense of security and the urge to tend-and-befriend while you rest-and-digest.
What Smells Trigger a Remembrance of Things Past for You?
In Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust illustrates how smell is linked to early life experiences stored in memory engrams of specific neural networks. Proust vividly describes how forgotten childhood memories are brought back into consciousness with their original intensity when the protagonist in his story dips a madeleine biscuit into a cup of tea.
Researchers call this “Proustian memory effect.” Childhood memories linked to scent stay with people throughout life. Recently, Rachel Herz of Brown University, and Haruko Sugiyama and colleagues at the Kao Corporation in Japan conducted a study to identify how the scent of a product evokes personal emotional memories and influences the appeal of a product to potential consumers.
Recall the smells of your childhood. Don’t the smells of Silly Putty and Play-Doh bring back huge waves of memory? I surround myself with scents that evoke positive psychology and ideal athletic mindset. I have a cardboard box containing all of these smells which are like time capsules. I usually encode a scent for a few the months leading up to a big race, visualizing the event day in and day out. I bring these scents with me to help create a sense of familiarity and safety. I recommend that you pay attention to how smell is integrated into your athletic process and how olfaction affects your mindset and mood. Make positive associations, even to bad smells like the locker room.
Conclusion: You Can Use the Power of Olfaction to Create Mindset and Behavior
Recognizing the power of specific smells in your day-to-day life gives you the ability to use fragrance as a tool to create a psychological state of mind on demand. Also, the memories attached to an aroma can help you relive the positive associations linked with the people and places of your past.