Smell and memories – The Proust Effect

Whats your favourite smell and memories?

Have you ever smelt something that brought back good memories?

Do you realised how much we associate smells with memories?  And in turn how that affects our emotions?

smell and memories flowers

What’s your favourite smell? Think about it for a minute.

Did you notice the feeling that comes from that memory?

If you’re lucky, maybe certain good smells are easily reproduced.  Some smells are completely impossible to clone, like the smell of a new baby, or wet grass. The fabric softener companies have been spending thousands on trying to get their products smell like freshly aired laundry for years!

Of course, the problem for them to work out too is what smells amazing to one may not to another.  I dont like the smell of petrol for example, but a friend cant wait to pop into the garage to fill up!

Noticing that a smell has an effect on the brain is known as the “Proust Effect” after Marcus Proust (1871 – 1922) described how eating a madeleine cake made him remember happy times during his childhood with his aunt. He was the first to describe involuntary memory – this means remembering things without needing to recall them. He was also the first to realise how clear the memory was, and this clarity was through what he was smelling.

Since then, it has been widely proven that smell is ageless. What I mean is that out of all of our senses, our sense of smell is the one that does not lose its potency with age. As we age, colours become less vivid, and sounds become more muted. Think of when you first started school – can you see it? Is it clear? Bit fuzzy? But one whiff of a parma violet could transport you to when you were five!

Smell in the brain is directly linked to emotions. This is because the brain process smell using the limbic system which is responsible for understanding our behavioural attachments, memory and how we feel.

So how does this relate to alternative health?

In a nutshell  – its another tool for you to use to make you feel better!


If your smell is reproducible, get it bottled and carry it with you and sniff for instant feel good factor.

Its not? Dont worry.  This is where NLP can come in and help. Its the association that brings back the good memories and the good emotions assigned with the smell that we can work on!

I’ve probably triggered a voluntary response to smell and memories for you. Write it down. All of it. What you think, feel, smell, taste and touch.

 Try to notice where you felt a change in how you feel – if not, re-read and notice!  Note that down too.

Now we need to get an association that you can use in everyday life. Some clients use an association such as touching their earlobe, linking thumbs or something discreet that can be used in everyday life.

Re-read your memory. Now as soon as you notice you are beginning to change how you feel make your association, and hold until the feeling begins to go.

You just made a new pathway and triggered lots of different neurons in the brain!

Like any new behaviour, the brain needs to learn the connection so it becomes automatic.

So rinse and repeat at least 10 times today, and for the next week.

Now you have a feel good tool for life!

So, the next time your nose reminds you it’s there, or when you see all those boxes of madeleine cakes at Christmas, just smile at your smell and memories and marvel and how complex yet simple the brain really is!

So now I’ve triggered a voluntary memory from you, tell me what is your favorite smell?

Positive Productions

This entry was posted in NLP.

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