When we say “External Reminders”, what we mean is any object or arrangement designed to tweak our awareness, either softly or with a big old “THWAK!” to the head, as a matter of design, to encourage connection with performing or executing a specific goal or activity.

In numerous studies, a connection between associations of features in an environment with a specific behavior will influence the subjects in the desired direction.

Even flashing words associated with strength, agility and youth near subjects who are performing an otherwise unconnected task (and irrelevant to the actual study) will cross a lengthy corridor faster (the real test), than subjects who had words associated with age and weakness flashed in their environments.

In other words – environment counts. Is this such an outrageous notion? For decades business people placed photographs of their families on their desks.

Today… anything goes – one’s pet, one’s car, etc. – these are memory prompts for what is important and, perhaps, temporary moments of distractions from the horrors of contemporary office work.

Beyond reminders to pick up milk on the way home, how we organize and adorn our spaces can be powerful reminders, even when we are not consciously aware of them, of what we are working for and where we are going.

Imagine that how you organize your home and office is already influencing you… what is it saying? Is it a mumble, a shriek or a kind of rheumatic wheezy clearing of the throat?

I’m sure you are aware that extensive studies have been on the impact of color and shape on emotions. Now we know that even “knick-knacks”, and posters and objet d’art have a subtle influence on us… so we use that to our advantage.

You will recall when we spoke about using Post-It notes for placing phrases on them. Now we extend that notion to include anything and everything that reminds us or prompts towards focusing on and recalling what is important to us.

I’m reminded of a story about a person setting up a business in Taiwan who, while using the services of a Feng Shui consultant to “enhance the qi flow” of the office, failed to understand why the consultant was “junking up” their place with ratty old symbolic nonsense.

One of these ratty old pieces of nonsense as the guy called it, was a beautiful, antique lacquered bowl, 1/3 filled with tiny black seeds, and then three antique Chinese coins, intricately tied together with red thread, standing in the seeds.

The instruction was that the bowl had to go in a specific place on his desk and the desk had to be kept clean.

When considering his goals and directions and what he was seeking, it turned out he wanted build his business so that he could make a better legacy for his children than he had received.

Well… what else could the consultant say than, “Will you please stop for a moment and consider what you just said, and look at that beautiful lacquered bowl, made by someone else’s ancestor long ago. It was MEANT to be handed-down. And looks what’s in it. Seeds. What are seeds for?”

The businessperson understood the concept. He said, “They are for the future”. He was starting to tear up. The consultant explained, “And lovingly placed in the middle of those seeds for the future are three ancient coins tied together, so that they cannot be lost or separated…”

Now, the businessperson begins and ends each day gently wiping dust from the bowl, and making sure its area was clear and it was where it should be.
It became clear he had changed his mind about the Feng Shui. It wasn’t old junk, but a powerful reminder. The “bowl incident” as he called it later, became a significant reminder that became a conscious ritual.

They don’t even have to be that. Another successful woman used post cards from cities she had visited and small, meaningful items from each place (NOT hotel ashtrays) arranged in her home office and she said it made her feel more focused on what she was doing for the future.

You can use anything to create and enhance your environment to subtly or more boldly remind you of the what’s, why’s, and how’s of what is important to you.

There are enough hints here but here is an exercise:

  1. Take your biggest or most important goal or project. Think about what it will be doing for you, getting for you or giving you if you are successful. Think about the words or concepts associated with that and write them down.
  2. Find the best word that evokes them all, but in one word.
  3. Now find several different ways to make that word concrete, into a object. You could start with a piece of paper, write the word on it, and post it boldly. You could use refrigerator magnets, put it on the fridge, and move it around each time you pass it. You could write it in soap (or a grease pencil) on your bathroom mirror. You could put it on Post It notes and stick them around your home. You could find poems that contain the word or are about the word and post large quotes from them and make a wallpaper jpeg from it on your computer. You could find celebrity quotes that contain the word or are about the word. You could find an object that stands for the word. If you have children, you could ask them to write the word…
  4. For two weeks, fill your space with associations small and not so small about the word; then live with them for a few weeks…

Use your environment, craft it, and let it inform you while you are otherwise occupied. This is a subtle-wise hack but very powerful robot-judo. Give it a try.


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