How Keep Yourself on Track: Using External Reminders

The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.
Bruce Lee

How do you keep yourself on track? How do you not let your goals get lost in the daily hustle and bustle?

One way is to use something outside of your own leaky memory. In my article Change your environment to change your life I wrote about how you can more quickly change who you are by changing your surroundings.

Using handy objects like external reminders is one good way of doing just that. And they come in a few different forms.

Written notes.

This is of course the simplest and most common form of external reminders.

You just write down what you want to keep in mind on a piece of paper and then put where you can’t avoid seeing it.

You can, for example, make a to-do list of three things you want to get done today and then put that note in the pocket of your pants.

But you can also use written notes to keep more long-term and less physically practical things in mind. You may, for instance, write down a very meaningful and inspiring quote and tape it on your wall, fridge or bathroom mirror to keep your motivation up and your focus on what is important.

Or, if you taking some kind of challenge – like the Positivity Challenge – or doing a 30 day trial to change a habit – like only checking email and RSS-feeds once a day – you can put up many notes in your surroundings with some quick reminder to keep yourself from forgetting and slipping up.

Paper is a useful for your notes, but not the only alternative. You can write down a reminder and use it as your screensaver. Or you can program your computer and cell phone to remind you about things with a beep and a small text a few times a day.

One suggestion for such a message, if you are trying to improve your effectiveness, is to program your tools to ask you: is this useful? If you find that what you are doing isn’t that useful, try to get it done quickly or drop it completely and move on to your most important tasks.

Using your hands.

If you are doing the Positivity Challenge then you need to be reminded of it often or your mind is likely to fall back in to old and negative thought patterns. If you are changing something that you have to keep in mind most of the day a piece of paper may not be the best solution.

One thing that you see a lot during the day is your hands. So a reminder there can be helpful. One great idea for your wrist is the No-complaint bracelet. It’s a simple purple bracelet with “a complaint free world” inscribed. Over 4 million of these bracelets have been sent out to people who want help to stay away from complaining for 21 days and form a new and more positive way of thinking. You can read more about the project at this website and order bracelets, the book “A Compliant Free World” and other stuff.

If you have some other goal of challenge you can still stick to the bracelet idea. You can buy a cheap, simple and distinct bracelet to remind yourself. Maybe you can even get a small inscription. Or you can create and design your own bracelet just the way you want it. A super-frugal approach is simply to use a thick, brightly coloured rubber band on your wrist.

Here are a few suggestions for thought habits to change and words to use:

  • Positivity!
  • This is not a rehearsal. (i.e. you will die. So take more chances and courageously live how you want to live).
  • Relax.
  • Do you need to buy that? (when going for a more frugal lifestyle).
  • Is this useful? (for becoming less busy and more effective. Am I just being busy? is a good alternative reminder.).
  • Focus on one thing. (for improving your focus and reducing multi-tasking).
  • Now. (for developing the habit of keeping your focus on the present moment rather than some memory or some future scenario).

You can also use a ring to remind yourself of your goal. If you are using long sleeves a ring may be a better alternative since you’ll probably see it more often during the day. On the other hand, making your own ring or writing a reminder on it can be a bit trickier.

Your clothes.

A classic. How you dress can affect how you feel and how you see yourself.

Emotions work backward too. So the emotional associations you have to different pieces of clothing can change how you feel. It’s not exactly a secret that people often feel cooler, more attractive and more enthusiastic when they wear a new awesome looking piece of clothing.

So you may want to take a look at what you wear and what your shoes, shirts, pants etc. tell you and how they make you feel. And then think about how a change in how you dress could help you change your thoughts and behavior. Imagine how you would dress in the future, when you have reached your goals.

If you, for example, want to become more organized and disciplined then you might want to have wear more structured and professional clothes. If you experiment a bit you can probably find a good style of clothing that is comfortable but also projects an image to yourself of who you’re becoming.

Try to match your clothes to the new self-image you are developing. This will reinforce your new self-image and can help achieve the change you’d like more rapidly.

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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

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  • Lala

    Hi Henrik
    i just stumbled upon your blog and i have been reading for the past 20 minutes ! i love it, every aspect of the blog .. as i am trying to teach young children the power of being positive ! your my new resource .. great job.
    lol people under estimate the power clothing have on us .. there is an old arab saying that goes : he who cleans his clothes washes away his sorrows, he who put a fresh scent on himself increases his mind and spirit.
    for arabic readers(the saying in arabic):
    {?? ??? ????? ??? ??? ??? ??? ???? ??? ????}

    best of luck !! and peace to all..