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.

Free Exclusive Happiness Tips

Subscribe to The Positivity Newsletter and get weekly tips on happiness, self-esteem and plenty more.

You’ll also get three free guides on how to stop being lazy, what to do when life sucks and 21 things I wish they’d taught me in school.

100% privacy and no spam. You can unsubscribe anytime.

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…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • A great post. It is amazing how changing a few aspects of your surroundings makes a huge difference. They also seem to be cumulative. I recall reading a suggestion that instead of trying to manage your time, you master your area so it funnels you into doing the right things to accomplish your results.

  • hannah

    I love the idea of being complaint free!
    There was an article in a recent issue of O magazine about living lives “sans whining”. Either find a solution or live with what every the “complaint” is. A much better way to live. It leads to being pro-active.

    Thanks for all the great posts.

  • Using external reminders is a great idea because most of us have been so “trained” by our lifestyles, that without a constant reminder to do, think, or say something, we very easily fall back into our old habits.

    I use the idea from ‘The Secret’ about using a Gratitude Rock. Every time I see or touch my rock, I think of something to be grateful for, and no matter how many times I see or touch it, I am always able to come up with something new. :)

  • John: Thank you. Yeah, it’s kinda strange how much changing just a few things in your surroundings can affect your life.

    Hannah: I agree, that certainly is a better way to live. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    Aaron: Thank you. I like the idea of a gratitude rock, that’s a great reminder of something we often forget.

  • Thanks

  • I didn’t thought about using clothes. Great idea! I will try that out!

    Alex Liu

  • External reminder to make sure myself on track to where I go. I usually write it down on paper, but today on ward will have one more, which is using clothes. I like it.
    Thank you. Let us all on track in our life!!


  • I loved the thought about using the screensaver as a reminder.

    Another suggestion. If you are trying to break a bad habit wear a thick rubber band on your wrist. It is a great visual reminder (like a bracelets and if you catch yourself falling into the old bad habits your can give yourself a good thwack.

  • I personally use a piece of scrap paper and a pen

  • These are great… I love the ideas of reminder jewelry and “dressing the part.” They are great approaches in tackling broader lifestyle changes.
    For smaller reminders, I write notes to myself all the time. But I either lose them or make a mess putting them in places I know I’ll see them :( Do you have any advice for that? Thanks.

    Tom Haynes – I love the dual-purpose thick rubber band idea ;)

  • My name is Dr. Boonlert Saisanit, a Certified Hypotherapist working in the area of Bangkok, Thailand.

    I myself uses giving suggestions to my Subconscious Mind to remind me everything I need reminding, such as; Waking up in te morning, Keep regular hours, do not procrastinate of what I can do now, be diligent, do not waste my time, always search for knowledge I like the most, healing people who are sick and ill with love and mercy and keep doing good not evil. I know I do not live long in this world of diseases, we cannot escape from it, but we can build our immunity to resist all kind of diseases to damage our health. By living a good life, do good you will receive good forever.

  • Anonymous

    mind blowin

  • Saidely

    Howdy :p

    really cool , it a proven way to be more productive if we know how to use it seriously.
    this articles is connected to another article you wrote concerning the writing of journal and goals.

    anyway , always appreciate your what you are doing

    Saidely M.