What Did You Forget Today?

Make Your Mind More Effective with this Memory Hack

How often has this scenario been your reality: you’re lying in bed on the brink of sleep when suddenly your mind is jolted back into consciousness by the reminder of an urgent to-do for tomorrow. You know telling yourself to remember won’t suffice so you have to take additional measures to aid your memory, maybe writing it down on a piece of paper or setting an alarm in your phone. Whatever your trick to remember may be, Psychological Science has a new, proven method for you to try – and you don’t even have to get out of bed.

This approach, referred to as reminders-through-association, involves associating intentions with unique cues that will capture your attention when you have opportunities to act on those intentions. In other words, when you think of something you have to do, associate it in your mind with a distinctive physical trigger that, when noticed the next day, will remind you to act on the task. Here’s an example from a study conducted at the Wharton School.

Participants were told to complete an hourlong computer task and that, at the culmination of the task, a food bank donation would be made if they picked up a paper clip while collecting their payment on the way out. One group was told an elephant statue would be sitting on the payment counter as a reminder to pick up a paper clip, the other group was not. As a result, 74% of participants who were told about the elephant statue remembered to take a paper clip, compared to only 42% of those who didn’t receive a cue.

The key to this approach is selecting a cue that is out-of-the-ordinary from your everyday life. Choosing an event like eating breakfast in the morning as a memory trigger won’t be as effective as choosing something you don’t do on a regular basis like going to a concert or meeting a friend for lunch. You could also choose to use a unique object as a reminder, like placing something in your lunch bag or on your desk.

The Bottom Line

As a leader we typically have a million things running through our mind.  But, reminders-through-association is a simple yet effective method to transform the way you approach your to-do list. So, next time you’re lying in bed and something pops into your mind, remember the elephant statue and test it out for yourself.