This week I’ve been using a reminder to change how I am thinking about something going on in my life.  It’s not your usual reminder like a ping from the phone, or a message on a post-it stuck on my mirror – but it works. Using reminders, in whatever form, can help us change our habits.

Three R’s of habit change

In Charles Duhigg’s best-selling book The Power of Habithe teaches us about the 3R’s of habit change. It’s a good and easy book to read. In it he states that for every habit we have – good or bad – there is a three-step pattern:

  1. Reminder – a trigger that initiates the behavior
  2. Routine – the behavior itself; the action you take
  3. Reward – the benefit you gain from doing the behavior

Reminders

The reminder step is crucial if we want to change a behavior or create a new habit. You might think that all you need is to be motivated and you’ll remember to do your new behavior, but that seldom works. We need to have some trigger as an initiator.  

Reminders can come in all shapes and sizes. They can be:

  • visual – an object, a particular location, a person
  • auditory
  • sensory – a smell, a vibration on our skin
  • a time of day
  • an emotional state

Auditory and sensory reminders

There are lots of apps and gadgets out there that you can use to buzz or ring to remind you to do something. For example, there is Lumo Lift which is like a Fitbit for posture. You attach the Lumo Lift to your shirt, and if you slouch, it vibrates. These vibrations remind you to improve your posture.  

Or there is Spire which senses when your breathing changes suggesting you are tense or stressed and so vibrates to remind you to take a deep breath.

Without a specific gadget, you can simply set your phone to sound an alarm/vibrate to remind you to go and do something – like every hour at work, take a break from sitting and go and get a glass of water. 

Visual reminders

For those of us who are less techie, a visual reminder may be more helpful. This can be putting something you regularly use in a different place from normal – so instead of automatically seeing it, you have to make a change and then that triggers your mind.

It could be changing where you put your toothbrush, so putting it in a drawer instead of by the sink. Then every morning and evening when you come to brush your teeth, you have to open the drawer. When you do so, you find the toothbrush lying on top of your new supplement that you need to remember to take twice a day. By changing a well-formed habit, it acts as a reminder for a new habit.

Another example is adding a 30-minute walk every day. As you go to bed, put your walking shoes by your bed so that when you wake up, you will see them immediately, can put them on straight away and head out. 

Be as a bird

My visual reminder this past week wasn’t a conscious decision to make a change – but I found real rewards from it. I started wearing a bracelet I made a few years ago and noticed that whenever I looked down and saw it, my mood improved.  The bracelet depicts a poem by Victor Hugo:

Be as a bird

Who when pausing in flight

Alights on a bough too slight

But continues to sing, 

Knowing she hath wings.

Image of story bracelet "Be as a bird" from CALMERme.com

Every time I look at the bracelet, I feel less like the rug has been pulled under my feet in one aspect of my life and more that I can cope.

Rather than add a new physical habit, seeing the bracelet helped me change a thought process. The “habit” was a worry and concern going through my mind, not a physical action. Yet the bracelet reminder helped me not worry, by reminding me that I have the strength and capability to cope. 

When I made jewelry like this bracelet, a lot of my pieces could be reminders. I named them with titles such as:

  • I am strong
  • Remember the little things
  • Anyone can fly
  • Given wings, where would you fly
  • Under my wing

….yes – a lot of bird themes!! 

Can you think of a  phrase/poem that could help you currently with your struggles?  If so, try to find something visual that reminds you of this and wear it or carry it in a pocket, so you’ll notice it frequently.  

Think outside of the box for reminders – and for how they can affect your life. It isn’t only for creating new action-based habits or stopping bad habits; it can also be for changing our thoughts.  Let me know what reminders work for you. 

Let me know what reminders work for you. 

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