049: Mind Triggers

In This Episode: Here’s another tool in what I call the Thinking Toolbox: a way to learn how to think better, unlike most of the people in This is True’s stories. Or, if you’re already an accomplished thinker, a way to help others learn how to think better because trust me: most people need the help.

049: Mind Triggers

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Show Notes

  • To help support Uncommon Sense, see the Patron’s Page, or the form in the sidebar.
  • Podcast 34 talked about using scenarios. Other “Thinking Toolbox” items are discussed in various episodes, including episode 27, Think… or React?, and episode 34, I Have a Scenario For You.
  • I mentioned Kit’s coaching: she’s a High Performance Coach who specializes in coaching people with ADD. The link goes to her web site.
  • This may be the first episode in this new series that has an Easter egg! (At the end.)


Welcome to Uncommon Sense. I’m Randy Cassingham.

This thinking tool is somewhat related to the tool discussed in Podcast 34, Scenarios. But while scenarios are long-term mind programming strategies, there’s a corresponding tool I want to talk about for short-term mind programming tactics.

I’ve mentioned before I’m ADD, and one of the techniques I stumbled upon on my own was to create what I call Mind Triggers.

Here’s what I mean: have you ever put something on the floor just inside the door to your garage because you’re going somewhere soon, and you want to be sure you take that thing with you? If so, you’ve stumbled on the technique too — you’ve done something to ensure you remember something important later.

But did you know it doesn’t have to be a physical reminder to sometimes literally trip over so you won’t forget something important? Here’s how to do that.

The night before my wife and I were heading out on a trip, I was already in bed, trying to get some sleep since we were planning an early start in the morning. And while lying there, I realized I hadn’t packed something important.

Now my wife, being a high-performance coach for people with ADD, teaches a tactic for important things that need to be remembered, which is: put it in your calendar, and set an alarm — on your phone, so you’ll hear that alarm because you’ll probably have it with you.

That is definitely a good tactic, and highly recommended. But it’s a reminder, rather than a mind trigger. I didn’t do that because it was late at night, I was lying in the dark, and I didn’t want the bright phone screen in my face minutes before I wanted to fall asleep. So instead, I consciously used a Mind Trigger: I thought of something that I knew I would definitely have to do in the morning, which was grab my computer and put it in my backpack. And I told my brain, “When you see the laptop, you have to remember to grab the other thing. … When you see the laptop, you have to remember to grab the other thing.” I repeated it a few times to program it in well, and then fell asleep knowing I had taken care of that urgent need.

When I told Kit about it, she thought that was cool. But, she asked, “Did it work?”

It did! When I popped in the office for my computer, the moment I saw it I remembered the other item and, importantly, grabbed it first. I love that I when I told her about this, we were recording a different episode of the podcast and I kept the recording, and here it is:

Kit: Are we going to find out what this item is?

Randy: No! I’m not because— actually, ask me that in just a minute. I wanted to reward my brain for triggering the memory, and not have give my ADD a chance to get distracted. So I stuffed the other item into my backpack, then went back for my laptop, and then was ready to go. So you want to know what the item is?

Kit: What is this other thing? You keep referring to it.

Randy: This is a really short-term thing. It’s not meant to be something you remember long term, and guess what?

Kit: You don’t remember?

Randy: I don’t remember.

Kit: But you got it, didn’t you?

Randy: When it was important, I did.

Kit: Well that’s delightful.

Randy: Yeah, and this is something you work with people with ADD all the time, I know. So I’m sure you have quite a few techniques. You’re ADD yourself, so you have things you use on yourself.

Kit: Before I knew I was ADD I would come up with ways to help me or other people remember things. Do you remember our kittens Mish and Mash?

Randy: I do.

Kit: People couldn’t remember which was who, so I came up with a technique: Mish had the coloration split on her face, so one side was white and the other was calico.

Randy: Right.

Kit: So I remembered the ‘i’ in ‘white’ went with ‘i’ in ‘Mish’. Therefore that left the other one as Mash.

Randy: That’s a mnemonic, which is another Mind Trigger.

Kit: Another one I use when I have something I want to get, I’ll put my index finger to my thumb, then go, “Oh, but there’s another one,” so my middle finger goes to my thumb.

Randy: So now your thumb is touching two fingers.

Kit: And then I’ll add a third one perhaps, so it’s—

Randy: And now your thumb is touching three fingers.

Kit: Correct, and I will go … and this could be at the grocery store, it could be things I’m doing around the house, things I want to remember to pick up, and so I go get them and release the fingers as I … and they don’t necessarily relate to something specific. Like the index finger doesn’t mean…

Randy: “Milk”.

Kit: “Get the water bottle.”

Randy: Yeah.

Kit: So I just release a finger as I get the things, and when there is a finger left over, I have to stop.

Randy: “Now, what was it?”

Kit: …and I just go through the list and it comes to me.

Randy: Very tricky, and it’s a way to trigger your mind, to trigger a memory of something you need to do.

Kit: Of an action I want to take, which might mean, “Remember to tell Randy something,” so yeah, there go the fingers again.


Randy: Just to make that clear, you’re not giving me the finger.

Kit: Absolutely not!

Randy: Yes, just another great little technique. We all get distracted, you don’t have to be ADD to get distracted. So anybody can use these little techniques.

Kit: Exactly.

Randy: It helps slow you down a little bit and say, “Wait a minute, there’s something I need to do.” Our mothers told us, “Tie a string around your finger,” because they didn’t have phones with alarms that beeped at you, that you carried around everywhere you went, so they had to use other techniques. And you know, string around your finger still works, but it doesn’t necessarily tell you what you need to remember.

Kit: You have to be mindful when you tie that string around your finger.

So the bottom line, as usual, is taking a moment to think, which includes coming up with ways to help your mind work better, whether you have ADD or not. Because in this modern society, we have so much to do, so many things to keep track of, that you have to use extra tricks — and take just a little bit of time to use the technology that you probably already have — to save yourself a lot of time, and perhaps a lot of grief. It’s just another small but useful tool in The Thinking Toolbox.

If you have a story to tell about what you do to trigger your memory, or program your mind to remember things, or just want to comment, you can do that on the Show Page at thisistrue.com/podcast49.

I’m Randy Cassingham … and I’ll talk at you later.

[Easter Egg]

Comments Note

Since this is a redo, comments start with those made on the original post — the dates are correct.

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8 Comments on “049: Mind Triggers

  1. One thing I do if I have to take something with me and don’t want to forget it is to put my car keys inside the bag/under the item I’m bringing. That way I literally CAN’T drive off without it.

    An excellent example. -rc

  2. I’ll put things I need to take with me next to the door, so they’re in line-of-sight as I leave.

    If I can’t leave it out (like refrigerated food), I put a sticky on the door, just needs to say “Food.”

  3. Sometimes I need to remember to do something out of the ordinary on the way to or from work, like pick up a dozen eggs from the coop on the way home. In this situation it’s hard to use a physical object or a phone reminder to help trigger the needed action, so what I use instead is mindful visualization: I stop whatever else I’m doing, close my eyes, and visualize myself going home, up to where I need to deviate from my normal routine and then I visualize turning there and continuing to the coop (and sometimes even going inside to where the eggs are located). Later on when I’m actually going home, I get a de ja vu sense that triggers the recollection of what I need to do.

    That’s the exact sort of “setting the intention” I’m talking about, and picturing what you will see and do works quite well. -rc

  4. This is a timely topic for me, as I used to have an excellent memory, but with age comes a weakening of short-term memory and a heightening of distractibility. To the extent that in frustration (and also because I love gadgets) I purchased 2 Echo Dots, one for the living room [LR], one for my bedroom [BR], so that when I’m going into the bedroom to get or do something, I can tell Alexa to add to my to-do list before I leave the LR, and then query Alexa before I leave the BR. I know that I could work on mnemonics, I do that when I’m out of the house, but it was a fun excuse to buy more toys.

    If it works for you, then more power to Alexa! -rc

  5. I use the “earworm” technique for a few things — Going to the Zoo becomes “Going to the bank-bank-bank”, and Please Mister Postman becomes “Please Get a Stamp, Man”.

    I’ve actually forgotten most of the tunes I used, because I’m now retired and am not cramming these things into my lunch hour.

  6. I used to write things on sticky notes, but I would end up with a forest of sticky notes all over the house. Now I use strategically placed write-on/wipe-off boards with a dry-erase marker, and an extra marker in each bathroom. This is especially handy for longer-term to-do’s that you may not get to for a couple of weeks — when your mnemonics or other mind tricks may have already faded from your mind. And the dry-erase markers work perfectly on bathroom mirrors (and shower tiles, for that matter), so there’s never an excuse for not writing something down the instant you think of it.

    I like it! -rc

  7. A poker buddy told me of a trick he uses. When he has to be somewhere and take food (refrigerated) with him, he hangs a plastic bag on the exit door handle. This reminds him to get the food before he leaves. I tried it and it works!

    Excellent! -rc


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