Can you find the trigger to prompt future actions?

by | Jun 1, 2016 | Blog | 0 comments

magnet that triggersWhat’s the power of the retro magnet in the picture?

It’s a physical trigger to help you remember to take action in the future.

Remembering what you want (or need) to do in the future is much more difficult than recalling what you did in the past, according to neuroscientists and others who study memory.

Why? The main reason is that you don’t have strong contextual triggers to help you recall your intentions. That’s why so many of us use calendars, alarms, to-do lists, special apps and other reminders to jog our memory.

Judging by the number of missed calls, meetings and deadlines, the workplace could benefit from more aids to help people follow through on their intentions. That’s just scratching the surface though.

Following through is more than just showing up, checking off the box or throwing something over the proverbial cubicle wall.

Acting on your intentions also involves setting aside time to think deeply and act deliberately.

Throughout your crazy, busy days, much of your work depends on you using prospective memory, not just retrospective memory.

You use your prospective memory when you remember to do something you had planned or intended to do, such as researching a question from a colleague, reviewing a team member’s presentation, starting a new project that’s in your goals, making a decision, and anything else that’s future oriented.

By contrast, you call on your retrospective memory when you remember events, people and places that you have already experienced. Retrospective memory also includes drawing on information you already know.

As Carmen Simon explained in her thoughtful LinkedIn post Use Brain Science to Create Memorable Content about memory and business, “Memory’s main purpose is not to help us keep track of the past, but to help us navigate the future.”

That’s why you can do yourself, your colleagues and your customers a big favor when you provide tangible triggers to traverse the environment and prepare for the future.

For example, look at that magnet pictured above. Its sole purpose is to remind customers to call SCE&G when they need to replace their current water heater.

If you’re an SCE&G (South Carolina Electric and Gas) customer, you’re getting help from your utility company to keep your clothes, dishes and body clean with hot water from a working hot water tank.

For this peace of mind, the immediate action you need to take is very tiny. SCE&G’s only request is for you to put this magnet in a spot that you’ll see it when you start to worry about having enough hot water. You’ll then have the SCE&G’s phone number handy to call.

In the workplace, common external triggers to help you and others to remember your intentions include electronic meeting invites, reminder emails, texts, pop-up alerts, special apps, posters, checklists, etc.

Challenge yourself to do more, especially providing customized cues and tools that can help people take timely, simple, and purposeful actions that help them succeed with their intentions.  

Yes, you may have to spend time, money and other resources to help them; however, if you can increase the speed and improve the quality of their actions, which will also advance the organization, you’ll enjoy a positive ROI.

And you all will be taking the road to good intentions for a better future for yourselves and your organization.

The road to good intentions is often paved with hell. Consider heavy workloads, distractions and last, but not certainly not least, the fact that our brain is hard-wired for inattention and inertia. (See How to encourage action among your employees for more about this.)

The field of behavior design is all about helping people do what they already want to do ─ or in many cases feel a need to do. As the father of behavior design and my mentor, Dr. BJ Fogg advises that effective behavior design is to make things as simple as possible for people.

“You help them redesign the world around them to make the new behavior easy to do,” explains BJ. Simplicity changes behavior.”

A physical trigger combined with a request to take a tiny, simple step now can help people remember to take a future action that will have a big impact.

What’s a good trigger to remember and prompt the future intention?


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