“Shoot, I forgot to pay the electric bill.” Sound familiar? In the modern age, with our lives so hectic, it’s not uncommon to forget the trivial tasks that we need to complete each day. Of course, you could set a reminder on your phone. But what if you forget to check your phone? Or what if you accidentally set the reminder for the wrong time?
Researchers from the Harvard Kennedy School and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania have devised an all-natural mental trick that’ll help you remember to do what you need to do, when you need to do it. Todd Rogers, a psychological scientist at Harvard Kennedy School, was the principal investigator of a study which investigated whether “reminders through association” could be used as a memory aid. These reminders rely on environmental cues to help you remember certain tasks.
For example, in the study, published May of 2016, Rogers had 87 participants complete an hour-long computer task. As part of the task, the participants were notified that they’ll have a monetary donation made to a food bank of their choice, on one condition: the participants must remember to pick up a paper clip at the end of the task. If the participant forgot to pick up a paper clip, no monetary donation would be made. Participants were split into two groups. One group was specifically told that a statue of an elephant would be on the desk to serve as a reminder to pick up a paper clip. The other group received no such cue.
The results of Roger’s study were drastic. Out of the 87% participants, 74% of participants who were told to use the elephant as a reminder remembered to pick up a paper clip. On the other hand, only 42% of participants in the other group who didn’t receive the cue, remembered to pick up a paper clip.
Utilizing This Mental Trick in Your Daily Life
Although it’s improbable that you’ll ever be in a situation where you’ll need to remember to pick up a paper clip in order to receive a monetary donation, the tenets of this study can be applied to almost every situation. Here are the steps to use this trick in your daily life:
Identify the task you need to remember. Do you need to remember to walk your dog? To do the laundry when you get home? To send that email to your boss?
Identify what environment the task will take place in. Will you be sending an email from your desktop computer in the study? Will you be cooking dinner in the kitchen?
Identify an obvious environmental object that can serve as a cue. Rogers defines a good cue as something that “appears at the exact place and time” in which the task occurs. Is there an unmissable poster near your desk? A large cookbook near the stove?
Associate the environmental cue with the task you’re trying to remember.
Look at the cue and remember the task!
Following these steps, you’ll easily be able to remember the next task that you need to complete. Just look at the cue, and remember the task. Easy as that. Try it out the next time you need to remember something and let me know how it goes!