THE WAY YOU habitually think has a profound
impact on your daily moods, how successful you are, how well
you deal with people, how much you exercise, how healthy you
eat, and on and on. I have an idea to share with you that my
wife and I developed an idea that evolved organically
into something that can help you change the way you think. Permanently.
It began because I would get insights into
how I could make my life better, but then I forgot them. This
is a normal human problem. How can you possibly change the way
you think if you consistently forget your insights?
So I started writing down my insights.
But then what? At first I created a file called read again.
But after awhile this file got too big, and I wasnt reading
it very often. It seemed like a chore. I would have to make
myself take the time to read insights Id already gotten.
I never felt like doing it because I like to explore. I like
new ideas, new books, new insights. Im sure you do too.
But is this an effective way to change how you think? What should
you do when you discover new insights? How can you make them
I put a corkboard in the bathroom, right
next to the bathroom mirror, so when Im doing things like
brushing my teeth or toweling off after a shower, when my mind
is otherwise idle, I can look over and read my insights. Youve
tried to change the way you think, right? Have you tried posting
something on your bathroom mirror? How well did it work?
After a few times of reading my insights
on the corkboard, I stopped noticing them. My theory is
that once your mind knows what something is, you tend to overlook
it. Trying to change the way you think isnt as easy as
it seems because of this extinguishing factor
your mind gets used to things and stops noticing them.
So I started changing the insights as soon
as I wasnt noticing them any more usually every
few days. I took the insights down from the corkboard and put
them in the back of the read again file and took
a couple of new pieces of paper (the corkboard is big enough
to post two pieces of paper at a time) from the front of the
file, and posted them. This way the insights were rotated so
I eventually saw them all. In our quest to change the way you
think to change thought habits this was
a significant improvement.
But I had a new problem. My read
again file was so large, it would take months before I
saw an insight again, and by then I had forgotten it. This wasnt
getting me the results I was looking for. It seems to change
the way you think, having so much time between reminders is counterproductive.
I started deciding where to place
the insights when I took them down from the corkboard. If the
insight was already a well-established habit, I threw it away.
If it was almost completely established, I might put it at the
back of the file. If it was a fairly new insight, I would put
it close to the front so it would come up again in a day or two.
If I had already done this with one of the insights, I would
put it a little farther back say, a week away. And as
it got more and more established and familiar in my mind, I would
put it deeper and deeper into the file, further and further back.
This was it. This was the formula I was
looking for. This made insights really stick in our minds.
Some of my notes are handwritten. Some
are excerpts from books. When I read, sometimes I come across
something I want to remember, and I mark the passage with a small
Post-it Note. When Im done with the
book, I copy the pages I marked on my copy machine, highlight
the passage, and put it in my read again file, which I have since
renamed the postables file.
Recently, I have devoted, or rather I should
say we have devoted (because it was my wife, Klassys,
idea) a whole filing cabinet to the postables file.
Now when I take down a postable
a piece of paper with an insight on it I put it in a file
in its own category. If the insight is about exercise, it goes
in a file called working out.
Weve since replaced the corkboard
with a magnetic dry-erase board, and replaced the thumbtacks
with magnets. Much better.
The Content of Your Mind
Now some people might think this is ridiculous.
Ive got a file cabinet in my bathroom, for crying out loud!
I post insights on our magnetic board almost every day.
I dont know what most people would
think of the idea since almost nobody knows about it. When we
have guests over, nobody has ever commented on it other than
to say, I like that quote you have in the bathroom.
But weve never explained what its there for and nobody
has ever asked.
But if anyone ever thought weve gone
too far to capture insights, I would say this: The content of
our minds has an enormous impact on the quality of our lives
and on our effectiveness in the world. Thats a fact. We
are simply being responsible for that fact.
Insights are often hard to hang on to.
You think your new insight will change your life, and it really
could if you somehow held onto it, but for the most part we dont
take responsibility for making sure the insight sticks
maybe because nobody came up with a good way to do it
Well heres at least one good way.
It has been working for us for over twenty years. It's been a
key ingredient in our success, in our marriage (we post insights
on relationship issues), in our writing (we post insights on
the craft of writing), our health (we post facts, tips, and insights
about diet and exercise), and so on.
About a year ago, I found another way to
accomplish almost the same thing. Its a free online service
Its easy to use: You type a message to yourself and tell
how often to send you that message every day, every other
day, every week, once a month, whatever.
Resnooze sends the message to your email inbox as often
as you want.
You can stop the message or change the
frequency by clicking on the edit button at the bottom
of every email reminder they send you.
When I first put a new insight on Resnooze, I tell it to send me the insight
every day. After a few days, I change it to every other
day. Then every four days, and so on, as the insight becomes
more well-established in my mind.
Making a new insight stick is like making
a path through a meadow where one didnt exist before. When
you walk through the meadow once, youve tramped down the
grass a little, but a couple of days from now if you came back
to the meadow, you wouldnt be able to tell where you walked.
The grass has straightened itself out already.
But if you walked the path three times
today and three times each day, after awhile, the path would
Once the path is well-etched across the
meadow, it becomes self-perpetuating. Anyone walking across the
meadow takes the already-established path, which packs it down
even more, making it more and more permanent as time goes by.
If you go over an insight often enough,
it becomes like a well-worn path through your neurons, and the
thought is easier and easier to think until it becomes the "natural"
way for you to think it happens automatically.
The postables idea and the
service are two good ways to accomplish this. It doesnt
take much work, it doesnt take much time, but it has a
tremendous impact on the most important thing you need for personal
change: To reliably alter your habitual way of thinking.