Did you ever see a film back in 1995 called Johnny Mnemonic? Keanu Reeves playing the part of Johnny who was able to store huge amounts of information in his memory using a computer chip.
In reality our memories are nothing like computers, however back in the early 90’s the idea of having a super powered memory was something that instantly grabbed my attention for a number of reasons:
Off the back of the TV show I fell into working with real people with real challenges and got hooked.
So, what does it take to go from having no confidence in your memory to knowing you can learn and remember anything you put your mind to?
It’s an over simplification, however if I had to, I’d break it down into 3 steps
While I cover all of these and more in The Total Memory Blueprint, let’s briefly look at each one of these areas…
If someone asked you, “Would you like to improve your memory by 500%?” what would you say? My guess is, for most people, they would jump at the chance. I’ve personally heard people respond with a phrase like, “Yeh, I could really do with that!” However, the real impact of having a good memory is rarely thought about.
So what if we were to be more specific? What if someone said you could learn a new way of thinking that would deliver:
If someone said that you could achieve all of this, how would you respond? What different choices would you make going forward? What impact would it have in your life? What would be the best part of having a set of strategies that allowed you to do each one of these things?
I’ve been lucky enough to work with people from all walks of life at different stages, from students to professionals or CEOs and even actors. The first coaching session is always the most interesting as people are buzzed up to start learning memory techniques and tips, however that is never where I start and here’s why… most people don’t know why they want to improve their memory AND they have beliefs that don’t support them. So we always start with the mindset and get absolute clarity on:
There is a catch to all of this though; there are no quick fixes, magic pills or microchips (at least not yet) that instantly transform your ability to remember. It takes energy and commitment; this is where Tiny Habits® come in…
When I first heard about Tiny Habits I got pretty psyched. My initial driver to try them out was to create some better health habits. Since starting Tiny Habits I’ve gone from an erratic (every now and then) 20 minute morning workout to a 2 hour ritual that gets my mind and body in peak state for the day.
During my first conversation with BJ Fogg, he suggested I could use this method with my clients, so I decided to give it a go and trained as a coach. Shortly after I began introducing Tiny Habits for Memory and Focus to my clients and they loved them. They found it a simple way to introduce new techniques into their lives and it also helped create momentum when they hit a learning curve.
It was as if by creating these Tiny Habits they were not only planting the seeds for each of the strategies I shared, these seeds were taking root so it was easier for them to grow the larger behaviors they could actually use in real life situations.
After I wake up in the morningI will memorize 3 itemsThen you celebrate to help the habit take root
Here’s the key though, you don’t just memorize by picking 3 items and repeating them over and over again in your mind, you get creative! For example let’s imagine your 3 items are a chair, plant and mobile phone.
You might imagine:
You give a chair to a plant that needs to make an urgent phone call.
This is called a Chain Story and you can create something like this in about 10 seconds. The interesting thing is, it’s very hard to forget.
Let’s ramp it up, look at these 9 items and try to remember them:
I created this using Rory’s Story Cubes
Now Imagine this: you are playing with the abacus and a key falls out, you use it to get inside the plane, which is caught by a giant hand that gives you the padlock. You shrink and jump inside and fall all the way through to a tree, you fall asleep and are woken up by lightning. You see the masks!
By doing the Tiny Habit above (with just 3 items) you start conditioning your brain to use this strategy more automatically.
Once you master this technique, its application goes way further than just simple items; you can use it to remember key points in a presentation, facts from a meeting, details about people, conversations and combined with a few other strategies even whole books!
An essential ingredient to having greater memory retention and recall is the skill to instantly be in the moment. As someone who was a professional actor for many years this was intrinsic in being able to learn large scripts, let go of anxiety and remain confident. A large part of what I share with people is this skill of really getting into that state of flow. Here’s a very simple Tiny Habit to set you on the right path. I call these primer questions:
After I finish my breakfastI will ask myself, “what is the one thing I will give my focus to today?”Celebrate
The purpose of this primer question is to turn on your internal radar to pay attention to the thing that is most important for you ‘today’. It is all too easy to be distracted by technologies and other peoples agenda, so by explicitly asking yourself a question along these lines every morning can bring real focus to your day.
By creating Tiny Habits for each of the Memory and Focus strategies you can incorporate them into your life so much easier.
So we’ve talked about facilitating the right mindset and creating Tiny Habits that will build real momentum. There is a primary ingredient that we still need to achieve some of the outcomes we went through at the beginning of this post. You have already had a taster of this when memorizing those 9 items earlier; I call this Creative Memorization.
The idea behind Creative Memorization isn’t just about remembering. It is about experiencing a deep level of learning. To truly learn, you have to create; with creation and use comes understanding. You move from a place of knowing something intellectually to having something in your body – this is what creative memorization feels like.
Creative memorization is not a passive form of remembering but a way of thinking that is results-focused and draws on each of your memory types (episodic, semantic, procedural, emotional, priming, conditioned response), looking for creative ways to make anything more memorable so you can put it into practice.
Before you jump into the complex stuff, with any new skill you need to master the basics. Try this well known strategy called the Chain Method. Here’s an example I usually start with to get people going. There are 15 main items in this story. Read the story 2-3 times and each time imagine it more vividly in your mind than the time before…
Big Ben is wearing a fur coat and bouncing up and down on a springboard. He dives into a large pot of honey, and out of the honey comes a dinosaur wearing a red baseball cap and swinging a baseball bat. It starts smashing up a Ferrari with the baseball bat. Driving the Ferrari is Tom Cruise, who is smoking a huge cigar. Tom looks over to his right and stubs out the cigar on the head of a bald man. The bald man is eating a big sticky Mars bar, and wrapped around the Mars bar is a slimy snake, playing the drums and drinking a bottle of Budweiser.
Drop a comment below letting me know how well you got on!
Over the last 5 years I’ve written a number of books to help people build their skills in this area. For some people a book is enough and for others they are looking for something more, that could be some personal 1-1 coaching or online video training they can complete at their own pace to step up in their career, make the leap to start a business or just feel like they have the freedom to do the thing they love.
There’s a whole bunch of resources and courses you can find here. If you really want to take your memory to the next level then check out:
Feel free to ping your questions to me!
While Johnny Mnemonic is still science fiction the potential of having an outstanding memory is absolutely a reality. All it takes is the right mindset, tiny habits and some killer strategies.
Ready to celebrate your success? Get our killer list of 102 Ways to Celebrate here!
If you’re hoping to foster new habits this year that will increase your health and happiness, we’re here to help. Daily exercise, meditation, and even flossing can boost your brain health, but not all habits work in your favor. You probably already know that smoking, sugar and a sedentary lifestyle can wreak havoc on your cardiovascular and cognitive functioning, but what about your drive to work or your morning crossword?
Making Healthy Actions Automatic
Habits and routines give our lives structure and direction. Turning healthy behaviors into habits is important because you want to follow through on those actions even when your motivation is low. That’s one reason the Tiny Habits method is so successful. Often those habits become part of our daily routines, and are so engrained we don’t even have to think about them. In general, that’s a good thing. However, you certainly don’t want to go through life on auto-pilot. Your brain craves novelty and challenge to stay sharp and agile.
Pathways in the Forest
Every new thought or experience sends a tiny spasm of electricity that stimulates dendritic growth and expands your brain volume. Dendrites are like tiny pathways through your brain, and the more of them you have, the greater your cognitive reserve. If a thought or action is repeated, the pathway becomes stronger and it takes less effort to send a signal through. “Neurons that fire together wire together,” as neuroscientists say, and this is exactly how habits are formed: by repeatedly following a trigger with an action, that pathway is solidified in the brain and the action becomes more automatic each time.
Building Cognitive Reserve
Establishing strong pathways that reinforce healthy habits is a good thing. However, you don’t want your brain to become so accustomed to its most well-worn pathways that stagnation sets in. As we age, the plaques and tangles that cause Alzheimer’s disease can choke off even the most established of routes. If one pathway becomes bogged down, it’s good to have plenty of other options. As you continue to learn new things and challenge yourself throughout your life, you increase your cognitive reserve, creating a brain that is both resilient and adaptable.
This Is Your Brain On Novelty
Psychologists call it the “novelty response”, and in some ways it’s the opposite of a habit. Where a habit is so engrained you don’t even have to think about it, a novel experience requires your attention and engagement, but this is precisely why it’s so effective. When you challenge yourself to learn a new word every day, cook a new recipe or take a new class, you activate new neural networks that keep your brain alert and engaged. For the best results, be sure there’s a method to the madness. Build novelty into your day by periodically establishing new habits that challenge your brain in new ways.
Building cognitive reserve doesn’t have to be costly or time-intensive. Come back tomorrow to learn how you can increase your cognitive reserve on your drive to work or even in the shower. Click here to join our groundbreaking new course, Habits for Brain Health. This live, interactive course combines the Tiny Habits method with powerful, practical recipes for keeping your brain sharp now and throughout your life.
Happy Thanksgiving! If you’re joining us from outside the United States, we invite you to celebrate the holiday with us by taking a moment to reflect on the many people and things that bless your life each day.
We tend to focus a lot on habits that happen once or even multiple times per day, but some of the most memorable and meaningful times in our lives come around only once a year. Your day-to-day habits can impact the way you experience a holiday, but you can also create habits that are specific to special occasions.
Some of your more frequent habits can prepare you for a holiday experience. If you’ve established a habit of meditation, you may be more present and focused on the moment when spending time with loved ones. If you routinely list or express gratitude, you may be primed to enjoy a holiday like Thanksgiving with an open and thankful heart.
Creating a Holiday Tiny Habit requires that you think about what you want to get out of the celebration. For many of us, we want to connect deeply with our family members and create warm, lasting memories. Unfortunately, many holidays are spent rushing around recording the day through the lens of a camera or smart phone. For a richer, more intentional holiday, put your phone down and focus on savoring each moment. Consider habits that require you to draw on multiple senses; pay attention to the colors, textures, smells and sounds around you. Sample holiday habits include:
When I greet each friend/relative I will make eye contact for 3 seconds.
After I take off my coat I will hug or shake hands with each person.
When I sit down to the meal I will look at each dish on the table.
After I place my napkin on my lap I will think of one thing I am grateful for.
When I lift the fork to my mouth I will inhale the aroma of the food.
By engaging your senses, you also engage your brain and allow it to create “stickier”, more lasting memories. Smell in particular is linked closely with memory and emotion, so the old adage to “stop and smell the roses” is more than just a cliche. As you can see, many of these recipes can also become daily habits, encouraging you to focus on each experience and be fully present in each moment.
By Robin Zander
My friend Ben Weston teaches men to dance. He even gave a TED talk about why it is a problem in the world that men don’t dance more, which I highly recommend.
Personally, I have taken a different extreme and train classical ballet, about as far from dancing in bars as it is possible to get while still sharing the term “dance.”
I learned to dance as an adult, and did so with a lot of unnecessary stress. It need not be so hard for others, and I’ve lately begun exploring why people who want to dance more regularly don’t do so. One of the conclusions is that that most of us are too narrow in how we define dance.
Instead, by setting the definition of dance as something beyond our reach, many of us have set ourselves up for failure. It isn’t enough to hold hands and dance in the kitchen, or even take a west coast swing dance class. We have to aim high. We don’t dance because we look silly, forgetting that is can be learned in any environment including the privacy of our own homes.
Set your goals lower. Don’t worry about bolstering your motivation and “trying harder.” Make your success easy and often. Redefine dance to be something you can do with ease and will enjoy. Start there, and more will follow.
I have begun to coach people in how to dance every day, regardless of what kind or what that dancing looks like. If you’re interested in learning how to dance every day, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Robin Peter Zander
I am currently dancing classical ballet about 20 hours each week and am about to start a gig performing with the San Francisco Opera. Regularly, I hear some version of admiration followed by self-denial, like: “That’s great that you dance so much. I have two left feet.”
I always say the same thing: “You can, too.” To begin dancing, start simply. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
We make “dance” to mean performing under pressure or doing something that is incredibly hard. While these things are fine desired outcomes, they are much to big to begin with. We have to start small, in order to quickly proceed to bigger and lofier goals. So play some music, close your eyes, and move. That counts and having done so, you’ve danced today! Congratulations!
There’s much more to how to dance regularly, and I’ll be following up with posts about other things that people use to hold them back.
I have begun to coach people (for free) in how to dance every day. BJ and I interested in people who want to dance everyday but don’t. If you are interested in FREE coaching on this, join the Facebook group or fill out our brief Dance Every Day survey.
Kim Avery, MA, PCC
I tried everything. I bribed, threatened, coaxed, prodded, and coached myself to start exercising again but to no avail.
After some major life transitions, I had fallen off the exercise wagon, and five years later it looked like I’d never get back on.
I was sad. And frustrated.
I am a mature (relatively speaking), functioning, working adult. In fact, I’m a Professional Certified Coach who specializes in helping people make and sustain lasting change. And I’ve experienced great success both in my own life and the lives of my clients.
But like most people, there were still a few pockets of life that stubbornly resisted my efforts at reform.
Until I stumbled on a small, playful tool that proved to be the missing link in my earnest quest. Tiny Habits.
What are Tiny Habits? Developed by Stanford researcher, B. J. Fogg, Tiny Habits create behavior change by tapping into the power of the environment and baby steps.
It doesn’t sound powerful, does it? Like something that could shift entrenched mindsets and behaviors we’ve clung to for years?
But it can. And for me, and thousands of others, it has.
Don’t get me wrong when I say motivation isn’t required. We have to want to change. That’s the whole purpose of change; we want something to be different.
But that fickle mood we call motivation, the one that fluctuates based on time of day, hormones, stress, peers and 1,000 other things, is unreliable and unsustainable over a long period of time.
When I relied on motivation alone to move me to exercise again, I often spent as much time trying to motivate myself as I did on the exercise.
Thankfully, Tiny Habits doesn’t assume we’ll have a steady stream of motivation, will power or self-discipline. And that’s very good news.
Our culture applauds the notion of taking massive action to make massive change. It’s inspiring. Visionary. Bold.
But while the idea of massive change may be compelling, the reality is not. Very few people succeed in rewiring their lifelong habits no matter how motivated they are. In Alan Deutschmann’s book Change or Die, he cites a study of heart patients who’ve been told they must change their lifestyles or risk dying, yet only one in ten could make the lasting changes. In other words, 90% failed.
Tiny Habits takes the opposite approach. Instead of figuring out a way to make people try harder, BJ Fogg has found a way to make change a lot easier. All you have to do is identify an existing behavior and then add to it one tiny, new behavior – something that you can accomplish in 30 seconds or less. The new behavior should be so benign that even if you are stressed, hurried or sick, you’d still be willing to do it. For example, floss one tooth (that’s right, just one) after you brush your teeth, take one sip of water every time you sit down to eat, or recall one thing to be grateful for when your head hits the pillow at night.
It doesn’t get any easier than that.
When picking a Tiny Habit to help me integrate exercise back in to my life, I chose to lay out my exercise clothes after I got ready for bed at night. That’s it. While targeting that behavior, the goal wasn’t to put those clothes on the next morning or to go to the gym – just lay out my clothes the night before.
I can do that. And I did. Because it was so easy to do.
One reason change is so hard is because we’ve failed at it so many times. In our innermost selves, many of us have come to believe we can’t change. It’s too difficult. We’re too undisciplined. It simply can’t be done.
Successfully changing even the tiniest of behaviors challenges that false belief. Take a regular, common habit, brushing your teeth, for example, and pair it with a super-simple, super-fast new behavior, such as flossing one tooth. After 5 days of flossing that tooth, you’ll begin to see that you can keep the commitments you make to yourself. You really can do new things. And do them well. So, why stop at one tooth? You might as well add in the other teeth, too.
Before you know it, you are the rare, the few, you are a flosser!
That’s success momentum.
For me, success momentum turned something as simple as laying out my exercise clothes each night into a five-day-a-week training program. That training program has been so successful that next month I’ll be competing in the first half marathon I’ve done in five years.
Clearly, my behavior has changed; but more than that, I’ve changed. I think about myself differently. I am an exerciser. I am a person who can create and sustain lasting change.
It doesn’t get any better than that.
What areas of your life have stubbornly resisted change? Give Tiny Habits a try. It has the power to change what you do; and when you change what you do, you change who you are.
About half of the people doing Tiny Habits have a hard time with the celebration step. I wish this were easier for people. Why? Because that’s how you make your new behavior automatic: You fire off positive emotions right after you’re doing the behavior (or while you’re doing it). That’s the role of celebration.
We have many ways in our culture to tell ourselves we’ve done a bad job. But we don’t have many ways to say, “Good for me!” And I think that’s why celebration strikes people as awkward or unnatural.
You DO have a celebration. You may not call it that, and you may not yet recognize what you do to self-reinforce. But if you’re reading this optional stuff in my sandbox http://www.tinyhabits.com/sandbox/, I guarantee you have a celebration. This has helped you achieve. It’s helped go beyond the minimum requirements.
To find your natural celebration, imagine yourself in a big tennis match. To win the final point, you hit an excellent shot. Imagine that scene vividly. What is your natural reaction?
The answer should give you a clue about what celebration is natural for you.
I have many celebration types I use, from physical movement to phrases to sound effects. I see it as a collection I can draw from to fit the occasion.
I predict that in 5 years this idea of self-celebrating won’t seem weird. It will start to become the norm for people who are interested in improving their lives.
Taking small steps is the fastest way to progress in any new skill. Unfortunately, handstands are almost never taught according to this dictum. Especially with a physical feat as unusual as standing or walking on your hands, every student and most teachers want the outcome, the end result of balancing upside down, very quickly. It is human nature to see a goal and attempt to accomplish that outcome now. But in the case of handstands, this push impedes progress.
There are two ways to adopt new behaviors: increase motivation or decrease the barrier for entry. As a fitness trainer, I have seen that the primary way people are “encouraged” to get more fit is through pressure and guilt. This results in gym goers feeling guilty for not ever using their memberships. The same holds true for handstands. Many more people want to learn handstands than actually take the time to break down handstands into the component, learnable parts, and practice them regularly enough to achieve mastery.
Consider how infants learn to walk: they take innumerable, incremental steps, while maintaining a sweet curiosity that keeps them from becoming overwhelmed. If you fail repeatedly and then get frustrated you will be slower to achieve your ultimate goal. Instead we will examine all of the incremental steps that make up learning handstands, just like an infant learns to scoot, crawl, and cruise before walking freely on her own. Have patience, and follow the steps. If you do, you will learn your fearless handstands very quickly!
Handstands are quite easy to learn when practiced as component parts. Instead of just forcing an inversion and hoping for the best, the baby steps that make up a handstand can be practiced incrementally as simple habits built into daily life.
After I get out of bed in the morning, I will place both hands on the ground.
I like “place both hands on the ground” as a new behavior because it is so simple and effortless to do. It takes practically no time. It is a tiny behavior that can stand alone as a part of practicing handstands, but it can also grow into more complex movements like moving around on all fours, or actually being upside down.
After I eat breakfast, I will move around on all fours.
“Moving around on all fours” is something every toddler does but most of us as adults have forgotten. By its nature it is playful. I choose the kitchen because there is usually space in the kitchen for some more dynamic movement. This behavior, too, is a complete habit by itself, but can also grow into more complete handstands.
After I brush my teeth at night, I will imagine myself being upside down.
This habit is a good nighttime activity because it is quieter than the previous two, while still in the direction of learning to do a handstand. By imagining the activity without actually doing it, we practice the desired behavior without much of the physical limitations that might otherwise standing in the way. Additionally, imagining practice provides useful insight into the nature of our fears of being upside down.
If you are interested in learning more about all of the pieces necessary to balance a handstand, I’ve recently published a short e-book on this topic. Using the Tiny Habits Method, I’ve been able to refine my own handstands and teach this skill to hundreds of others. Learn more at http://www.fearlesshandstands.com.
I don’t specialize in breaking habits. The process, I’ve long believed, is different from creating new habits. But in the last couple of weeks, I’ve had some insights about breaking habits.
Let me start with a metaphor: the “Tangle”
Imagine you have a rope that is tangled in a big knot. How would you get out the tangle?
First of all, you would *not* expect to suddenly have the tangle vanish, no matter how much you wanted it so. Instead, you would take a slow and steady approach. And you’d probably start with the most accessible part of the tangle first, then work your way to tangles that are deeper. Eventually, you would be free of the tangle. Your result came from solving one problem, then another, then another. Baby steps.
I’m starting to believe this is a good metaphor for undoing bad habits. When it comes to something like smoking, or procrastinating, or overeating, those are not single behaviors. They are a mesh of interlocking behaviors, like a tangle. And you can’t resolve them all at once. You must work on the myriad behaviors, changing them one by one until the habit “tangle” is resolved. In other words, planning and patience matter. Shame and guilt are useless.
Let me give an example:
(Warning: I’ve never been a smoker, and I’ve never coached anyone to quit smoking, so this example may not be accurate.)
I suspect that the smoking habit starts tiny and it multiplies. Eventually, smoking is really a bunch of tiny habits, not a single habit.
People who are trying to break the “habit” of smoking (I used quotes because I think we need to have a better word for this tangle) usually have to break a bunch of specific habits related to smoking. For example, smoking during a morning work break is different from smoking with friends at the bar. Those are different behaviors.
If I were coaching someone to quit (again, I have no experience here, so indulge me, okay?), I would use the tangle metaphor and I would have them identify the simplest snarl they can iron out first. Perhaps that would be smoking during the work break. Once you’ve replaced that habit with something else, move on to the next smoking snarl, and so on. For the toughest snarl (perhaps smoking at a bar with friends), I’d say save that for later, just as you’d save the deepest tangle for late in the process.
I’m going to keep thinking about this metaphor. I like that it helps people see that a bad “habit” is more than one behavior. And I like that the tangle metaphor helps people see they need to plan and persist — and that each snarl you undo gets you closer. The fact that you can’t untangle everything at once is okay. And therefore, you shouldn’t feel bad. You should just keep going, seeking a series of small successes.
In that way, my work on Tiny Habits may have a lot in common with breaking bad habits. I didn’t think that way a year ago, but now I’m at least going to give it more thought.
As you might expect, I’ve created a lot of Tiny Habits in my life. But one habit has been hard to nail down: daily meditation. Earlier this year, I tried to make this a Tiny Habit three times and just couldn’t get it to work. I’m pretty darn good at creating habits, but this one — meditation — is like Everest. I’ll tell you why it’s so tough, and I’ll explain my solution. Read on . . .
Creating Tiny Habits is like solving a puzzle with two vital pieces. One piece is making the new behavior tiny. That’s easy: For me, the tiny meditation was just sitting for three breaths. Simple.
My problem was finding the other piece of the puzzle: the anchor. In other words, I couldn’t find a spot when meditation would fit in my day.
I tried various anchors, but nothing snapped into place. So after a number of revisions, I moved on to other Tiny Habits and made myself a note to come back to meditation later. (By the way, I think that’s a good plan: If you can’t quite get a Tiny Habit to take hold, change your focus to something else. Just keep on practicing habits.)
Today, I’m happy to report I’ve solved the puzzle, at least for myself. About four weeks weeks ago, I realized that a good time to meditate each day was right after I removed the last email from my inbox.
Some background: Each morning, I don’t answer all my email (ha! that would be really hard), but I do categorize and file everything. Along the way I plan and prioritize.
As you can imagine, the sight of an empty inbox brings a moment of calm. It’s just a beautiful white space on the computer screen. One day, I saw this white space, and then — boom — it clicked. That’s my anchor. So I wrote down this Tiny Habit:
“After I empty my inbox in the morning, I will meditate for three breaths.”
This recipe has worked like a charm.