A Friendly Reminder Can Make All The Difference

The High Priestess is about trusting your intuition.

When I first shared my 2018 Lighthouse Word, several readers replied with their own word for the year ahead. Seeing everyone else jump on this exercise made writing the post worth it, even if  I was originally going to skip it; I was going to skip it because I didn’t find last year’s word helpful.

As it turns out, “not finding the word helpful” was an excuse. I mean, it’s pretty hard to find the word helpful when I didn’t even remember what it was. I actually had it to look it up so I could write this year’s Lighthouse Word post. Embarrassing.

Perhaps my own struggle was related to the famous David Allen (productivity guru and author of Getting Things Done) advice:

“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them”

(which dovetails nicely with my advice from the other week—put your problems on paper.) Yes, I did write the word down in a blog post, but writing something in a notebook you never revisit or in a Google Doc (or blog post) you forget about isn’t much different than thinking something up and forgetting about it the next day. If you truly want to remember something, then you have to create a visual reminder and you have to look at that reminder again and again and again.

Some people snickered when I posted the photo of this year’s word taped to my laptop, but it’s the only way to truly make this year’s word a lighthouse that guides my decision-making (rather than just another broken promise).

Having a focus and keeping that focus top of mind can help you stay on track, avoid distractions, and accomplish your goals. In his book The Accidental Creative, Todd Henry writes about his “Big 3”—a list of his three creative priorities—which he keeps handy at all times:

“I’ve developed the habit of writing my Big 3 on an index card and keeping it in my notebook or in my pocket…Seeing my Big 3 on a regular basis reminds me of what’s most critical right now and helps me filter the stimuli. I take in each day through the lens of my most important creative priorities.”

Thomas Hargrove, a homicide archivist (quite the job title!), has been developing an algorithm to identify and track serial killers. At the beginning of the process, he had a lot of data but no idea how to pull the serial killers out of it. So he created a friendly reminder:

“Above his desk, Hargrove taped a mugshot of Ridgway [a notorious killer] in which he looks tired and sullen. Underneath it, he wrote, ‘What do serial victims look like statistically?’”

And Austin Kleon spent 2017 taping “Guardian Spirits” into the front covers of his notebooks:

“Back in January, I decided that my new notebook needed a guardian spirit to watch over things…I felt like Emily D[ickinson] kept a good watch, so when I finished that notebook, I decided to continue the practice. I burned through 8 notebooks this year, so I had to pick 8 spirits…”

Kleon doesn’t describe how these spirits help him specifically, but I liked the idea and decided to give it a shot with my newest notebook—just to see if I could figure it out for myself. I randomly drew a tarot card—the High Priestess—and taped her in. She’s all about trusting your intuition and finding the answers within yourself—a powerful reminder to do the same every time I open my notebook to noodle over a creative challenge. Not bad.

These ideas range from the silly to the esoteric (and there are countless others outside my brief survey here), but they all stem from the same idea—that “remembering” your goal is not good enough. Your brain can only hold so much information, and no matter how important something seems today, there’s no promise you’ll feel the same way tomorrow. While it might seem silly (or grim) to hang someone’s mugshot above your desk, a little reminder can go a long way.

Your One Task

Create a visual reminder of a big goal you’re working on this year (it could be your 2018 Lighthouse Word or something else entirely). Hang it in a prominent place and send me a picture!

Each week, I write a new article helping busy people find meaning and fulfillment through sustainable creative habits. If you enjoyed this week’s letter, you can sign up to get them delivered to your inbox each week by digital carrier pigeon.