Mnemonic Devices and Initiative

“Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes.”
Numbers 15:38-39 (NIV)

On a cubicle wall, in an office outside of Minneapolis, there hangs an old pink sticky note. On this sticky note are three handwritten reminders that the resident of the cubicle scrawled during a call coaching session I had with him several years ago. He added a hand-drawn finger with a string on it to the list and stuck it up where he would see it next to his computer monitor while talking with customers on the phone.

The three reminders on the sticky note were service skills that I told him were top priorities for improving his service delivery when speaking with customers. Within a short period of time his consistency demonstrating the three behaviors vastly improved. Over time he became one of the most consistent service providers in the company. He credits the simple mnemonic device for its continuing power to remind him what to say to his customers.

Visual reminders and mnemonic devices work to bring to mind and memory things we don’t want to forget. God gave the ancient Hebrews multiple mnemonic devices to help them remember His commands, including the wearing of tassels on their robes specified in today’s chapter. These devices are still used and practiced today because they work.

This morning I’m reminded of the power of reminders, even as simple as the annoying buzzes, beeps, and pop-up notifications on my devices. They do work. But, like many things in life, I’ve discovered that they only work if you work them. I had coached the gentleman I referenced in Minnesota for many years before he finally took the initiative to scratch out his reminder list, put it up before him, and commit to behavior change. It would be easy for me to shake my head in frustration at his long delay, but I’m as guilty as anyone at saying that I want to do things, perhaps even writing them down on a list, and then not doing them.

James 1:22 comes to mind in the quiet this morning: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Mnemonic devices can remind me of what God’s Message says, but only my initiative can put those reminders into daily action.


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