Developing Habits and Memory with Spatial Triggers

by Dan Walsh

I met up again with Ivan from Little Memory last night. Our conversation spanned many interesting topics, but the idea of spatial triggers lingered in my mind after we had parted. We had both independently discovered spatial triggers and had developed different uses for them. It was fun to trade techniques. His was centered around developing good habits, or mitigating bad habits, mine was a way to augment memory.

Developing Better Habits with Spatial Triggers

Ivan’s spatial triggers were a low friction way to incorporate new behaviours into one’s life. For example, if I wanted to develop better posture, I should create a mental trigger to check my posture every time I walk through a door. It might take a few tries to make the trigger stick, but after a few attempts, I will reliably check and straighten my posture, 20, maybe even 50 times a day. That’s a pretty easy way to develop new habits of which I might not otherwise find time (or remember) to develop.

Augmenting Memory with Spatial Triggers

I use spatial triggers as reminders as well, though only to start singular events, not to form habits. Let’s say I need to pick up milk on my way home from work. To ensure that I remember, I will imagine myself getting on the bus and associate that action with remembering to get the milk, or getting off at the stop near the grocery store. Then, as soon as I board the bus after work, I actually DO remember to get the milk. Choosing an event or location that almost directly precedes the item you need to remember will make the trigger more effective. Another example would be to remember to pay my utility bill. I would imagine myself walking into my apartment, pausing, remembering to pay the bill, and then walk into my office, take out my checkbook, and write the check. This type of trigger took me a few tries before it really started to work, but it has become indispensable.