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  • Carlos Arroyo

The power of reminders

Updated: Sep 21, 2020


I have been a bit obsessed recently about reminders. I see the need for them and how they're missing from our lives in general.


I believe there is a fundamental need for reminders around us regarding the things that matter most. We are bombarded with information, ads, photos, videos, events, news and social media everyday, and it is easy to become reactive to these things. We give away our most precious resource as if it was worth nothing. And no, our most precious resource is not time, it's attention. What we do with our attention determines how we spend our days, and ultimately our lives.


There is a fierce competition out there for our attention. Pop-up notifications, auto-play videos and movies, loud, colorful and dynamic apps and breaking news cycles are begging for our attention. And most often than not, we give it without much resistance.


Living in such a world makes it difficult to focus on what actually matters most to us. Stop for a moment and ask yourself: what is most important for me? Have I done a lot of that recently?


It is common for some people to not know what is most important for them. However, it is easy to figure it out: analyze where do you spend most of your time. Whatever it is, that's what is most important for you right now. Is that where you want to spend most of your time? Is that thing actually the most important thing for you?


One thing is to tell yourself what is most important, another completely different thing is what your habits and time allocation say. I think well-placed and timely reminders can help with this problem.


This also applies to education and self-development, but in a deeper way. Specially with the highly important concept of deconstruction or unlearning. When we analyze our self-development path honestly, we'll inevitably realize that we need to unlearn certain things that were taught to us from childhood, or that we absorbed and adopted from our environment growing up. This is the hardest thing we'll ever do, and arguably the work of a lifetime.

And the problem starts with the educational model in schools: we're supposed to hear or read something, and remember it. Pass an exam, and there it is: you've learned it. Forever.

It doesn't work like that.


It is a fact that we'll forget most of what is taught to us in school. Partly because of our limited brains, attention spans and memories. But mostly because the model is not designed to optimize real learning. It is designed to pass exams. And in the meantime, the actual learning is happening in our day-to-day experiences and environments. That's where we learn how to deal with frustration, how to express love and sadness, how to relate to others, how to disagree. We mostly absorb these very important things from our closest circle. And unfortunately, very often our closest circle is not the best teacher of these lessons.


It might take a while for us to realize that we need to re-learn certain things, deconstruct ourselves and unlearn the bad and unhealthy mental models we acquired as kids. Here is where reminders become crucial.


I believe the process of deconstruction is permanent. You are never fully deconstructed or reconstructed. We are dynamic ever-changing beings. If we decide to look at the world with curiosity and intellectual honesty, we will never stop learning and changing. The opposite is also true: if we stop the learning process and decide "we are deconstructed" or "we know the truth, no need to look further", old mental models and habits will reappear.


I grew up in a religious household, and something I used to hate was the repetitive nature of the meetings and worship. However, I failed to understand at the time that this repetitiveness is not a bug, but a feature. The purpose is to plant the seed of this practice deep into your psyche, so that it becomes second nature. Religions in general are very good at this. Many of them have repeated their practices for millennia, almost uninterrupted and unchanged. Even though I now believe that religions repeat mostly the wrong thing (because they do so dogmatically), I think that the framework of repetition is extremely effective to remind you who you are, what is important to you, where are you headed. And this could be a life saver.


The things you repeat, the habits you follow, become your world.