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I have tried a system of sending myself timed emails daily (using virtual meetings in Google Calendar), each containing a self-message; e.g. at 6am 'stay positive', at 8.30am 'break work down into small chunks', 5pm 'It would be nice if life worked out perfectly, but not the end of the world if it does not', etc etc..

However I have not found this to be very effective. Maybe I send myself too many emails (c.30+ daily); maybe there is a maximum number that the human brain can cope with (3?)? Maybe the whole system is somehow duplicating and interfering with natural brain functions?

Maybe I should try other ways of 'nudging' myself? (e.g. write messages on my hand?! carry a message stone in my pocket??)

Does anyone have any ideas or wisdom? Many thanks

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6 Answers 6

Dennis made an important point earlier:

The random repeat interval turns out to be important for reinforcement.

If things are expected, they are not ineffective but they are less effective than when things unexpectedly show up at random times. Your brain will attempt to filter out known items. For me, I find myself not opening an email that I already know what it contains. I think you could still gain significant benefit if you would open it at that moment and read it (especially out loud). Unfortunately I am often busy enough that I end up skipping it.

Participating in social groups that are related to the same types of change you are seeking can be very helpful.

An effective tool for change is when you by chance run into a friend and end up telling them about a principle in a book you are reading (for example). Often, these types of unscripted interactions really help solidify something in your heart.

You might also consider becoming a mentor. It may sound ridiculous at first, but you would be surprised how much you know. You would then become part of someone elses spontaneous support network. Believe it or not, this in turn can be an equally powerful tool in your own personal change.

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+1, the brain does filter out information that's consistent. The plus side is that if your brain does filter it out, it already associates those time periods with the given messages. –  Muz Mar 26 '13 at 4:45

Nudging yourself is a good idea, but I think you should try including another party. I wouldn't "nudge" them as much, but I find myself more motivated when I've let others know about it.

Make sure you select people who are willing to hold you accountable and follow-up.

We typically do things as a result of the consequences.

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I would like to piggyback on @huntsman's comments, when you have the time, sit down and create a list of everything you would want to achieve. Personally, I like to keep the goals short, not even a complete sentence. You're creating a mind dump, and when you think you're done, keep pushing yourself to list everything, even if you've repeated it, or you've already mentioned something similar, put it down again. Don't pay attention to what you've put before, just keep pushing yourself to get it all out of your head. This will take some time.

After I've completed that task, I begin to look at what I've listed, and it's likely that many of the items are related, duplicated, overlap, and the like. Start grouping those items together, combining them, removing duplicative goals. By going through this process, it will help you articulate and define those specific goals that are important to you. What I have found out is a goal will emerge with related comments, and related comments will begin to articulate how to go about or achieve those goals.

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Automatic positive messages sent to support somebody trying to achieve something difficult has been shown to be effective. For instance, a study published in the Lancet showed it was easier to quit smoking with the support of such messages.

So you are on the right track. Try lowering the message frequency, and carefully select texts which are motivational.

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What makes you believe this would be effective in the first place? Is there any research supporting this method of self improvement? I cannot see how spamming yourself with emails with vague positive thinking messages would help anything.

I am not sure what specific change you are trying to achieve from your question. Are you? It seems you're looking to be just "better". With a goal that vague and undefined, it's no wonder you're having trouble.

I'm not trying to be down on you for wanting to improve yourself. I'm trying to highlight that you need to specifically identify what you want to change. Perhaps there's a lot of things, and that's okay, but make a list of specific aspects of your life or yourself. Identify concrete, actionable steps you can take that will help you get closer to that ideal or achieve that task. For example you listed "Stay positive". Okay, great, now how do you achieve that? You might identify situations in which you get down on yourself, you give up hope, or you get angry. Make a list of them, and focus on changing the way that you think about the situation when it comes up, or the way you choose to react to it, or the way you talk to yourself in your own head when it happens. Or, spend a few minutes every night writing about how you handled a situation that's bothering you, or one that you handled well. That's just an example, you have to do this for yourself to cater to your own situation.

I guess what I'm getting at is that I don't think you will change your life with directionless reminders. Reminders to take specific, directed, intentional action, however, may be much more useful. Also, beware of splitting your focus up across too many areas.

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Huntmaster many thanks - this is, again, very interesting, thought-provoking and relevant. Much to think on. You're probably right that simple reminders aren't enough. Maybe I need to measure performance on a small number of quantifiable behaviour changes. Thanks again –  JohnC777 Mar 20 '13 at 19:06
    
Sure, and I hope I didn't come off as too critical. Perhaps you're already doing something like what I suggested, which I didn't take into account. I did make some assumptions about what you were trying to achieve based on a small sample of your examples. –  huntmaster Mar 21 '13 at 14:00

In my experience, this kind of "nudge" is useful, but at a much lower frequency.

One a day electronically is what works for me. I have a kludgy but working system, loading random quotes on my blog with watchthatpage.com alerting me once a day when the blog changes. Since the quote changes each time the page is loaded, this ends up being a once a day email.

I also have a paper tickler file (43Folders style) that has nudges and reminders in it, probably 15-20 of them. One shows up every day or two, and I drop it into a random folder sometime for the future for the next repeat.

The random repeat interval turns out to be important for reinforcement.

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Dennis many thanks - very interesting and thought-provoking –  JohnC777 Mar 20 '13 at 16:07

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