How to Remember Your Commitment

A Value Orientation, Course Correction, Following Through

Forgetting is real. It takes special work to remember an idea or an intention, particularly to remember it at the time you need it. The default is that you don’t.

This issue is much wider and more important than remembering names of people you meet or items on a shopping list. It applies also to your intentions and your action plans. A successful action plan anticipates forgetting — and builds in success despite forgetting.

For example, suppose you hear me recommend the daily practice “3 good things,” or the weekly review, and it sounds good. Why do you need to worry about forgetting to do it?


Primarily, and most deeply, you will forget if you don’t commit. In remembering names, we all know we forget when we don’t pay attention at the moment — when we don’t cement the original awareness of the name at the time it is told to us.

It’s similar with intentions, but here it is the original commitment that matters. There are a dozen tactics and practices that you could use to help reprogram your subconscious value hierarchy. The problem with that number is that many people might identify several valuable practices that they “could” adopt or would be “nice” to do. But if it stays at the level of “that might be a good thing to do,” you are likely to forget about it by the next morning.

Commitment makes a difference. A commitment is a definite decision to do something, no matter what, after having considered the known obstacles.

So, for example, a weekly review takes time — that’s an obstacle that needs to be considered when you commit to it. And if you do it on a Saturday, it could conflict with weekend adventures.

As part of your commitment, you decide to pursue this course despite anticipated and unanticipated obstacles. A commitment is a commitment to overcome the obstacles. When you spend time figuring out what they are, and how you’ll overcome them, you also cement the intention in your subconscious where you won’t forget it.

Unfortunately, remembering the intention in general is not enough. You don’t want to remember every Monday morning that you forgot to make your weekly plan. You want to remember it when the time comes to act on the intention. There are two other factors that foster forgetting at the time of action:


First, we forget when we are distracted. For example, if your morning routine goes awry by a slight emergency, you will probably forget something in your routine — such as naming your 3 good things.

There are all kinds of distractions, and I keep finding new ones. For example, headaches are a source of distraction for me — they pull my attention to the pain, off the things I would normally pay attention to. I have managed to forget to ask questions of doctors, forget one of the stores on my shopping trip, and forget to make follow up phone calls, all from this physical distraction.

Distractions are a fact of life, which is why when you commit to something, you also need to build in protections against distraction.

A little notebook placed prominently on your desk can remind you of your intention to record 3 good things. A note on your calendar can remind you of a weekly review. Asking other people to check on you can help — many people find “goal buddies” help them remember their intentions better.

And of course, any kind of scheduling infrastructure or other organizational system can build in opportunities to check, recheck, and remember. Anything you can do to put reminders in place so that you will remember despite being distracted can help.

My point is simply: everyone needs some help with protecting against distractions. Forgetting by distraction is a fact of life.


Finally, the last source of forgetting is motivation — or anti-motivation, if you like. You anticipate the action will be unpleasant. For example, maybe you have to make a difficult phone call. Or maybe you hate doing your weekly review, because it always reminds you of everything you haven’t gotten done, and you feel guilty.

The first time you remember you should make that call, you are likely to put it off, for one reason or another. And that almost guarantees that you then won’t remember to do it again.

The surest way to destroy a standing order is not to follow through when you remember. When you don’t follow through on your intention, that inaction serves to signal that the intention was not important after all. You’ll undo any work you’ve done to file it as a value.

The best way around this obstacle is to understand that “motivation by love,” not motivation by fear, is the only kind of motivation that can lead you to consistent success over the long-term.

For example, my weekly review shifted from identifying all the things I should be doing on all my projects (which routinely overwhelmed and depressed me) to recording completions for the previous week (a positive), incompletions (only from the short list of intentions), and looking forward to my several top priorities for the next week. It became a positive, manageable experience, so I wouldn’t resist doing it.

Remembering takes work. If you make a commitment, prepare for distractions, and nip resistance in the bud, you will remember to follow through on your intentions when it matters most.

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