I recently had an extended consulting project with a company in Silicon Valley.  As I was frequently onsite, I developed a rapport with one of the receptionists, I will call her Barbara Lara-Johnson (not her real name).  She brightened my day every time I went there.  She was fun to interact with, a huge 49er's football fan, rode a motorcycle and was courteous and helpful with everyone. Unforgettable.

But an interaction with her made her even more unforgettable.  I never had to worry about remembering her name because she had a name plate on the counter.  So one day after I checked in and we caught up a bit, I glanced at her name plate and said, "Well thank you for your help, Ms Lara-Johnson."  To which she replied, "It's Lara.  Just Ms Lara.  I keep that name plate there to remind me not to do anything that stupid again."  We had a good laugh about less than smart relationship decisions we both had made in the past.

I tell this story to many of my clients because, well, it's kind of amusing, but also because it makes a bigger point about the need for reminders and props.  How many training programs have you been to where you can recall that it was a great class and you learned a lot, but you can't quite remember any of the trenchant insights you had during the class or the promises you made of what you wanted to do differently afterwards?  For most of us, training program and other kinds of insights often evaporate quite quickly.

It has always been challenging to remain focused on the most important matters in our lives and that has certainly not been made any easier by the myriad electronic distractions that are all around us.  If we needed reminders in the past to keep us dialed in, we need them more than ever now.

A further challenge in maintaining focus comes when we are trying to change something about how we show up or how we listen to others on the team or how we respond in pressure situations.  These orientations and behaviors we are trying to cultivate are new to us.  They are not natural and it is far too easy to fall back on inveterate ways of responding.  Here again props can help.

I had a client that was trying to slow herself down when speaking up in meetings and to develop more of an air of gravitas around her.  We ended up referring to it as a kind of Old Bull energy she was trying to develop.  I recommended she find and frame a picture of an Old Bull to keep in her office as a reminder of how she wanted to show up.  At a subsequent meeting, there sat the picture of the Old Bull on her desk.  She said that it was really helping.  Every time she glanced at the picture, she took a deep breath and reminded herself of how she wanted to be.

Sometimes useful reminders can be more episodic.  Another client was a force of nature in meetings with peers and people at lower organizational levels.  However, if more senior people were in the room, it was as if he got hypnotized.  He lost his verve and often failed to speak up.  We looked at his calendar to see when meetings with SVPs were coming up and he set alarms on his phone to vibrate during those meetings to remind him to stay present and focus on what needed to be said and done.

I am grateful about meeting "Ms Lara-Johnson."  Getting "it" right was so important to her, she was willing to put the wrong name on her desk and risk causing confusion in others and some embarrassment for herself. 

We probably don't need our reminders to be that extreme, but given how difficult behavior change is, it is unlikely that we'll be able to accomplish what we want without them.

How are you staying focused on the changes you're trying to make?