Embedding Totems in Real Life

In my travels I’ve been stricken by how common symbols and totems are in every society. Castles, churches, governments, cities, families, clans and more all invested in expensive and lasting tokens to display symbols of certain meaning prominently within daily life. I’ve seen words, phrases, images and symbols embedded in walls, ceilings, chairs, and floors, as well as in absolutely any object imaginable, from robes, to headdresses, to canes, to candle snuffers, to glasses, furniture and fabrics.

Why Do Humans Need Totems?

Society’s reliance on totems is about inserting triggers and reminders of meanings and intentions into humans’ daily patterns and movements. Objects we see, touch and use throughout the day can speak to us and impact our habits and behaviors.

As you work to achieve new goals, your are constantly pushing against a wave of old assumptions driven from within you and from the environment around you. Humans are built for energy efficiency. Our brain’s basal ganglia region seeks to take over any recognizable environment and put us on autopilot, repeating an old habit, in order to save the brain’s deep thinking and problem-solving resources for decisions of greater import. 

Though we’ve set a goal that will require some degree of transformation, that habit-storing basal ganglia is going to track for the familiar and seek to drop us back into some old familiar groove. Though we drive home from work planning to write a chapter for our new book endeavor, once we walk past the couch in the family room and see the fuzzy blanket, our brain’s going to invite us to sit down, grab the remote, and scan Tubi for the latest laughs.

Once we build a habit for writing in the evening, it also become an easy downhill stroll. The challenge is the first few weeks wherein the groove for the old is deeper than the groove for the new. While we work one digging in a groove for new habits and energy cycles, we need to embed some laser-focused cheerleaders into our world to grab any of our five senses and pull us toward our goal.

There have been times wherein I set high goals, but I subconsciously sabotaged those goals by purchasing sub-par tools in order to safe money. Years later, after I’d worked hard on all my KindEdge steps of ranking the importance of absolutely everything I allow into my days. I had clarified what elements of my life could be subject to budget and what elements needed to follow the principal of highest first wherein choosing the best quality yields the best outcomes. I used the lock screen on my phone as a reminder that I would see any time I picked up my phone. I posted an image that simply said: “CHOOSE AMAZING.”

One day I was about to make a low-budget purchase based on some sense of guilt over an investment in what I perceived as an “optional” personal goal. Just as I grabbed my phone to make the purchase, I saw my message: “CHOOSE AMAZING.” My wiser self’s totem saved me from self-sabotage right in the middle of real life in progress. 

This was me hitting yet another “edge” and pushing past that edge into uncomfortable, new ground. But after continually training myself to make quality-based choices, I truly dug in a groove deeper than any old habit. I actually became physically averse to making “cheap-o” purchases. That old me is so cringe. After seeing evidence of how the old cheap-o choices diluted my time and efforts, and how quality choices buoyed my efforts and smoothed out the path forward, I could no longer stomach the old. 

You need objects that speak to you to show up throughout your day. Too many forces are already out there pulling you away from your goals. Donut shop signs, commercials, beeps and buzzes in your phone, visuals on TV, cuddly lazy makers, friends encouraging you toward time wasters, and more. You need to combat that anti-energy with words of greater power. Embed symbols into daily objects that carry meaning and that mirror your own heartfelt intentions. Be pressured by your own wise self rather than by the schizophrenic world around you.

Totems are critical KindEdge tools that bring your goals front and center in every day, making them something you can no longer ignore.


Your task today is to make a list of everything you see, hear, and touch during your day and consider how you might embed messages onto those surfaces. Custom-printing websites abound; you can print a message on absolutely anything. And you’ll be energized to take the right steps even when the day’s chaos is dragging you down.

As and example, in addition to the the brilliant coffee mug posted above that my sons gave me, I’ve also set my phone’s lock screen to CHOOSE AMAZING. Every time I’m asked to compromise values, lowball my choices, or muck up my higher plan, I see this reminder and slap my forehead. OH YEAH. I’ve got to live as if I’m dying. There are only so many minutes left in my life. I can only take on those things that really matter and that make my heart and brain go ZING! Every resource in my life is scarce. Everything is an either-or choice. I MUST follow the principal of highest first and simply say NO to anything that I don’t feel is AMAZING for me. I’m always amazed how much we need this external support. And knowing I wrote this message for myself, I’m even more grateful. THANK YOU, self. THANK YOU. The world was trying to hijack my plans; you PREPARED for that real-world reality. You protected me with TOTEMS.

So your activity is to identify all the surfaces wherein you can embed your own reminders, and to TAKE ACTION to get those messages printed. This activity needs to be on a physical pieces of paper and stored in your KindEdge binder; this real-world (printed on paper) list in the real binder you can hold in your hand will hold you accountable for taking action.

Here are a few starter ideas for where you can display symbols and messages that have meaning for you…

  • A glass you keep by your bedstand and alarm clock
  • Your coffee mug
  • The windshield of your car
  • A tag on your keychain
  • Anywhere on your laptop
  • Your phone case
  • Your phone’s lock screen
  • A playlist in your music or podcast app
  • Underwear (me: Wonder Woman undies… yup)
  • Pajamas or t-shirts
  • Hat
  • Bracelet or beads
  • Necklace pendant
  • Car or home floor mat
  • Pen
  • Umbrella
  • Shoelaces
  • Socks
  • Pad of paper
  • Frame at desk
  • Pen box
  • Customer leather journal cover

These can be symbols or images, or complicated meaningful designs like a family crest, or simply a few words. You can draw, paint, stamp, print them on anything or … far more fun… order these to be printed on objects via any printing website (think “Etsy.”)

As with all KindEdge steps, action to take today. So stop reading, start printing. You’ll thank yourself as soon as you get these supportive totems embedded in your life.

KindEdge.com MarySueIRL

Mary Sue IRL

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I’m committed to sharing this series of action and decision guides; they daisy chain into a bridge to real change. When all the guru inspo and self-help books failed, I created these to guide myself like I guide my change management clients and it finally worked.

Author Bio

KindEdge.com is a collection of bite-sized action steps that help people make transformational changes in their lives, even when there seems to be no time in the day to get such grand endeavors in motion.

I built this suite of guides for myself. They enabled me to pile-drive my dreams through the chaos that was my life. After decades of consuming self-help and guru content I remained stuck and running in circles. I only saw true progress when I applied my consulting “change management” approach to my own life. I developed short, well-defined decision and action tools that enabled me to see progress every day, even if life landed me in the emergency room lobby at midnight to tend to a child’s sports injury.

I now live a fundamentally different and better life that I designed for myself. I wake up every day energized to live out my purpose and enjoy a daily arc that fits me. I’m a mom of two incredible young men and one beloved black lab. I’ve lived in many cities within the US and abroad and I call St Pete home. Read more at: https://kindedge.com/about-mary/.

Now here’s to you pushing to your edge… to make real change and arrive at the most fulfilling part of this journey.

Cheers, cin-cin and hugs.

~ @MarySueIRL