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A simple but powerful technique to avoid careless mistakes

On one fine day, I took my two-wheeler to a parking lot located near the bus depot, so that I can park it there and commute to my workplace by public transport. After parking the bike, I obtained a receipt from the parking lot manager by mentioning my vehicle registration number. When I returned from work, I went to the parking lot to repossess my vehicle. I took the vehicle from the lot and approached the exit where the lot manager asked for the receipt. I gave it to him. He cross-checked the vehicle number mentioned in the receipt with the number displayed on the vehicle. He, then, asked me to park the vehicle in the sideway and told me that the number in the receipt doesn’t match with the number displayed on the vehicle.

Only then I realized that I carelessly made a colossal mistake. There were two bikes at my home. One that I use and the other that my father uses. On that day, since my bike was in the workshop for service, I drove my dad’s vehicle. But when I parked the vehicle, I entered the registration number of my bike, out of habit. After some heated arguments and submission of proofs, finally, I was allowed to possess back my vehicle (i.e my father’s vehicle).

This incident depicts how careless mistakes can affect our time and energy. In some instances, the cost of a mistake maybe money. But we tend to make less careless mistakes when money or human life is involved. Why is it so? Because we give much of our attention and concentration while doing something that involves money or human life. But most of our daily activities don’t get much of our attention, just because no money or human life is involved in them. Still, if these mistakes were avoided, it’d give us space for other important stuff in life.

Pointing and Calling

To avoid accidents due to careless mistakes, the railways in Japan use a system called “Pointing and Calling“. This effective strategy helped them reduce mistakes by 85 percent and accidents by 30 percent. On seeing its effectiveness, this system was later adopted in the New York Subway trains to facilitate the opening of doors by the conductor, when the train stops at a station.

What is Pointing and Calling?

In Japan, the train operators, to avoid careless mistakes, point at an object and call out commands, to make sure that everything is going on in the right manner. For example, whenever the train approaches a signal, they point their finger at the signal and say, “Signal is green”. When the train enters the station, they point at the speedometer and call the exact speed of the train to make sure that they are entering at the correct speed into the station. In a country, where high-speed trains are common, procedures like this, reduces the chance of making mistakes and thereby reduces accidents.

Why does Pointing and Calling really work?

As all of us know, conscious and unconscious are the two activities of our mind. The conscious mind is the thinking mind that helps us make a decision based on logic, facts, and other information. It is the mind that is purely based on our awareness. The unconscious mind is the irrational mind that lies underneath our awareness. Our habits, addictions, ego, fear, beliefs, emotions, etc lie in our unconscious mind.

For example. when you started learning to typewrite, you would have searched for various keys consciously before typing it. But as you became well versed and developed it into a habit, you were not aware of each letter that you type. That’s done by the unconscious or the subconscious mind. When you do something paying clear attention to it, then it means you’re using your conscious mind. On the contrary, when you do something without thinking about it, then you’re using your unconscious mind.

When the conscious mind does a job, the probability of error is very minimal because we pay much attention to them. But if we do a work purely using our unconscious mind, without paying attention, then the chances of committing a mistake are very high. That’s where the “pointing and calling” method comes into place. By pointing at an object and calling the command or by simply calling, we bring the unconscious activities into our consciousness, thereby reducing the mistakes.

Do you know that 95 percent of our behaviors and actions come from the subconscious or the unconscious mind?

How to incorporate the “Pointing and Calling” method into your daily life?

Here are the few ways you can use this simple technique to make mistakes uncommon in your life.

  • Remembering names To remember people’s names, you can simply call them using it, whenever you meet them. E.g Instead of “Hi Uncle, how are you?”, you could say “Hi, Uncle John, How’re you?” This increases the odds of remembering their name forever. (Extra tip: People give you their full attention to you when you call them by their name)
  • Have a checklist Checklists are inevitable. They make our life so easy. Whenever you go shopping, have a checklist with you. After you buy each item in the checklist, cross them out. This makes you more aware of what you’re doing and it’s less likely that you’ll forget anything. You can go one step further by calling out from the list like “I have bought the veggies, milk, etc”
  • Avoiding misplacing This is a common menace in all our homes. To avoid this, next time, before placing something at a place, just point out at that place and say, for example, “I am keeping my keys in this drawer”. This makes you avoid unconsciously misplacing your keys.
  • Cooking How many times have you tasted the dish while it’s being prepared to check whether you’ve added salt or not? To make sure you don’t do this again, before adding each ingredient into your dish, simply call out their names, like “I am adding salt, I am adding pepper, I am adding coconut, etc”. This increases the taste of your dish while avoiding confusion.
  • Leaving a place While leaving your home or any other place, call out the names of the essential items that you need to carry with you. E.g “I’ve got my luggage, I’ve got my keys, I’ve got my wallet, I’ve got my children, etc”
  • Doing your resume After you’ve completed typing your resume, just consciously read (yes, unconscious reading does exist) it once before sending it to the companies. By doing this way, you are much unlikely to miss any details.
  • Breaking a Bad Habit As we already saw, habits are activities from our unconscious mind. So we’re mostly unaware that we’re performing a bad habit. To bring it into awareness, whenever you’re about to perform a bad habit, say out the action and the consequences of performing the bad habit. It’s like switching ON the light in the darkroom. E.g Whenever you see yourself mindlessly wasting too much time, say out loud, “I am wasting too much of time without preparing for the exams. This will have a massive impact on my grades”. Now, you’re more aware of the consequences of wasting time and you’ll spend it in a rather useful manner.
  • Planning your day We must plan our day to make the most of it. While planning a day, call out the activities that you need to do on that day. By doing so, you’re more likely to do those activities and less likely to skip them.

Summing Up

This idea of “Pointing and Calling” may seem silly. But believe me, it can work wonders. When you follow this method, people near you might think that you’ve gone mad. Let them think. That’s their perception and you cannot do anything about it. But it helps you save time and energy. Some people call these careless mistakes as Stupid mistakes. I disagree with that. No one is stupid here. We all are human beings and there is nothing wrong with committing mistakes. Mistakes are the learning places and not something to be ashamed of.


Allaboutlean.com where the video and other information regarding “Pointing and Calling” were referenced for this article.

I came to know to about this method from the author of the best-selling book “Atomic Habits”, James Clear.

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