Purpose of Trigger points in PKM (No, NOT keywords)

Trigger words/points are used to pull the content of your memory to the surface (conscious) that was dumped deep down as a result of not visiting them (the notes) frequently.

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series The Knowledge Workflow

I mentioned “trigger words” (or trigger points) in the previous post of this series. I want to debrief what it is and what it is meant to be despite many thinking that it is an alternative name for “keywords” or “tags”.

Like the trigger words provoke psychological emotions, the trigger words inside your PKM should invoke your memory intellectually.

Keywords, Tags are something that is shared by different concepts inside your note bank. They relate and connect across notes. Keywords of a particular document tell that they are mentioned inside the document. Tags add more context to the document.

The purpose of “Trigger points” is entirely different from keywords and tags. It functions as same as a keyword or tag which is to pull aside content that is relevant. But “trigger points/words” function as a trigger to pull out something from your memory in a most natural way.

Trigger points/words that help you remember a “piece of knowledge”, a concept, and the things associated with them without significant effort.

You took the note a couple of years before. Looking at the same note after a long time you wonder how these notes come into your collection. The content feels new to you. You’re naive to the same content which you understood well at the time of taking it. Now you need to read a significant amount of your note to understand what you understood at the time the note is taken.

On one side, the notes are for referring, and yes most note-taking methods satisfy this particular need intrinsically. But wouldn’t you like to recall the particular knowledge piece without significant effort? by not even searching your notes?

By using trigger words, you eliminate referring to the entire list of notes related to them. In the moment of seeing a trigger word, your brain re-surfaces the concept/knowledge piece that is kept at the bottom of its memory.

Keywords are for externalized memory (second brain), while “trigger points/words” are for your memory (your natural brain).

Trigger Points/Words – helps you to refresh your memory quicker. It is the crux as nuts in the shell that can be denoted with (very) few words. (Check Step 3 in the Note-taking workflow: To build and extract knowledge from digital notes ).

Over the course of time, I started to write my own “trigger words” in between the notes instead just highlighting some keywords as trigger words in the source text.

For me usually, the trigger word connects what I already knew (and probably never forget) with what I just learned now and want to remember later without much effort (without referring to my notes).

So the precondition for a “trigger” is that you should already be personally, intellectually, or emotionally familiar with it. It should share the characteristics of the concept you want to remember.

The recipe for the best trigger words is simplicity and personal touch. Not all of my trigger words follow this recipe, yet once I started to use them again and again (reciting, revisiting, spaced repetition) it will eventually get personal.

Naming your trigger words has another advantage. It comes naturally to you. When in urgency (both at the time of capture and retrieving) you don’t have to fuss with words, jargon, and other gimmicky words to quickly relate or connect.

Yes, trigger words can be a link (for the fans of back-linking) when the different knowledge pieces talk about similar concepts. But the caveat is, you might get confused when you connect more concepts to a single trigger word.

In simple words, trigger words are associated with a single idea regardless of how many times the idea is mentioned in different notes. It can bring back the whole picture of the idea in your brain the moment you read it.

When you skim through a note that was taken a couple of years back, you’ll find those very few highlighted words can bring back all the understandings that you had while taking the note. After encountering those words you feel familiar with the idea which was not the case before glancing at the trigger words.

Highlighting this type of information in your notes helps you to skim your notes faster. Eventually, after considerable revisiting of the notes, the title of the note becomes the trigger word. The ideas are now settled on your crystallized memory which might not need any revisitation to remember it on demand.

The simplicity factor is to make it easy to use, reuse, and remember with less effort.

A keyword is to pull all the notes that contain (relate) to that particular keyword.

Similarly, Trigger words/points are used to pull the memory to the surface (conscious) that was dumped deep down as a result of not visiting them frequently.

Trigger words/points are used to pull the content of your memory to the surface (conscious) that was dumped deep down as a result of not visiting them (the notes) frequently.

The most important factor of a successful PKM (personal knowledge management) system is to revisit your notes at optimal intervals.

So how to find the optimal interval for revisiting a note? It varies from note to note (topic to topic). The simple idea is, if you can remember all the trigger words/points under the particular note, you don’t have to revisit them. When one or a few trigger words start to fade away from your memory, then it is time.

Frequently revisiting the notes = chore, boring, waste of time.
never revisiting = failure to utilize the knowledge.

To know whether you can remember the trigger word under a note, you need a very quick visit to the note. (Keeping the trigger words at the top of your notes helps, that’s why I write a summary that includes these trigger words at the top of each note).

Understand the difference between remembering the trigger words for the topic and the concept (knowledge piece) that you want to remember when you encounter a trigger word.

It super-strengths the principle of augmenting the knowledge (instead of learning the concept as a new knowledge piece) which I discussed in “knowledge association“.

Any keyword can be a triggering word so that any abbreviations, story titles, pictures, or anything that is in a readable form. Don’t try to fix any type of rigid rule here to identify your trigger words.

Metaphorically, trigger words are like “bait” that attracts relevant ideas of fish from the bottom of your memory lake (this line could be a trigger point for this entire article). Knowing what baits to be used when is part of the work that needs to be done by us.

If you don’t have a fundamental understanding (Building blocks of true Knowledge: Atomic understanding) of the topic in your second brain, then trigger words become useless.

In this series of The Knowledge WorkflowPrevious: << Beginning of original thinking: Reflective thinkingNext:

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