What My Bro Said 6-Month Digest

It’s been 6-months since I started What My Bro Said.

Who would’ve known that I’d be able to consistently write for you every single Monday (and the odd Thursday) since October 2015.

By now, I have posted 40 articles (this is the 40th!).

Enjoy the Phase of Life You Are Currently In” was my first post to have been read by 1000 readers in a single day.

For the entire month of March 2015, I challenged myself to post every Monday and Thursday. And so I posted a record 9 articles during that month.

As a 6-month digest, below are the articles that you guys enjoyed the most (categorised by topic).

Thank you for your time, trust, and support.


4 Psychological Tricks You Can Use To Improve Your Productivity

The Magic Time Frame For Maximum Productivity

How to Schedule Time For Uninterrupted Focus


What You Need to Know About Willpower

How To Improve Your Willpower

What Depletes Your Willpower And What You Can Do About It

Behavioural Economics/Behavioural Science

The One Thing That Will Help You Make Good On The Promises You Made To Yourself And Others

Don’t Fall into The Mindset of The Now: A Post Based On Behavioural Economics Principles

Why Pregnant Women Change Their Mind


Contributions of Hermann Ebbinghaus to Memory: An Essay

Why Your Mindset Matters

What Popcorn Can Teach Us About Habits

001: Psychology Of Physical Sensation: Interview With Christopher Eccleston [Podcast]

6 Scientifically Proven Ways to Better Control Your Cravings

How to Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Last The Entire New Year


Vitamin D: D for Depression

Book Reviews

Summary: The Dip by Seth Godin

Review: How To Win At College By Cal Newport

Life Lessons & Life Advice (courtesy of people older and smarter than me)

Enjoy the Phase of Life You Are Currently In

Give Yourself Permission

Are You Playing The Long Game?

How to Get Lucky at Life

4 Time-Tested Ways To Model Success

6 Reasons Why You Should Find a Mentor


How to Set Goals

Goals can positively impact task performance (e.g. Latham and Locke, 2002).

According to goal-setting theory, goals are inherently rooted in biology and have aided us in our survival as a species throughout millennia (Locke & Latham, 1990a).

This theory assumes that difficult yet specific goals lead to higher performance compared to easy or vague goals like “just do your best” (e.g. Locke and Latham, 2013).

“Just doing your best” won’t cut it.

You need goals – why?

The 4 mechanisms that affect goal performance

According to goal-setting theory, there are four mechanisms through which goals affect performance.

Goals give direction

Firstly, goals provide direction in an individual’s efforts.

They concentrate these efforts and focus them towards goal-relevant activity and away from goal-irrelevant activity.

Goals energise

Secondly, goals have the ability to energise.

Unlike low goals, high goals can energise an individual to expend more effort in achieving a desired outcome.

Higher goals induce greater effort, while low goals induce lesser effort.

Goals influence effort

Thirdly, goals influence the level of effort one is willing to exert in pursuing an outcome.

Goals can either help achieve difficult tasks in short, intense bursts of effort or help achieve less challenging tasks over a longer period of time with much less effort.

Goals can prime you

Lastly, goals can prime an individual for appropriate cognitive responses as well as for previous knowledge and skills on how to best handle a situation in which we may be in.

How to set goals

Consider the S.M.A.R.T model as a useful framework that delineates five criteria that can optimise the process of goal achievement (Doran, 1981).

Particular letters of the acronym stand for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Bound and describe the criteria for successful goal setting.


Firstly, the more specific and detailed a goal is, the more likely the individual will be successful in achieving it.


Secondly, a measurable goal (e.g. using metrics) is necessary in gauging the level of progress made in achieving the final outcome.


Thirdly, a goal must be reasonably attainable but not too challenging nor difficult to achieve.

This is important as an unattainable goal can decrease self-efficacy in turn lowering the likelihood that an individual will be able to develop solutions to tackle a task at hand (Latham, Winters, and Locke, 1994).


Fourthly, a goal must be realistic.

If it isn’t, how are you going to achieve it?


Finally, time-bound describes the process of setting checkpoints and/or deadlines as a means to successfully goal realisation.

How to make sure you follow through on your goals

Your goals should be self-set

Research suggests that employees that generated self-set goals formed more ambitious goals and showed higher performance in achieving them compared to employees that had goals merely assigned to them (Latham, Mitchell, and Dossett, 1978).

Publicly commit to your goals

Moreover, it was found that publicly committing to said goals enhanced employee commitment in both actively pursuing and achieving those goals (Hollenbeck, Williams, and Klein, 1989).

Hollenbeck and colleagues assume that the effectiveness of publicly announced goals lies in an individual’s need to behave in accordance with such promises.

It also makes the whole thing a matter of integrity in both your own eyes and the eyes of others.

This is in line with the behavioural economics principle called Ego (Dolan et al., 2010). People want to project a favourable image of themselves to their peers and act in line with the self-image they aspire to.

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Extraordinary Person

The Extraordinary Person is someone you know or used to know who is currently so far ahead of everyone that people start to rationalise how this may have happened.

They rationalise because human beings are naturally rationalising creatures.

How do we cope with the fact that someone you went to class with, is the same age as you, and started out on the same level playing field as you but fast forward to age 30 and they’re light years ahead of you?

That person may be ahead of you financially, may be ahead in both social and emotional relationships, may be in better physical shape, and in general is ahead in most (if not all) aspects of life.

The level of progress on some on these aspects may be difficult to gauge, but for some reason you might feel that the discrepancy in lifestyle is glaring.

In the beginning you were equal…

In your 20s there is little discrepancy between your peers.

You notice some people you know are doing cool stuff like studying for a semester abroad, creating societies at university, hosting radio shows and podcasts, volunteering at various charity organisations, getting into internships, and hanging out with equally influential, phenomenal achievers.

Some people are broadening their horizons, expanding their comfort zones, and making the most of the opportunities characteristic of the phase of life they are in at the moment.

These are the little differences that you start to notice.

Over time though, these seemingly innocuous incremental differences slowly but surely amount to a broader picture of success. These small differences amplify over time, in a similar manner in which compound interest behaves.

Imagine this scenario for a moment. Consider an ex-classmate of yours who was always a boisterous, fun-loving, ambitious person who’d always push the boundaries and try new exciting things. 

Fast forward 5 or 10 years.

You learn he has been travelling around the world, hiking in Yosemite, bungee jumping in New Zealand, and having threesomes with beautiful women in Australia. He’s earning big bucks and is living life.

Whatever your ideal of success is – he’s surpassed it.

What’s the reaction?

Let’s forget about envy, disdain, or indifference.

If your default mode is to be envious or just exude negativity when confronted by such aspects of reality – there’s something wrong with you.

Don’t waste your mental energy or precious time with petty dramas and emotions that will only drain you.

More, rather than being indifferent, be happy for the people you once knew who are currently maximising their potential.

I can hardly imagine being indifferent towards someone I grew up with that’s living it up in some way or another.

The convenient dissociative psychological mechanism 

Emotions aside however, I’ve noticed that one of the most common dissociative coping mechanisms in such situations are thought processes and ruminations like:

“He’s always been like that.”


“Yup, classic [insert name here]”


“He’s one of a kind”.

It’s a convenient psychological self-preservation mechanism that occurs by means of dissociating yourself from the person that’s pushing the boundaries i.e. ‘the extraordinary person.’

This happens by elevating the extraordinary person to undefined heights, almost pedestalising his unique aptitudes, temperaments and behaviours all in an effort to rationalise and absolve yourself of any responsibility as regards your current situation in life.

In fact, I’ve realised that people tend to overestimate the achievements and successes of those who blow the curve.

Oftentimes, this overestimation borders on idealism – but that doesn’t matter.

What matters is that this dissociation serves its latent purpose.

And that’s to make the extraordinary seem so awesome, so different, so ‘out-group’ that it’s hard to feel bad about your inertia and stagnation, about you not reaching those same heights in a particular area, and not enjoying the specific portions of the incredibly wide spectrum of pleasures life has to offer.

Closing Thoughts

An apt and succinct description of ‘the extraordinary person’ would be to paraphrase Fyodor Dostoyevsky in that such a person “deviates from the common rut.” 

There’s nothing interesting about being average.

The truth is that anybody can become an extraordinary person.

It’s what naturally happens when people push the boundaries with the goal of consistent self-betterment.

Become the extraordinary person.

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Contributions of Hermann Ebbinghaus to Memory: An Essay

Contributions of Hermann Ebbinghaus to Memory: An Essay

Ever since the publishing of his precedent-setting monograph in 1885, Hermann Ebbinhaus’ has been recognised as the first psychologist to experimentally study memory.

The lasting impact of his ideas is evidenced in the fact that they continue to garner scientific interest and have been extensively studied for over a century since their inception.

Ebbinghaus’ ideas constitute the foundations of the discipline of cognitive psychology.

Hermann Ebbinhaus

What do we learn from Ebbinghaus’ work about memory and language?

In this essay, most of the ideas from his seminal work will be explored.

This includes the two principles of memory and learning that gave rise to the world’s first learning curve.

The forgetting curve as another major discovery and the explanations for forgetting will be mentioned.

Finally, the serial position effect will be looked at which significantly contributed to our understanding of memory.

The Learning Curve

Hermann Ebbinghaus (1885) performed the first scientific study to explore the relationship between practice and learning.

In his study, Ebbinghaus himself read through a list of 16 nonsense syllables (e.g. JEV, ZIF, VAM) for 0, 8, 16, 24, 32, 42, 53 or 64 repetitions.

In order to ascertain how much he had learnt, he waited 24 hours to re-learn the sequence and measured the time it took him to recite the list of 16 syllables without error.

The results of the study illustrate two very important principles of memory and learning.


learning curve.png
The Learning Curve: Ebbinghaus, H. (1885). Über das Gedächtnis. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot.

First, there is a linear relationship between time spent learning and amount learnt. The more practice dedicated to learning, the greater the amount that is learnt. This is the learning curve.

Second, he found that distributed learning is much more effective than cramming into a single session.

The Forgetting Curve

In another experiment, Ebbinghaus (1885) learnt lists of 13 nonsense syllables which he kept learning until he was able to repeat them without error.

After a delay, he would re-test himself. He noted that waiting 20 minutes for the first recall trial resulted in substantial drop in performance as a result of forgetting.

Ebbinghaus was curious as to how long it would take to re-learn forgotten information, which led him to introduce the savings method.

The savings method measured the amount of forgetting by determining the amount of trials needed to re-learn the material.

The findings generated a forgetting curve that is non-linear and its shape approximately logarithmic.

Image: Gleitman, H., Reisberg, D., Gross, J. (2007). Psychology

The curve shows that there is a sharp initial dip in the amount of information forgotten but then the rate of forgetting is much less drastic as it gradually slows down at later stages of retention where the function finally tails off.

The forgetting curve has been proven to be tremendously accurate as a staple finding in understanding forgetting.

In fact, Rubin and Wenzel (1996) confirmed the logarithmic shape of the forgetting curve having analyzed 210 data sets involving various memory tasks.

Autobiographical memories decay at a slower rate

However, Marigold Linton (1975) conducted a study of her autobiographical memories over a five-year period.

Everyday she noted two events and at predetermined intervals she systematically tested her recall of these.

It was found that she lost the ability to remember 5% of the items per year and the forgetting function was linear in nature.

These findings don’t necessarily mean that the forgetting curve is less universal than initially thought.

In fact, this study is evidence for autobiographical memories showing slower forgetting and thus being a major exception to Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve.

A possible explanation for this is Jost’s (1897) law which upholds that “if two memo traces differ in age but are of equal strength, the older one will decay more slowly over any give time period.” (Eysenck and Keane, 2010, p.233).

The study also illustrates how different results can be generated in more naturalistic settings compared to Ebbinghaus’ artificial laboratory setting.

How does forgetting occur?

But how does forgetting occur?

Ebbinghaus offered possible explanations initially put forth by philosophers of his time.

One of the perspectives, he argued, is that the passing of time causes memory traces to slowly decay until they finally disappear (e.g. Wixted, 2004).

Another perspective emphasises the role of interference caused by new learning. That is, old information that has been in long-term storage can become disrupted by new information that is being committed to memory.

For instance, Baddeley and Hitch (1977) carried out a study where they asked rugby players to recall the names of teams they had played against during the season.

The aim was to find out whether the ability to successfully recall team names was affected more by the passing of time or interference caused by intervening games.

Due to the fact that not all rugby players attended these games for various reasons, for some “2 games back” meant 2 weeks ago and for others it meant 4 weeks ago.

Baddeley, A.D. & Hitch, G.J. (1977). Recency re-examined, in S. Dornic (Ed.), Attention and Performance VI, pp. 647-665, London: Academic Press.

Such differences allowed the researchers to look at the effect of time on recall ability.

Similarly, Baddeley and Hitch looked at the effect of new learning by comparing players for whom the game a month ago was “3 games back” with players for whom it meant “1 game back.”

It was found that intervening games greatly affected recall and thus interference was established as a more powerful determinant of forgetting than time decay.

Nothing definitive can be said about forgetting

While Ebbinghaus’ contributions have immensely aided our understanding of forgetting, many uncertainties remain.

For instance, although research (e.g. Baddeley & Hitch, 1977) has demonstrated the powerful effects of interference with regards to forgetting, how interference exactly behaves is unclear.

Does interference cause memory traces to compete with one another?

Or are previous memory traces destroyed by other traces?

At this point in time, nothing definitive can be stated as to whether interference and trace decay are mechanisms by which forgetting occurs (Baddeley, 1997).

The Serial Position Effect

One of the topics that continue to be of interest is the serial position curve first discovered by Ebbinghaus, which expresses the relationship between the place of an item in a list (i.e. its serial position) and the ability to recall it.

Interestingly, Ebbinghaus made the observation that some items are recalled better than others, namely the first (primacy effect) and final (recency effect) items.

Ever since its discovery, the serial position effect has had a major impact on the understanding of memory.

It has garnered substantial interest and as a result has been extensively studied for many decades.

One of such studies include Roediger and Crowder (1976) where they asked participants to recall the names of presidents of the United States of America in chronological order of their term of office.

The findings showed that there were pronounced primacy and recency effects in participant recall.

Roediger III & Crowder (1976). A serial position effect in recall of United States presidents. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 8, 275-278.

Although there was a poor recall of the middle presidents, there was a spike in performance for Abraham Lincoln.

Roediger and Crowder suggested that the primacy and recency effects arise due to the first and last presidents having less neighbors to one side than presidents in the middle.

Also, the anomalous performance of Lincoln was explained by his distinctiveness as a prominent national figure in the history of the country.

Closing Thoughts

What we learnt about memory courtesy of Ebbinghaus’ contributions was explained with the aid of most of his monumental ideas such as the principles of learning, the forgetting curve, explanations for forgetting, and the serial position effect.

What we learnt was that the amount learnt increases with amount of practice, and that distributed learning is more effective than massed practice.

The forgetting curve was mentioned as an idea that immensely aided our understanding of the process of forgetting and the explanations for its occurrence were discussed.

The serial position effect was examined with regards to memory.

However, many uncertainties still surround the process of forgetting and the actual explanation for the serial position effect is still debated.

Though there is significant amount of research supportive of Ebbinghaus’ discoveries, the evidence is still not conclusive enough.

Although there is still much ground to cover within the field of cognitive psychology, Ebbinghaus’ contributions have cemented his legacy as one of the world’s most valuable scientists.

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