An Action Guide to Atomic Habits by James Clear

I’m probably late to the game but I recently read Atomic Habits and found it a game-changer for my own life! Due to the sheer volume of tips and content covered, I found myself writing a summarised version of each chapter after reading. But I went beyond to include my own tables and exercises based on James’s suggestions. And thus the Action Guide to Atomic Habits was born.

I’d like to share it here in the hopes that others will find it useful!

Mandatory recommendation to support James Clear by buying his book. While I think my modified guide is fantastic, it can never beat learning from the author himself.

JAMES COMMANDS YOU

Before we begin, my review of Atomic Habits: 5/5 stars. This book marked a paradigm shift for me. It is also well-integrated with psychological principles, so bonus points! I also love that there are many action pointers interspersed throughout the book, though I would have appreciated it even more if he straight up had “exercises”. But it’s alright because I’ve created them – problem solved.

*This post is the first of two. It covers the first 10 chapters in the book (of 20), because writing a summary takes time. Also, because the content covered can be dense, don’t expect to be able to finish the summary/exercises in one sitting. Yes – you know what that means! Bookmark this page, subscribe to me for updates, and send love if you enjoyed it!

USING THIS GUIDE

For starters, I recommend selecting one habit – and only one – that you hope to build and focusing on it via the exercises in this guide. The habit I’ve been working on is reading academic journal articles every day. Well then, without further ado…


Gwyn Reviews: the NTU Counselling Centre

Mental health in youths is the In Thing now. There’s been a proliferation of ground-up and top-down initiatives targeting this issue in the past year, with even the Singapore government publicly committing to progressive improvements (albeit not reforms). This leads us to the questions: what resources are available, and are they adequate?

For me, there was one FREE resource under my nose I’d neglected for the longest time: the school counsellor. Yes – after more than four years in university and pursuing two psychology (!) degrees, I finally reached out to the NTU University Counselling Centre (UCC). This post will describe my experience seeking counselling services from the NTU UCC.

Sections to be covered (Ctrl-F to skip to a section directly, e.g. [1]):

[1] Why people don’t always seek help
[2] Booking the appointment + waiting time
[3] The actual counselling session

Even though I visited a university counsellor, I expect the overall experience to be generalisable, so youths of other ages and institutions may still find this post applicable. Students not from NTU/uni may skip [2], though I’d still recommend you read everything.

My goal here is to encourage help-seeking on my readers’ part: if you feel like you’re facing difficulties with your mental health in any way, go to a professional if you can. Don’t wait until your stresses boil over and you find yourself in a state of burnout (speaking from experience).


[1] THE PREAMBLE: WHY PEOPLE DON’T ALWAYS SEEK HELP

Considering I’m a psychology graduate, it’s ironic how I’ve never seen a counsellor. I mean, I’ve studied under clinical practitioners. Hell, I took a counselling module once, where my counselling skills were assessed. (Minor flex: I was the “top performer” in the cohort for that module. But look at where I am now. So.) Either way, I’ve never been a client.

That’s not to say I never considered the prospect of seeking help – I just never got around to doing so.

The point is: there’s a gap between intention and action that many of us find ourselves stuck in. You know (from the indelicate “oh mental health is superrrr important and we shouldn’t neglect it” narrative that we’re bombarded by) that seeking help is good, but… you just can’t seem to bring yourself through the steps to get there.

Granted, not everyone has the energy or time to seek professional help. There exists a multitude of (valid) reasons people don’t. Here are mine in the past that I cycled through at my convenience:

  • I am busy / I have too much work / I don’t have time / it’s too much of a hassle
  • It might not help me / I could just talk to my friends or family 
  • It’s too expensive* (high-SES private therapists can go up to $180/h)

*So I found a free service. Baby steps, my friends.

Tl;dr: in deciding to seek help, you must believe that the value you’re receiving is worth the investment you’re making. In describing my experience with counselling below, I hope to demonstrate the value that counselling can bring. It will not solve all your problems – but it might get you closer to addressing them.


[2] BOOKING THE APPOINTMENT + WAITING TIME

Send help, am suffering

What prompted me to request an appointment was a stressful episode midway in the semester. Long story short, I felt that I wasn’t living up to my unattainable standards and doing terribly compared to my peers. A common experience, I guess, but with sufficient intensity to shut me down for three consecutive days – a significant amount of time when you’re running on weekly deadlines. Then, I saw an email advising students to seek help at the UCC if they needed it. LOL. This whole scenario reads like a comedy advertisement.

The appointment request form is on this page (login credentials required), but you can email the UCC at ucc-students@ntu.edu.sg or call 67904462. Getting to the request page is NOT an intuitive process (take note NTU); from a Google Search of “NTU counselling”, you need a minimum of four clicks on the correct links to get there.

The specific order is Student Intranet > Student Wellbeing (under Student Services) > Counselling > Making Appointments (Students) (under Student Wellbeing) – like how many Student Wellbeings do I need to see before I get to my destination LMFAO.

hello sgsecure? i am insecure

The intake call

Surprise, surprise: the appointment booking form I filled was not, in fact, for the counselling appointment. It was for an intake call. They contacted me through my email to arrange a call, and after some back and forth, we agreed on a timing. Anyway, they forgot to call me at the stipulated timing on the day itself, and I had to write in after a 15-min period of radio silence to remind them.

The intake call is a means of gathering initial information about the client through a series of questions (for the nitty-gritty, read here). The lines of enquiry that stood out to me were:

  • Any current issues/life transitions/symptoms experienced in the past month
  • My reason for seeking counselling; what I expect to get out of counselling
  • Any intentions for self-harm? (They were particularly meticulous about this)
  • Existing sources of social support I could draw upon

Naturally, I wanted to see the counsellor ASAP, but they informed me that the next appointment wasn’t available until a month later. I remember responding: the semester would have ended by that time – what would I have to talk about then? Can’t be helped, the caller essentially replied. It was crunch time for them because everyone gets stressed around the exam/assignment period. So, ironically, the time when students are most vulnerable is precisely when they are least likely to get opportune help because the centre can’t cope with the demand.

OK, well, whatever. I booked the appointment for the following month and promptly forgot about it. Later, I had to postpone it for another week because I had an urgent deadline that cropped up, which was a hassle. The other thing about UCC’s booking system is that it is internally and manually managed. There is no convenient online portal that you can log onto – like that of polyclinics – to book or reschedule appointments. You have to write/call in to deconflict and haggle for the timing that works best for you AND them.


[3] FINALLY, THE ACTUAL COUNSELLING SESSION

24 for me but same same

Counsellors, therapists, and psychiatrists

Before we proceed, a note between the differences between a counsellor and (psycho)therapist because there is a common misconception that they are the same. If you’re wondering where clinical psychologists are, they fall under the umbrella of therapists. Finally, neither counsellors nor therapists are psychiatrists, who are specialised medical doctors and the only ones that can prescribe medication for mental disorders. (Confused? This resource may help clarify.)

Therapists undergo more specialised training focusing on diagnosis and treatment, and minimally require a Master’s to practise professionally. Counselling does not require a Master’s, though there is a certification requirement of a few hundred hours of supervised training. The above does not mean one profession is better than the other – it just means they address different needs of the client. A counsellor is well-equipped to handle immediate problems causing distress and is a resource bank of coping strategies that the client can draw upon during trying times.

Think of counsellors as the “first line of defence”. If your symptoms are severe such that a counsellor’s assistance is insufficient, your case will be escalated to a psychologist or psychiatrist for further attention. But for many, seeing a counsellor will be enough. I think of counsellors as similar to GPs. We all get sick once in a while, and so seeking regular check-ups is a good habit to cultivate. But sometimes we have severe or recurring symptoms beyond their expertise, and that’s when they refer you to a specialist.  

Nice to e-meet you

I opted for an online call because I didn’t want to travel down to Pulau NTU. Ah, the joys of technology! My counsellor was randomly assigned to me – I didn’t get to choose. I won’t disclose her name for privacy reasons, but she was sweet and approachable. And a great listener.

We started in an open-ended fashion, where she invited me to share what I’ve been up to and any challenges that I’d been facing recently. I’m a great rambler (ideal client type), so I wasted no time and jumped straight into rattling off all my problems. Throughout my monologues, she remained highly engaged, interjecting appropriately during my pauses.

When I shared my chronic belief of never being good enough, she gently guided me to elaborate and interrogate the causes of this belief. Examples:  

  • When did I start feeling this way?
  • Is it really feasible to be the best at something (all the time)?
  • How do I deal with situations when I do not meet my expectations?
  • What is my relationship with myself?

As I attempted to answer these questions, I found myself exploring dusty places in my mind. I realised I possessed thought and action patterns that I had simply accepted as normal and automatically used without noticing their impact on me through the years. It was a pleasant surprise when her questions decentred me, throwing me off my usual line of self-talk, and pointed me in new directions to explore. It was exciting.

What I really liked was the new perspective that she offered to the things I took for granted. It’s easy to believe that we know everything about ourselves – after all, we live with the voices in our heads 24/7. And I’d already had extensive conversations with my loved ones and mentors before about the struggles I faced. While they are indubitably a valuable source of social support, I stopped learning anything new about myself from those repeated conversations at some point. So, gaining an outsider’s perspective was illuminating.

Problem-focused coping is my passion

Before ending the session, she provided me with a few coping methods to try over a few weeks. She mainly proposed journaling with specific adjustments. I mentioned that I have a habit of reviewing my day in writing, so she commended me (LOL) and recommended further minutiae I could try. Namely:

  • Write down the events of the day. Next, identify and label the emotions I experienced – positive or negative. Then validate them: was it reasonable to feel this way, given the circumstances? Would others have felt the same in similar situations?
  • If there are negative thoughts, create a separate column to reframe them: rewrite them as valuable takeaways to learn from.
  • Write one positive thing about myself every day (basically gratitude journaling), e.g. “I am proud of myself for powering through the day!”

You might think these sound commonsensical. I’d already learnt all of it before, and I know that these are helpful in theory. The thing is (again): it never occurred to me to practise doing these things. She reiterated that I don’t have to be ambitious or perfectionistic about this whole journaling endeavour: start small and build up slowly. The same goes for mental health, really – it’s a process.

Finally, we scheduled our second appointment for a month later, since one hour was grossly inadequate to work through two decades of self-doubt. Afterwards, she emailed me a cute diagram with tips on cognitive restructuring.

i will NOT break down today

UNTIL THE NEXT APPOINTMENT…

In summary, I would rate my experience as:

  • Appointment process: 2.5/5, as mediocre as me, needs improvement
  • Counselling experience: 5/5, exceeded expectations, would recommend to all

I firmly believe that counselling is a resource that everyone deserves and should use to better their well-being. I say this based on my experience seeking counselling and as a psychology graduate. The good news is that there are now many free counselling services available (see the end of this post for a list of community resources), and one’s educational institution is a great place to start.

Ultimately, my hope is that seeing a counsellor can be as normalised as going to your GP for a physical ailment. Fortunately, with mental health awareness steadily increasing in Singapore, that doesn’t seem such a far-off goal now. That being said, there’s always room for improvement… but that’s a story for another time.

Wishing you all wealth and health and that you will meet the counsellor who helps you flourish and be your best self! 

For more quality content like this, subscribe by entering your email under the “VIP Club” section on the right side of the page! Alternatively, contact me here or follow me @gwynethtyt on Instagram.

If my posts helped you and you’d like to show your appreciation, consider making a donation here! It keeps my blog running and my energies focused on writing quality content LOL. You’ll be contributing to my monthly donations to Share The Meal too. (And you get priority responses~)


Update (4/1/22): Dr Lim from the University Wellbeing Office commented on this post with further resources for NTU students!

Thank you for promoting and your championing of mental health and wellbeing for our youths. Regarding my suggestion to include a link for the students, you could consider this: https://ts.ntu.edu.sg/sites/intranet/student/dept/uwo/resources/Pages/default.aspx (NTU student intranet under UWO webpage). This page has different categories of self-help and will encourage exploration of the different resources and services available to the youths.

APPENDIX: USEFUL COMMUNITY RESOURCES

Fei Yue’s Online Counselling Service
ec2.sg
[Live chat] Mon-Fri: 10am-12pm; 2pm-5pm (Closed on Public Holidays)
e-Counselling Centre

Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH)
1800 283 7019; 6283 1576
Toll-Free Helpline from 9am-6pm on weekdays (except public holidays)
counselling@samhealth.org.sg
A helpline for all mental health-related matters

Community Health Assessment Team (CHAT)
https://www.chat.mentalhealth.sg/get-help/About_webCHAT/
6493 6500 / 01
chat@mentalhealth.sg
webCHAT operates from Tues to Sat, 1pm-8pm
Provides a confidential and personalised mental health check for young persons between 16 and 30 years old. CHAT is NOT a counselling or crisis service

Touch Community Services
1800 377 2252
Mon to Fri from 9am-6pm
TOUCHLine Youth Counselling Service

Care Corner
1800 3535 800
Daily from 10am-10pm (excluding public holidays)
Toll-free Mandarin Counselling Hotline

National Care Hotline
1800-202-6868
Provides emotional and psychological support to those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic

IMH Emergency Help Line (24h)
6389 2222
Urgent intervention for those experiencing acute difficulties in their mental health

Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) (24h)
1800 221 4444
pat@sos.org.sg
Facebook Messenger (6pm-6am on Mon to Thu and from 6pm-11:59pm on Fri)
A 24-hour suicide prevention helpline to provide emotional support for those in distress

Mental Health Services Resource Directory

*The above are unabashedly taken from a school email, no shame, thanks NTU

Gwyn Reviews: the Cuddle™ Cool 2.0 Weighted Blanket

Are you WEIGHED DOWN by your enormous responsibilities in everyday life? Do you ever feel like you could SINK INTO THE FLOOR and stay there forever? Look no further, for you can now replicate this EXISTENTIAL HEAVINESS even in SLEEP… except that this time you will relish every moment of it.

you don’t have to deal with life if you’re unconscious.

Yes. I took the leap of faith and bought a weighted blanket online during a recent sale. I’ve been meaning to do it for a long time (since I came across a Reddit post swearing by it years ago) but never got around to it until now. And it seems like I’m not the only one whose interest is piqued by this revolutionary technology! So you guys are going to get exactly what you want: a review of my experience with my new weighted blanket from Cuddle Beddings. (…I guess you could say I am weighing in with my opinion… LOL).

Note that I was not sponsored for this post – it’s written entirely volitionally, if only because 1) I love to sleep and I find it super fun to discuss sleeping and 2) my fans asked for it and 3) I have nothing better to do. But Cuddle Beddings is welcome to invite me to join them as a brand ambassador or upgrade me to Forever VVVIP status anytime. (Don’t worry – I will be sure to tag them 300 times on social media to drive home this once-in-a-lifetime invitation for them.)

Below are the main points I’ll be cover-ing.

  • The blanket (price, dimensions, weight, look, texture, etc.)
  • User experience (pros and cons, thoughts)

THE BLANKET – LAY IT ON ME, BABY

The blanket I got is named the CUDDLE™ Cool 2.0 Weighted Blanket from Cuddle Beddings on Shopee. Tbh I just swiped it because it came up on top of my search listings for “weighted blanket” and it had the word COOL in it (you know those fabrics that promise that icy sensation… I CRAVE it). It comes in all shapes and sizes (literally) – there’s a variant each for kids(?!), super single, queen, and King-sized beds. For adults, the weight ranges from 6-11kg. All are grey in colour but it doesn’t matter to me since most of the time I will spend with it is in darkness anyway.

I got the Queen-sized (accommodates 2), 7kg. I paid ~$165 after discounts, but as of this post, it’s retailing at a base price of $228. You’ll be paying minimally $200+. Included in the package was a “free” quilt cover. The whole blanket can fit three of me, so it’s sufficient for two people plus some extra room to wiggle around. It’s stitched in a way that divides it into many equally-sized squares, apparently to ensure an “even distribution of weight”. I’m not sure how it works, but I can testify that the weight feels evenly distributed to me when I drape it over my Tired Body.

As for care and hygiene, the rule of thumb for weighted blankets seems to be to avoid washing the blanket itself, because it may mess up the materials. Instead, wash the quilt cover regularly. (Update: I asked CB about this and they say it’s OK to machine wash it. I’d still avoid doing so though.)

here’s what CB (oh well) claims goes into the bedding material.

Oh look, they have a Cuddle (Sizing) Guide too. I would’ve gotten a lighter one if I could, but the minimum weight for the queen-sized is 7kg. A casual guide for my readers based on my experience: if you’re xmm-sized, get 5-6kg at most. I’m 42kg and 7kg is pushing it, though not suffocatingly so. If you’re guy or a tall/beautiful/thriving lady, also start off with 7kg. A few other (male) reviewers have commented that 9kg is heavy even for them. Also, the heavier it gets, the harder it is to lift and carry around. The weight clearly has implications for your sleep too, which I will explore next.

bought something fit for a Queen but the crown is too heavy for me??

USER EXPERIENCE

The night I received the blanket, I was so excited I jumped straight into bed with it. I didn’t even bother putting on the quilt. And BOY were my lights knocked OUT good. My whole being dissipated into a void. I woke up feeling like I couldn’t move (more so than usual), but in a sickly pleasurable kind of way. Like I wanted MORE.

oh my god.

After my first night of fitful sleep, I decided to try sleeping with my ordinary unweighted blanket over the next few days to assess if the weighted blanket made any difference. I only managed to do this for 3 days, because honestly, the temptation to return to CB was too much to resist. And that ties into my first major point about weighted blankets – once you start using them, it’s hard to go back. For better or for worse, you’re in for it once you try them. Some people liken this to an addiction. It has the same effect as discovering bubble tea, I guess.

Here are some observations based on my flawed A-B-A-B experimental design.

How does the blanket feel?

(At this moment, typing this section below, I am lying on my bed with the weighted blanket up to my shoulders for maximum immersion.)

When you get under the blanket, it takes a few moments to “flatten”. What happens is that the blanket will mould itself to snugly fit your shape. This means air pockets are minimised and most of your skin will be in contact with the blanket or your bed. It’s warmer compared to a microfibre blanket, which is what I used before. I wouldn’t say it’s cool though. It can get quite warm under the blanket because there’s less room for air to circulate. I keep myself close to the edge of the blanket at night so I can flap it quickly in case it gets too warm.

Also if you’re wondering, given its name: compared to an ordinary blanket, it does mimic the feeling of a cuddle. Of course, it can’t fully replicate the warmth and comfort from your live/breathing/snoring crush, but it gets pretty close, and does it better than a bolster (or a blowup doll, whatever your preference).

i am a toasty cinnamon bun.

Did it help me sleep better?

I fall asleep faster for sure. The overall effect feels like something is lightly pressing down on your whole body, but in a friendly, coaxing manner, lulling you into dreamland. You know that trippy state when you’re falling asleep but not quite yet, where reality warps and it feels like an angel is coming to take you to heaven? This blanket extends that feeling by getting you there faster, so you can languish in that state for just a while longer before you drift away into nothingness.

The downside of this is that it’s harder to wake up. I have long-running issues with snoozing and getting out of bed on time, and the introduction of the blanket only exacerbates my oversleeping habit. The reason for this is that the pressure of the blanket has a calming (paralysing) effect on your muscles i.e. you have to exert more willpower to summon them back into your command in the morning. For example, I intended to wake up today at 10:30am to work on this post, but I only sat up at 12pm. So there’s that – if you’re unsure of how heavy you like it, err on the side of caution and get a lighter blanket, so it’s easier to kick off in the morning.

On sleep quality – I don’t feel more or less refreshed waking up, compared to an ordinary blanket. My dreams were also unaffected: I continue to have visions with talking fish heads garnished with a looming fear of failure. Or sometimes less exciting ones. The evidence is unclear on whether weighted blankets in general help with insomnia and other disorders that affect sleep like anxiety. There’s anecdotal evidence, yes, but it’s not a panacea as their advertisements appear to promise. You’ll need more than a product if you want to fundamentally transform your sleep quality (like a commitment to regular sleeping hours, less screentime at night, getting medical treatment for respiratory problems, you know, things that actually require effort).

IN SUMMARY: IT’S WORTH ITS WEIGHT

Whether a weighted blanket is right for you depends on how you define better sleep. If it means falling asleep faster, a weighted blanket might just be your new best friend. If you’re expecting to wake up like a supermodel in like what, a Kotex ad, probably not. But you will at least enjoy going to bed more with a weighted blanket.

Long story short, I am Super Satisfied (5/5 stars) with my purchase of this CUDDLE™ Cool 2.0 Weighted Blanket from Cuddle Beddings. It’s one of those things that you could live without but concretely improves your quality of life once you start using it. At first glance, the price is enough to make you think twice, but it qualifies as a good long-term investment since I’m expecting to use this for years to come. After all, considering I’ll spend at least a third of my life in bed, I might as well enjoy the time there. With that, I’ll see you guys in my dreams where I’m rich and famous…

goodnight, sleep tight, & don’t let the bed bugs bite.

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to like, subscribe, or leave a comment down below. Follow me on Instagram @gwynethtyt for more clownery all the time. Or reach out/support me here so I can keep the good stuff comin’!

a review of IDS Skincare… by a skincare noob (#3)

Welcome back to the final chapter in Gwyneth’s three-month journey towards her #Beautiful Bare Face with IDS! This will be the third and final post detailing my collaboration with IDS, a leading aesthetic clinic in Singapore fulfilling the dreams of women like me all around. If you’re new, head on over to the first and second posts where I detail the skincare regime they initially prescribed me, and my skin’s response following their facial Hydro-Therapeutics Treatment (HTT).

In this review, I will recap my third visit to IDS, describing my experience undergoing one session of their legendary laser therapy. Thereafter, I will summarise the changes to my skin condition over the past three months since my first visit to IDS, and share my thoughts as our journey together comes to an end.

Mandatory disclaimer: I received services from IDS in exchange for this review. Nonetheless, I will strive to provide a fair evaluation of what worked for me and what didn’t, where applicable. Although I am a skincare noob, rest assured I compensate for it with my research skills.

unfiltered to illustrate the natural radiance IDS has given me.

Select page 2 below to continue reading!

a review of IDS Skincare… by a skincare noob (#2)

Welcome back to Gwyneth’s conquest towards her #BeautifulBareFace. My journey is a three-part series detailing my collaboration with IDS, and this is the second post. If you’re new, head on over to the first post where I detail the skincare regime they initially prescribed me and my skin’s subsequent response.

This round, I will recap my second visit to IDS, which included adjustments to my skincare regime and a luxurious facial worth as much as my soul. I will also review my skin condition after 4 weeks of exclusive commitment to their products, because I am now a Changed Woman who can commit to healthy habits.

Mandatory disclaimer: I received products and services from IDS in exchange for this review. Nonetheless, I will strive to provide a fair evaluation of what worked for me and what didn’t, where applicable. Although I am a skincare noob, rest assured I compensate for it with my research skills.

Select Page 2 below to continue reading.

a review of IDS Skincare… by a skincare noob (#1)

Everyone wants good skin, and I am no exception.

And so on the fateful day that IDS(!) reached out to me for this collaboration, I took on the challenge towards achieving a #Beautiful Bare Face. This will be a three-part series, and you are reading the first post. Here, I will chronicle my initial visit to the legendary IDS and review the skincare products they recommended me.

The big question: So, did my skin improve? The answer, for now, is a tentative yes – but why take my word for it? See for yourself and decide!

Mandatory disclaimer: I received products and services from IDS in exchange for this review. Nonetheless, I will strive to provide a fair evaluation of what worked for me and what didn’t, where applicable. Although I am a skincare noob, rest assured I compensate for it with my research skills.

look at how they sparkle! OwO

A brief about the test subject before we begin:

  • My goal is to have a Beautiful Bare Face (BBF hereon). I aim to function without makeup as much as possible. Currently, I use makeup only for important events, which is at most 6-8x a month (not even on dates – my man has to contend with my natural beauty). Everything else is filters and facetune.
  • I don’t have good sleeping habits (see: eye bags). As a maximiser, I masochistically occupy myself with multiple responsibilities, e.g. research, doing an internship, leadership responsibilities, and writing this blog. So, sleep is a luxury. This also means I spend the bulk of my time exposed to blue light from screens, which could spell trouble for both my sleep and my face.
  • I don’t (didn’t?) have great skincare habits either. Admittedly, I know a lot less about skincare than I should, considering my face is my asset. Hell, I don’t have good habits in general. Read on to see me get lectured by Dr Ian… (sniffle)

Select Page 2 below to continue reading.

the (briefer) art of thinking clearly

I read The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli a while back. It already is a summarised version of 99 common thinking errors, but I took it upon myself to simplify it even further. So here we are. I haven’t completed it, though, so we’re only up to 30 for now.

  1. Survivorship bias: success cases are over-represented, leading us to overestimate our chances of success
  2. Swimmer’s body illusion: selection factors are confused with results
  3. Clustering illusion: tendency to perceive patterns where there are none
  4. Social proof: predisposition to follow others’ behaviours, esp. in uncertain situations. Combat with being skeptical and challenging norms
  5. Sunk cost fallacy: reluctance to abandon an undertaking due to incurred costs, though that has no relevance to future outcomes (irrational). Consider only the latter
  6. Reciprocity bias: social predisposition to respond to actions in a similar manner (e.g. kind behaviour is returned, so is hostility)
  7. Confirmation bias: we disproportionately focus on evidence that confirms prior beliefs and disregard contradicting information. Seek out disconfirming evidence and clarify milestones to ensure we do not overlook failures.
  8. Authority bias: information with authority is perceived as more credible/influential
  9. Contrast effect: the effect of an object is enhanced/diminished when perceived in relation to another, though it should have no bearing (beware discounts, cheap add-ons, beauty standards).
  10. Availability heuristic: evaluation of a concept is determined by how readily examples come to mind, which distorts actual risks and decisions made. Make effort to consider relevant but less accessible information, e.g. alternative views.
  11. Narrative bias: illusion of causality; tendency to connect disjointed, random occurrences into a cohesive, controlled narrative (stories). Consider omitted elements (via negativa) and be wary if the bias encourages risky decisions.
  12. Hindsight bias: hindsight is 20/20; we modify our cognitions after an event such that the event seemed inevitable and logical, although we are poor forecasters in reality
  13. Overconfidence effect: person’s subjective confidence in his/her judgements is reliably greater than objective accuracy of those judgements – even pessimists.
  14. Chaffeur knowledge: vs. real knowledge – people who have invested time and energy to genuinely understand a topic. Chaffeurs merely repeat it without real understanding. Know your circle of competence and recognise when you fall outside.
  15. Illusion of control: tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control events
  16. Incentive super-response tendency: people respond to incentives by changing their behaviour (e.g. if you pay per hour, people prolong their work). Reward both intent and result, and watch out for ways people may exploit the system.
  17. Regression to mean: the natural tendency for phenomena to even out towards the average. If an extreme event happens, it is likely to return to the average in time (think normal distribution).
  18. Outcome bias: tendency to evaluate a decision based on its outcome (good/bad) rather than the decision-making process. This is an error because no decision-maker in the past ever knows for sure how the risk will turn out. To avoid the influence of outcome bias, one should evaluate a decision by ignoring information collected after the fact and instead focus on the quality of the factors at play.
  19. Paradox of choice: more choices decreases quality of decision-making, and leads to lower satisfaction. Set a list of criteria and stick to them; recognise that perfection is unattainable; and learn to love what you choose. 
  20. Liking bias: the more we like someone, the more likely we are to trust and help that person. Influenced by 1) attractiveness, 2) similarity to us, and 3) they like us too. To maximise this benefit: send people compliments and make them think you like them.
  21. Endowment effect: people’s willingness to pay for a new object is typically lower than the amount they are willing to accept to give up the object. e.g. people lowball for textbooks on Carousell but sell it at high prices. Related to loss aversion. Related to mere ownership effect – owning an item makes one evaluate it more positively. Endowment effect applies even to near-ownership circumstances. Don’t cling to things and consider whether the relationship you have to those items really matter.
  22. Groupthink: phenomenon where desire for harmony in an ingroup leads to dysfunctional decision-making processes and irrationality. Symptoms include: illusion of invulnerability, illusion of unanimity, pressures toward conformity.Question tacit assumptions and always appoint a devil’s advocate to break consensus.
  23. Neglect of probability: we respond well to the magnitude of an event, but lack intuitive grasp of its likelihood (probability). Zero-risk bias: we prefer 0% risk even when the alternative may have better outcomes. When faced with emotional topics or serious threats, we respond more poorly to risk reduction stats.
  24. Scarcity error: tendency to place higher value on an object that is scarce and lower value on those that are in abundance. The more difficult an item is to acquire, the more value that item is perceived to be. Arises from social proof and commitment. Reactance: when we are deprived of an object, we deem it more attractive. To counteract, assess products solely based on their qualities. And remember that most things will come back – like sales.
  25. Base-rate neglect: when people are given generic information (e.g. statistics) and then specific information (e.g. anecdotes), the mind tends to focus on the latter. Disregard of fundamental distribution levels. Specificvariant of extension neglect – cognitive bias whereby people ignore size of the set during an evaluation in which the size of the set is logically relevant, e.g. ignoring sample size and variability.Watch out for anecdotal information.
  26. Gamblers’ fallacy: the erroneous belief that if a particular event happens more often than normal in the past, it will “balance out” by occurring less in the future. This is problematic if the events are statistically independent, e.g. a dice roll. What happened in the past is unrelated to the future.
  27. Anchoring bias: cognitive bias whereby an individual relies too heavily on an initial piece of information offered (the “anchor”) to make subsequent judgements. Once this initial value is considered, subsequent negotiations and decisions will align towards it while dissimilar values are discarded. The more uncertain the value of something, the more susceptible people are to anchors. Use anchors to elevate your value, but also be wary of them when it comes to sales.
  28. Induction problem: inductive thinking is the tendency to draw universal generalisations from specific observations. However, these generalised certainties are always provisional – think Black Swan event.
  29. Loss aversion (Daniel Kahneman): people fear loss much more than they value gain, and are much more motivated to avoid loss even when this comes at the expense of potential gain. Exploit this when advertising by appealing to how a product may help you avoid losses/disadvantages.
  30. Social loafing: the tendency for individual effort to depreciate when in a team setting. Groups’ total productivity is less than the sum of its individual members working separately. Increases proportionally with group size, due to diffusion of accountability and deindividuation. Combat this by making individual contributions visible (measurement), and motivation. Related to risky shift.

my NTU URECA experience: a review

Updated 31 Jul 2021 because all the links were broken (thanks, NTU!).

I first received the invitation to join the NTU URECA programme in August 2018. It was an exciting time. Early on in the game, all the possibilities seemed so alive. So I jumped on the bandwagon and went crashing into a wall at full speed. Wait, what?

Excuse me. Let’s try again. In this post, I will recap my URECA journey over the past year for your benefit and mine. Mandatory disclaimer: I did a project relating to the social sciences, so the research process may vary with other disciplines.

If my posts helped you and you’d like to show your appreciation, consider making a donation here! It keeps my blog running and my energies focused on writing LOL. You will contribute to my monthly subscriptions to Share The Meal. More details or contact me here.

Yes that’s me and my beautiful friend Cal.

Background

All good research papers must begin with a succinct and relevant background of the topic. The current piece is no exception. URECA is an acronym, standing for Undergraduate Research Experience on CAmpus. It’s a derivative of the word “eureka”, which implies a moment of insight where a solution to a complex problem is spontaneously realised. This all sounds great on paper, but I will inform you now that the reality is nothing like that. There are no sudden moments of miraculous magic, at least not without the preparation. There is only pain, and in it some potential for growth, if you make the best out of it.

i‘m only putting pics bc i know people get intimidated by huge chunks of text.

Registering for your project

If you are interested in joining the programme, there are two ways to go about it. Both of them involve attaching yourself to a research project. The email that the office sent delineates three options, but two are essentially the same thing.

  1. You pick a project that is already available on the portal.
  2. You propose your own.

The first one is straightforward enough. Half the work is done for you. The seeds of the idea have already been sown by the professor and their team – all you have to do is to bring it to fruition. Plus, some projects sound like they promise a lot of fun. (“Psychophysical investigation on association between tactile softness perception and onomatopia”? Count me in!) Looking at the projects available this cycle, I am reminded of how the research space is bursting with creativity.

You don’t have to limit yourself to your own major either – you can choose to work with professors from other disciplines. Ah, now is a good time to mention: you might be interested in working with them, but they must want to work with you too. Professors are popular and they know it. They revel in it. And if they have to pick the best student to work with, they will. So prepare your résumé and a convincing argument why they should pick you over the others; you never know when you might need it. As far as I know, it is customary to meet the professor in person to express your interest and get the ball rolling (for some of my friends, it was the one and only time they saw the professor in the flesh LOL).

Anyway, me being the masochist that I am, I opted for the second option. I wanted to do something related to Psychology, but I wasn’t particularly inclined towards any existing project either. And every moment I hesitated, professors and projects were being snapped up left and right. My strategy: I identified a list of professors whose areas of interest overlapped with mine, and sent them customised emails. Customised emails = not merely replacing their names, but a brief comment on their field of specialisation and how my potential project aligned with their work.

sticks and stones may break my bones…

Prof Catherine was the professor whose work (and later on, personality) intrigued me most. Yes, disclaimer: I am her fan and I will spare no effort to put her on a pedestal from here onwards. I am kidding, but I am really not. She had no projects registered on the portal – I found her through the staff directory. She benevolently stated in our first meeting that she would be Very Busy (she still is) and due to that I might suffer (I did, a lot), but she was otherwise willing to give the collaboration a shot. It’s hilarious thinking about this now because my ideas got so butchered in the process of development that I wonder if she knew what she was saying yes to in the first place. But I am happy that it worked out with her, and I have #noragrets.

Idea development

Another pivotal part of all good research is a fresh idea. As I have mentioned, if you have opted for Option 1 (selecting an existing project), this should be relatively easier because the foundation is already laid out for you. Still, this doesn’t mean you have a license to relax. Expect to do a lot of reading and critical thinking during this period, where you need to pick out relevant literature that supports your project’s thesis. On top of that, you need to innovate by coming up with your own unique selling point of your project that makes it worth caring for. Sorry kids – plagiarism and social loafing ain’t gettin’ you through this one.

Fortunately, the URECA office offers a few workshops to help you through this process. There are some useful tips to be gleaned from those sessions. (There are also compulsory quizzes.) I get the impression that some students look upon them as a chore rather than an opportunity to benefit. Ultimately though, it’s your project, and whatever you make of the experience is what you’ll get.

For Option 2 (proposing your own project), it’s the same thing, but on harder difficulty. I took a good few months before finally settling on a central idea, and that was after redoing the whole thing at least three times. It’s not like erasing a few lines and rewriting it – more like throwing the whole whiteboard out, markers and all, and replacing it with a new set. In the meantime, I had to deal with being interrogated by my astute Prof C every other week. She caught all my presuppositions, prejudices, and paradoxes in my proposals and reflected them to me. And where I could not account for them, I had to go back and think about it until I could. There was no escape. (There is no escape from mediocrity and misery. If you can accept that, I am sure you can accept anything.)

Data collection

I underestimated the potency of the data collection process. The actual “collection” per se is time-consuming, but it’s hardly the most taxing part. It’s the preparatory work: the justification of questions, supervisor comments, the ethics committee’s approval, participant recruitment and management, booking of rooms, financial reimbursement… merely typing this makes me shiver. It is not as intellectually challenging as the idea development stage, but it is extremely tedious. Start as early as possible. Even though I started the preparatory work in March, by the time I was officially allowed to begin data collection, the exam period was already setting in. As such, my potential pool of participants was reduced (screams in small sample size).

I could afford to have 160 participants, so I had to exhaust every resource I had to get as close to that number as possible (or risk the wrath of my Prof!). Thankfully, my course department was supportive and accommodated my requests for reaching out to the participant pool. Other than that, it was posting on social media (fyi: there’s a Telegram Channel called NTU Paid Studies/Surveys for this purpose) and begging my friends.

My means of obtaining data was an online survey. However, to replicate “laboratory conditions”, my participants had to make the trip down to the computer lab and complete the survey under my Watchful Eye. Upon receiving their registration deets (slyreply.com is popularly used in my discipline), I sent multiple personalised reminders (including specific time and location) on the advice of my all-knowing Prof. You can imagine the chaos that come from dealing with humans, who are inherently fickle. Some didn’t read the instructions and registered when they did not meet the eligibility criteria. Others registered a second time after not showing up for the first appointment and ultimately still did not come (why??? WHY???). But most were polite and came on time, though I would have been even more grateful if they had not mowed through my painstakingly-crafted survey in the span of a few minutes.

Data analysis

This is arguably the part where I struggled the most. At the same time, I learned a lot. While the data can be anything you make of it, you need to know what to do in the first place! There’s not much to talk about here, except that it involved yet more meetings (à la Coffee Confrontations) and actual revision. I had to scour through my archives to find my statistics notes from the previous semester, so that I could identify the limits of what I previously learnt and by extension what I was expected to know (not that it mattered, because I knew nothing). If you’ve noticed thus far, URECA is basically an opportunity to apply the material you’ve learnt in university, with some scaffolding from your professor. I ran so many SPSS tests I started dreaming about them at one point.

Prof held my hand through my suffering. I am still grateful. I remember one of our final meetings where we were deciding whether to investigate a marginally significant 3-way interaction effect. She took 30 minutes to illustrate in detail what tests I would be expected to run. At the end of it she looked at my face of despair, deadpan, and we collectively decided we would be strict about the cut-off p value after all.

Report writing

Not only do you get to improve your knowledge relating to your topic, your report writing skills will be sharpened too (I sound like an advertisement – I should be paid for this LOL). Remember those academic writing modules that we were made to take? I hope you paid attention, because those actually come into good use here. You’re given only 12 pages so every sentence counts. At least, my Prof was exacting in her expectations that there were no loose ends and all threads were tied up neatly. While my end-product was by no means spectacular or perfect, I attribute its relatively decent quality to her attention to detail. (Check out my final report here). In short, if you want to create something you’ll be proud of, set standards for yourself and be sure to communicate your expectations with your supervisor.

Other notable events

There are some events that I did not cover above. I probably don’t remember all of them but here are a few major ones to look out for.

  • ICUR-URECA (International Conference of Undergraduate Research). Optional. You get to watch the presentations from the best of the previous batch of NTU-URECA students, as well as students from other universities. It was intriguing enough for me, though it did not inspire any ideas on my part. If your project is eventually good enough, you may be selected to participate yourself. (2021 update: I submitted my FYP-URECA project to this conference, and was waitlisted. HAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHA)
  • Poster Presentation. Optional. You summarise your project into the size of an A1/2 board and present to judges and interested passersby. They get to vote on their favourite poster for each category. It’s fun doing with friends. (Trivia: that’s where the video at the top of this page came from.)

QnA – our favourite thing

1. Is it worth it?

This is such a loaded question. But for my fans I will deliver.

It’s worth it if:

  • You intend to pursue a career related to academia, or a post-graduate degree.
  • You have some interest in research and you’re looking to test the waters before committing. In that case, think of it like a hands-on internship project. One where you don’t get paid, that is.
  • You are particularly passionate about a specific topic in your discipline (e.g. social psychology, quantum mechanics??) and you want to use this opportunity to expand your knowledge base or plan ahead. FYP-URECA is this initiative where you basically do a sequel to your original URECA project with the same professor, but this time you mark it as a FYP. This obviously suggests a great deal of dedication to a single topic. (2021 update: this paid off for me! I qualified for FYP-URECA because of this foundation I had set two years back).
  • You are emotionally and physically ready to invest a substantial portion of your time developing and cultivating an idea that may not pay off in the end (I would know).
  • You enjoy the camaraderie of suffering with your peers.
  • Having a slight tinge of masochistic tendencies in your blood also helps, because you’re going to need it when you inevitably get bashed by your professor. They can’t help it – it’s an occupational hazard, dealing with naive students. I can’t count how many times my mind felt like it was on the verge of imploding because my professor decided to ask me if I had learnt 6D multimatrix regression in stats class or something.

It’s probably not so worth it if:

  • You are unlikely to end up in academia
  • You just want to make your resume look nicer (there’s no point really – most of the research comes back with null results and gets buried somewhere in the void of space). I guess it can be a good conversation starter though. “Hey, I conducted my own student research project. I got none of the results I expected, but at least I tried.” Sounds about right to me.
  • You’re doing it for the AUs. It’s not worth it. You’ll need a lot more than that to get through it.
  • You are currently overcommitted. There’s only so much one can give. If your will collapses, so does everything else. Be ready to sacrifice something in return for a good piece of research, whether it be your sanity, your sleep, your co-curricular activities, or those nights out with your friends. My informal guideline is that you should have no more than 3 major commitments including this one (leadership positions and academics included). And that’s already a lot to handle.

2. What’s the workload?

  • If you are consistent with your effort and pace yourself, it’s actually not much. I could get things done the night before early on, though as the project progressed I had to start earlier in the time leading up to my meetings with my professor. Since the final product should not exceed 12 pages, it is comparable to the length of a group assignment. Considering you are given one year to do it, it’s manageable. At the time I was doing it, I was pursuing a 2nd Major, had co-curricular activities, and went on summer exchange too.

3. Should a person going on semester exchange take it up?

  • I would say no. You miss out on valuable f2f time with your professor, and that’s where you get the most out of meetings. Texts and emails can’t replicate the, should I say, eureka feeling. LOOOOOOOL. Plus, who wants to spend their exchange worrying about deadlines on a research project? If possible, I recommend you schedule URECA for one year and exchange in the next or before.
  • Truth is, I’m not sure if this is even allowed. Please write in to the office to ask; they are always there to entertain you. Prof Siva is very nice – I talked to him on the phone once. Feelsgoodman!

4. Pass/fail or graded?

  • Pass/Fail. 4AUs. You may be able to get pass with merit (or some kind of special award) though. I was awarded the title of “NTU President Research Scholar” on the basis of outstanding achievement, though I have no clue how common it is. They don’t give stipends anymore, beginning from my batch. I was registered in Sem 2 (HE9015 Undergraduate Research) but the entire duration of the project was one academic year, or two semesters.

#Protips for Pros

  • Communicate with your professor (or your PhD student-in-charge, lel). I always set deadlines in advance and there was rarely, if ever, a period of time where we both did not know what was happening. Perhaps that was because I could always feel her disapproving spirit loom over my being, but whatever goes.
  • Take advantage of the opportunities the URECA body offers. This means participating in the workshops, poster presentations, conferences, blah. You may not win, but you will learn either way. Not only was I pushed out of my comfort zone, I also learnt to identify the people around me who actually cared for the things I was passionate about. (There were not many.)
  • Plan ahead. While I did not rush to finish my work, I missed the deadline to submit it to an international body (Global Undergraduate Awards Programme). While I wouldn’t have won anyway, I feel bad that I didn’t manage to enter at all. If I had completed it just slightly earlier, I might have made it. So don’t estimate to complete your work on time, but complete it earlier. There are a lot of stages to research, as I listed through this post, so having a sense of the big picture really helps. I thought once I had gotten past the literature review phase everything would go easy but no-o-o. There is still data collection, and data analysis, and report writing, all of which were challenging in their own right.
  • Every professor has their own style and quirks. If you do not know what they’re like beforehand, you can only pray and roll with it. Being adaptable goes a long way here. Asking your seniors about your professors’ personalities as a precautionary measure is also wise. I am lucky that I met a nurturing one who was willing to make time to see me regularly, but this is not universally applicable.
  • Make your own notes of the dates and pointers provided by the URECA office. The office (or just Prof Siva, the Director?) is generally quite thorough in its instructions provided over the course of the programme, but the email content can be all over the place.

Mandatory self-plug

I mean, since I’ve written so much, I should share about my URECA project too. Let me pluck it out of the dust. Okay. I just tried to break down my thesis and hypotheses, but I gave up. So I will just put the entire paper up for view here. Like I said, it’s not an excellent paper by any means, but I’m nevertheless happy that it’s here. It’s tangible proof that I tried. And I will remember the memories that came with it. I also want to thank my loved ones, in particular V, L, and J, for being there for me.

If anyone is reading this, I hope this article helped you to know more about URECA and possibly contribute to your decision on whether to take it up or not. I’d be happy if you could share it with your friends who are in a similar situation too! 🙂 If you have any questions, feel free to contact me and I’d be happy to help.

Jul 2021 update: I’ll be writing about my FYP-URECA experience sometime, so stay tuned. You can subscribe to this blog by entering your email under the “vip club” section on the right side of the page. Or follow me at @gwynethtyt on Instagram for live updates and clownery.

until then losers!