M

Memory Repository 🧠

Pharmacy Student 💊 Digital Garden | Productivity & Personal Development | Health & Psychology | PKM | I deposit valuable knowledge, learnings, and memories here.

The Most Influential Book I've Read on Online Writing (Plus a Free New Ebook)

Reading time: 1 min

The Art and Business of Online Writing by Nicolas Cole was the most valuable book I've read last year about online writing.

This book plus the writing course Ship 30 For 30 and the 100 Day Writing Challenge on Listed.to is what gave me the courage to share valuable learnings and experiences on social media, for those who might find it useful.

Recently, Nicolas Cole and Dickie Bush (both highly successful online writers) have written a new ebook on online writing, The 5 Pillars Of Digital Writing, and is giving it out for free (until November 25).

Link here.

This new book summarised the most important lessons and guidelines around:

  • Overcoming the major barriers to online writing
  • Working with data to grow your writing
  • Coming up with writing ideas
  • Writing headlines
  • Writing and formatting the actual content
  • Making money from your writing

Consider giving their ebook a shot if you're interested in getting started with blogging / online writing / posting on social media!

It's free at the moment, link here.

I found their books highly useful; hope someone else might find it valuable too.

The Most Important Thing Students Are Never Taught in School (and It's Destroying Their Time, Health, and Hobbies)

Reading time: 2.5 min

During pharmacy school, I noticed that most healthcare students believe that re-reading lecture notes and writing notes was how students should study. 

Yet, these are the most ineffective, time-consuming study methods. 

Despite learning and studying being a student's job, students are never taught how to learn and study effectively. From primary to higher education, students are not introduced to the psychology of learning and effective study methods in their general curriculum.

The result is that students:

  • Spend hours studying with ineffective methods

  • Forget what they learned right after exams

  • Don't have time to develop hobbies/side projects by the time class ends and they finish their studies/assignments

This is like putting a new employee to work without training and expecting outstanding results.

Students would be much more effective learners if they were taught to employ the latest science behind learning and studying. 

I used to be a terrible student. I had a fixed mindset and never figured out how to effectively study, and my grades reflected this. Only by the end of high school did I discover what years of psychology studies have demonstrated: the benefits of a growth mindset and science-guided study methods. 

And then my scores exploded. 

I started top scoring (never did before), got into pharmacy school, and top-scored in most classes in my final year. While having time to lead student societies, take on side projects, and do internships.

The first step to change is learning about the science behind a growth mindset and typical study methods. 

Here are two of the most influential videos I've ever watched that can get you started on this change:

  1. Grit: The power of passion and perseverance (Angela Lee Duckworth)

  2. How to study for exams - Evidence-based revision tips (Ali Abdaal)

By developing a growth mindset as a student and adopting science-backed study techniques, here is what you can expect to happen:

  • Studying will take up 1/3 of the time it used to
  • You will remember the content you learned in class up to and past exam period
  • You will have more time to enjoy life and achieve what you want outside education.

Simply helping students develop a growth mindset and teaching effective study techniques will super-boost their learner outcomes.

No longer will students continue the cycle of failing in class and never escaping the cycle with a fixed mindset.

No longer will students spend unnecessary hours studying with ineffective, inefficient methods. 

Students will no longer lament not having time to do what they enjoy and develop their unique skills. 

They will have the time, mindset, and ability to achieve more than they had hoped. 

How I Wrote a Thesis as a Pharmacy Student in 7 Days by Procrastinating—and Won an Award

Reading time: 1.5 min

I won an award by procrastinating. 

I wrote a thesis in 7 days while taking pharmacy classes and working on my side commitments. The first day was outlining, and the last few days were spent writing. I procrastinated for a few days in between.

2 months later, I received an award for the paper.

This is how I wrote a thesis in so little time and maintained high-quality writing:

1. Leverage your subconscious mind by procrastinating.

On the first day, outline your paper and the general points you want to research or discuss. Then procrastinate for a few days. When you return to work on the paper, your unconscious mind will have devised plenty of ideas for whole sections for you.

By first priming your subconscious mind, you can make it work for you while you do anything else. 

All you have to do now is put thought to paper.

2. Capture relevant thoughts from your conscious mind.

Whenever you think of an idea or come across a relevant resource or research, note it down. I prefer digital notes since they are accessible anywhere from a phone. Place them together with a relevant folder/tag. 

When you sit down to work, you'll find a treasure trove of points and resources to work with.

You just have to organise them into a paper.

3. Procrastinate to maximise the use of Parkinson's Law.

Parkinson's Law dictates that work (duration) expands to fill the time allotted. By procrastinating between your first day (outlining) and the last few days (of writing), you minimise the time available for writing. You will literally have forced your future self to work faster.

During procrastination, you can rest, play, capture ideas from your conscious mind, and have your unconscious mind do more thinking for you.

By the end, you will surprise yourself with how much you can vomit onto paper in just a few days. 


Related:

How to Organise Your Pharmacy School & Side Hustle Projects to Make Continuous Progress, Eliminate Overwhelm, and Prioritise What Matters

Reading time: 2.5 min

In my first year of pharmacy school, my task manager was an utter mess.

A huge spread of incomplete projects, all competing for my time, energy, and attention. It was a dumping ground: studying for pharmacy exams, student society duties, writing papers, online self-learning courses, and daily writing, all awaiting my input.

Nothing without a class deadline would ever get done. And I would rarely prioritise my own long-term wants and well-being.

After experimenting for 4 years, I eventually rearranged my task managers and note-taking system to a 3-layer hierarchy system.

And suddenly, I gained massive clarity in my priorities, eliminated the stress of thinking about what to do every day, and could progress important projects consistently. Here's how:

1. Organise your projects in a 3-layer hierarchy:

At the top: Life focuses, e.g., health, study, profession, relationships, finance.

Under each life focus (the middle): Goal(s) under each focus, e.g., for study: master the contents of the course Pharmacotherapy I to achieve an A grade.

Under each goal (the bottom): Commitments (recurring tasks) and Projects (one-off tasks) that move me towards a goal, e.g., study 20 minutes of Pharmacotherapy every day, and prepare presentation slides.

2. Limit the number of active projects & commitments to 5.

Pick 5 projects/commitments most important to you (and most urgent) to put on an "active" list.

Now put all your time, energy, and attention into these 5.

You can adjust the number of active projects/commitments up. Still, each additional project & commitment makes the rest exponentially more challenging to balance. You'll be diluting your time, energy, and attention further.

3. Work on your active projects & commitments on a daily/weekly basis.

This will ensure you progress on your most pressing projects/commitments.

There will only be 5 to pick from. No thinking required. Just do.

Now your daily and long-term priorities are crystal clear:

Your day-to-day tasks are aligned with your long-term wants & priorities.

Each task/project/commitment you complete moves you towards your goals.

You have a limited selection of immediate focuses, reducing overwhelm and decision fatigue.

If you enjoyed this piece and want more on productivity/side hustles/health for pharmacy students, follow me @MemoryRep on Twitter for regular posts on this!

My Sleep Paralysis Experience

Reading time: 1.5 min

Yes, I did encounter a sleep paralysis demon.

That day, I was extremely fatigued. I fell asleep, lying perpendicular to my bed. It was supposed to be a quick lie down, but I soon dozed off.

When I woke up, I felt keenly aware of my surroundings.

I felt like I could see.

Everything in my room felt visible to me. But I knew my eyes were not open. I tried moving my arms and fingers- they wouldn't budge.

I started thinking:

"Wow, so this is sleep paralysis. Cooler than I imagined. Quite calming and peaceful."

And then my monkey brain started to wander. I recalled reading about how others who experienced sleep paralysis had some scary monster looming over them.

Good job, brain.

That exactly began to manifest. 

Slowly, a tall, dark, shadowy figure appeared in the doorway.

It began to approach me as I seriously began to attempt to wiggle my fingers. I had an immense urge to regain control of my body. 

No luck. 

The shadowy figure felt familiar as if it was someone I knew, yet it felt hostile. It crept closer and closer. Eventually, I felt pressure on my neck.

In hindsight, it was probably just the collar of my shirt lightly pressing against my neck. I did awkwardly flop onto my bed, after all. But at the time, my mind amplified it.

I felt like I was being strangled. 

I fought against this in my mind, feeling that air could still enter my lungs. I had to stay calm.

After perhaps another minute, I regained control of my body in panic, moving my limbs and opening my eyes to dispel my sleep paralysis demon. 

Realising How Tired We Are

Reading time: 1 min

I distinctly remember once partaking in a mindfulness session with fellow students.

We breathed, meditated, and did some simple yoga (by which I mean we just lazed around on fancy mats and cushions).

I’ve briefly fallen asleep several times in this highly relaxed and calm state.

The instructor pointed out that quite a few of us were falling asleep and noted that it was good that we were relaxed and becoming aware of our own sleepiness.

The whole idea of mindfulness is to be aware of what your mind and body are feeling.

We are often more exhausted than we realise. Try this:

  1. Fill your room with soft light (not full bright light nor darkness; curtains half drawn in the afternoon works).
  2. Lie or sit down and just breathe while focusing on how your body is feeling.
  3. See if you doze off.

Footnote:

  • I considered saying, “set a dim room” for the experiment. But that’s unfair- your body will release melatonin (a hormone that encourages sleep). To make my experiment have a borderline 100% success rate for most people, just set the room to complete darkness and preserve silence. You’ll more than likely want to fall asleep.

Why You Should Make Purchase Decisions Slowly

Why I'm slow with making purchase decisions

I'm told that I take ages to make purchase decisions when it's something I don't immediately need. Need, as in it would not seriously affect my ability to live reasonably.

I would stand there for a few seconds, contemplating, or come back to it after walking around elsewhere (or after a week in case of online shopping). I might note it down on a temporary wish list.

During that time, I evaluate the following:

  • the 'utility' (satisfaction, happiness, usefulness, improvement to my quality of life) the purchase would bring to my immediate and future self,
  • the opportunity cost- what I could have done with the money instead, and
  • the equivalent time cost- how much 'time' I would have spent to acquire it (see this post)

If I still want to purchase the item after one week, I will either make the purchase or place it on my permanent wish list and make the purchase when appropriate.

Why is this beneficial?

  • Every purchase you make will have gone through your lengthy deliberation process on whether it truly benefits you, i.e. purchases that make it out alive will be much more likely to have a true benefit to your current and future self
  • This stops impulse purchases
  • This significantly reduces the likelihood of regretful purchases
  • If you reject a purchase after one week, the money is retained for something that can bring higher 'utility'.

Scheduling Leisure Activities Dampens Enjoyment (and the Solution to This)

Reading time: 1.5 min

In my downtime after returning home today, I played a game that involved moving my body. (It's Switch Sports). It's my way of keeping myself somewhat active while having fun on rest days from regular workouts.

I set myself a start and end time (totalling 30 minutes) for this leisurely activity to be productive and save time for other things.

However, setting start and end times for leisure activities dampens enjoyment of the activity.

This phenomenon is supported by a paper that discusses how:

  • scheduling leisure activities makes them feel like work,
  • and doing so reduces the excitement in anticipation of the activity and enjoyment during the activity.

One example is how scheduling a time to watch a video results in less enjoyment (and makes it feel more like work) versus watching a video impromptu.

Another example is how a scheduled coffee break (i.e. at a specific time) results in less enjoyment than assigning a window of time (i.e. any time during the window) for a coffee break.

There is a solution to this. According to study 3 in the paper, "roughly" scheduling an activity (without setting specific start or end times) does not dampen the enjoyment of leisurely activities.


Other thoughts:

  • This is even better than habit stacking. It's habit/value merging (for lack of a better term). Playing a video game while doing some minor exercise during workout downtime.

Getting Started Takes Just Two Minutes

Reading time: 0.5 min

I dreaded working on a paper today, and I've been putting it off all morning and noon.

By the afternoon, I told myself to use the two-minute method.

I told myself that I'd work on the paper for two minutes. If I really wanted to stop by the end of those two minutes, then I may stop. All I have to do now is open the documents and read the highlighted paragraph (that my past self highlighted for easy continuation).

I had successfully put my foot in the door and started working on my paper.

Ended up working on this paper for over an hour. I can't count how many times this strategy has been helpful.

Related:

Gym Motivation: Holding the Hunger Games Hostage at the Gym

Reading time: 2.5 min

In a previous post, How to stick to a habit, I detailed how I managed to initiate and concrete a habit of working out to improve my health. It involved stacking my workout time with video watching time (something I consider pleasant), and aligning exercise with my goals (maintaining good health and converting unproductive time into productive time).

One study placed something similar to the test.

The researchers surveyed university students for books that were “difficult to put down once you had begun reading. Specifically ...... ‘addictive’ fiction books.” The most popular choices were The Hunger Games trilogy.

Then, 226 study participants (consisting of university students and staff) were divided into groups. The full treatment and intermediate treatment group were asked to pick four novels from the addictive book list.

For 10 weeks, they are allowed the following:

  • Full treatment: enforced to only be able to listen to audiobooks of their chosen novels at the gym (with regular checking that the participant left the listening device in the gym lockers when not at the gym)

  • Intermediate treatment: encouraged to only listen to audiobooks of their chosen novels at the gym

  • Control: given a reminder of the importance of exercise for health, and a one-off gift card (of perceived equivalent value to access to four audiobooks for 10 weeks) when they first went to the gym

The full treatment group and intermediate treatment group went to the gym 51% and 29% more than the control group, respectively, although the effect decreased over time and dropped around a major holiday (consistent with other research).

The research authors also noted that audiobooks may not have been the strongest gym temptation device. Instead, “individual television monitors attached to each machine offering members access to personalized entertainment during their workout” may be more effective.

The authors also noted, amusingly, the probable success of “Gymflix” entertainment streaming accounts that only allow some content to be streamed at the gym.

See the original study here: Holding the Hunger Games Hostage at the Gym: An Evaluation of Temptation Bundling, by Milkman et al., 2014 (PubMed has an openly accessible version).


Related:

The Markdown Visual note type on Standard Notes is spectacular.

When Can Shiny Object Syndrome be Helpful?

Reading time: 3 min

Shiny object syndrome is when one continually chases new or trendy things.

I faced this phenomenon last year when I came across RemNote. RemNote was a relatively new piece of software that offers a new way of taking notes, outlining, and making flash cards that follow a spaced-repetition algorithm.

RemNote seemingly solved all problems I had with Anki, an old but trusty open source spaced-repetition flash card software.

One major issue I had with Anki is that it's difficult to get an overview of everything you are learning. Each flash card is atomic (unless specifically designed to be “overlapping” cards that test different sections of the same concept or idea). This atomic nature makes it difficult to see relationships between cards and get the bigger picture.

As I was saying, shiny new RemNote solved this major issue by allowing flash cards to be created from your notes and outlines. This allows faster production of cards (saving time), and clear overviews of the card's relationship to other things in the whole topic.

So for a brief period of my life, I religiously used RemNote for all of my learning needs. Shiny new tools like this give significant (temporary) motivation to use the tool to move towards your goals. In my case, for one semester, I was highly motivated to use it for writing class notes, making flash cards, and studying those flash cards. Every day. Just because it was shiny and new.

It's okay to switch apps, as long as you like the tool, you actually use it, it fits in your workflow, and it helps you be consistent in achieving your goals. The most important thing is that you are consistent with whatever you are using the tool for, whether planning, writing, studying, or some other endeavour.

The key is to minimize the time spent on switching and not try to design the perfect system before using it. The minor delight that comes with using a shiny new tool can motivate you to continue with your tasks and habits.


Footnotes:

A likely outdated review of RemNote based on my experience using it in late 2020: I would not recommend using RemNote for "heavy study" purposes. Cards disappeared from the study queue upon syncing across different devices- a serious issue if one were to use it to study for exams. Perhaps it was too immature a software for heavy use back then. It may have improved now. I still use Anki today.

Slightly past self, drafting this note: I'm trying out a new app for tracking workouts (rather than just a clumsy spreadsheet in my note database), and it made the recording process quite pleasant.

Current self, updating this piece: I briefly fell for shiny new object syndrome again. Back to spreadsheets due to higher utility and convenience in my use case. The good thing is that I learned how to better organize and format the spreadsheet based on the app layout.


Related:

Humans Are Terrible Estimators – How To Make Better Time Estimates

Reading time: 2 min

How often do you underestimate the time required to complete something?

Our ability to make time estimations is terrible.

From how much time we require to complete a task, to how much energy we consume, we tend to be way off from reality.

One study asked students to estimate how long it would take them to finish a paper under:

  1. realistic conditions (the best realistic estimate),
  2. perfect conditions (“everything went as well as it possibly could”), and
  3. worst possible conditions (“everything went as poorly as it possibly could”).

Their realistic condition estimates are much closer to “perfect condition” estimates than their “worst possible condition” estimates.

Moreover, not even half of the students finished their papers under their worst possible condition time estimates.

See the original study here, by Buehler, R., Griffin, D., & Ross, M. (1994).


What can we do about this, and how can we use this to our advantage?

Well, limiting time allocation in estimates does have benefits; this leverages Parkinson's Law (work expands to fill the time allocated). We tend to be more efficient when given less time to complete a task.

What we can do is:

  1. Estimate with the worst possible conditions (given that this is the closest to the real amount of time required).
  2. Add a (generous) buffer time before the next event or task.

The buffer time will prevent us from overrunning into the next task or event, and gives a reward for finishing early (rest or no-guilt leisure time).


Getting accurate time predictions:

Interestingly, the same study notes that we're much better at estimating how long it would take someone else to complete a task than if we were to complete it ourselves.

If we require an accurate estimation, we can ask others to provide a time estimate for us.

Alternatively, we can start marking down our time requirement predictions and actual time requirements down. Divide the actual time requirement by our prediction to get a “prediction to reality ratio” to multiply our future predictions with.

For example, if I estimate that this post will take me 1 hour to write but took 1.5 hours in reality, my “prediction to reality ratio” is:

Hours in Reality / Hours in Prediction = 1.5/1 = 1.5

I should multiply my future time estimations with this ratio to get a more accurate estimate. Get an average of multiple ratios for even better results.


Related:

Importance of Pleasantness and Convenience in Formulating Habits – Pancakes for Lower Cholesterol

Reading time: 2 min

Photo by nikldn on Unsplash

Pleasantness and convenience are important aspects of maintaining habits.

Both of these are what makes a habit easy to follow. One makes you want to do it, and the other makes it easy to start.

One recent medical study on foods demonstrated how ready-to-eat, nice tasting snacks can help individuals add healthy food items into their lives.

Lifestyle modification (such as diet and exercise) comes before medication when it comes to healthcare. However, not all lifestyle interventions are pleasant for all. Some may be unwilling or unable to take drastic changes in their lifestyle.

Here is where ready-to-eat, “hedonically acceptable snacks” (as the study puts it) helps individuals fulfil their diet recommendations.

The study offered participants “oatmeal, pancakes, cranberry bars, chocolate bars, smoothies, and a granola-type offering” (indeed, sounds very pleasant and hedonically acceptable) that were formulated specifically to be healthy.

The base wholefood ingredients (walnuts, almonds, oats, berries, etc.) are noted to be beneficial to cardiovascular health, and must deliver a set amount of fibre, alpha-lipoic acid, phytosterols, antioxidants, and a limited number of calories.

The foods were formulated to be shelf-stable, and in single-serve formats requiring minimal to no preparation (indeed, very convenient).

When the participants (consisting of hyperlipidaemic, high blood cholesterol adults) were asked to eat the foods, almost all of them (95%) stuck with the diet for the duration of the study.

By the end of the study, their LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) levels decreased by an average of 8.8% (13 mg/dL).

That's huge. That'll reduce risk of heart attack and strokes in the next 5 years by approximately the same percent (8-9%)*.

I think this is a great example of how pleasantness and convenience makes habits easy to start and easy to stick with. It's these small habits that compound over time to change our lives for the better.


See the original study here, by Kopecky et al. on The Journal of Nutrition.

*As an extrapolation from the conclusions of this meta-analysis by Silverman et al. on JAMA.


Related post:

Align Undesirable Actions with Your Goals – Reasons to Sleep Earlier

Reading time: 4 min

I really don't like sleeping early. This is something I seriously struggle with. Time before bed is time that I have complete freedom over how to spend, whether I use it to socialize, exercise, catch up with work or study, consume entertainment, or rest.

Work and study are particularly dangerous for me. Whenever I re-establish healthy, early sleeping hours, I eventually push my sleep schedule later and later into the night to finish my studies, assignments, or other commitments.

I found that aligning sleep as a contributor to my other goals and values and regularly reminding myself of this discourages me from pushing too late into the night.

For example:

  • Effective and efficient work and learning is important to me. Earlier sleep produces higher sleep efficiency, making me feel more rested in less time, giving me more time in the day. Sleep also raises work and learning efficiency, raising productivity.
  • I want to achieve a high grade in my courses. Sleep will help with understanding and remembering the high volume of knowledge I must go through in pharmacy courses.
  • I aim to maintain a reasonable degree of health. Sleep is a low-effort, high-result way of reducing risk factors for many chronic diseases that come with age.
  • I'm working out and trying to get the most out of minimal time investment. Getting sufficient sleep (7-8 hours a day) has positive effects on muscle development.
  • I want to be positive around others and be mindful of others. Sleep can help with this by making me feel more positive throughout the day, and this affects how I interact with others, affecting their mood as well.

Sleep then becomes a part of the steps required to reach my goals, or increase the time and energy efficiency at which I reach my goals.


Here is a list of things (early and sufficient quality) sleep can help with. Take these and align them with your goals if you struggle with maintaining a good sleep schedule. I'm certain at least some points will align with the values of anyone who reads this.

Productivity

  • Better sleep quality at proper times following a natural circadian rhythm (i.e., sleeping at reasonable hours) results in higher sleep quality and efficiency, making you feel more refreshed in less time
  • Sufficient quality sleep results in better cognitive function and cognitive speed and accuracy
  • The above helps with memory and learning functions
  • Better decision-making as sleep 'processes' the information you consumed throughout the day, clearing your head for when you wake up
  • The above helps result with improving working memory
  • Sleepiness inherently makes you less motivated to act on anything except rest

Health

  • Lower stress via lower release of cortisol, a stress hormone
  • Inadequate sleep has known or suspected relationships to future degenerative diseases including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, neurodegeneration and dementia, and loneliness
  • Possibly lower risk of cancer (incidence and recurrence), with long-term (night) shift work as a probable carcinogen in humans
  • There's a possible link between inadequate sleep and depression
  • Sufficient sleep has positive effects on muscle growth
  • Linked to a stronger immune system; one mechanism is the lower release of cortisol (which has suppressive effects on the immune system),
  • May help suppress appetite to help maintain a healthy weight

Finance

  • Better health and reduced risk factors for disease has knock-on effects of saving healthcare expenditure later down the line
  • Better health results in less lost days of work or study due to sickness
  • The extra time and productivity gained can be used to earn more money to give you the freedom to spend your time however you like earlier in your life
  • The longer health span and life span you gain (for the reasons under the health section) will allow you more time to do whatever you like in life

Social

  • Better communication and reasoning skills
  • A positive mood has knock-on effects on other people around you
  • Lower tendency to react very negatively in response to mild stressors
  • Insufficient sleep makes us more likely to remember negative memories

I may update this list as I find more reasons to sleep earlier and to get enough sleep.

Related:

Some sources that helped with producing this list:

Time Budgeting - Becoming aware of how we spend our time

Reading time: 2 min

The envelope budgeting method is a where we place our available money for budgeting that month into physical or theoretical separate envelopes for different types of spending or areas of life.

When we have to spend in that area of life, we take money out of that envelope. Once that envelop is depleted and emptied, no more money is to be spent in that area of life, until that month ends, and we renew the budget.

When we budget our money, we become conscious of how we spend our money. We become well-aware of where our plans and priorities are, in terms of our ideal (the budget) and the reality (our true spending).

We should take a similar approach to how we use our time, to be conscious of how many hours we are spending in each task or area of life across every day, week, and month. Once we are conscious of it, we should compare how we planned or wanted to spend our time with how we actually spent our time. Then, evaluate whether it fits with what we want in life, and make (realistic) changes if not.

Changing your environment is a way of prompting us to spend more or less time on something. Giving yourself rewards and punishments is another way of doing so.

By being aware of our plans and priorities via how we spend our time, we can be intentional with our actions. This can prevent us from being swept up by the pace of life or feeling guilty about how we spend our time. We only have so many hours in a day, and our lifespans are limited (with current technology).


Related:

Designing Good Passwords in 2022

Reading time: 5 min

What makes a good password?

  1. It should be a chain of characters unknown to and not readily guessable by other humans, and
  2. It should have sufficient randomness and length such that it's not one of the trillions of guesses per second modern computers can make, and
  3. It should be easily memorable, ONLY to you.

It's hard to balance the first two with the third condition.

Implications:

  1. No common words or phrases should be used. Nothing publicly related to you should be used.
  2. In the current year, 2022, to sufficiently counter the maximum guessing potential (brute force capability) of computers given the state of technological development, 14 character passwords should be a minimum. This length should be sufficient for quite a few years to come. Each additional character exponentially increases the number of guesses required (on average) to get the correct password. Adding more length increases randomness more than replacing alphabetic characters with numbers or symbols.*
  3. A chain of only alphabetic characters or only numbers is easier to remember than a mix of alphabetic characters, numbers, and symbols. There are more alphabetic characters than there are single digit numbers, so we should focus on alphabetic characters (which are likely easier to remember regardless).

*Illustration of implication 2 and 3:

This:

myheartdropswhenthewalltakesbetablockerswhatagooduseoftime

is more random (more difficult to guess by a computer) and easier to remember than this:

mYh34r7Dr0P2


Given the above conditions, these are reasonable password solutions:

Option 1: First-letter mnemonic

Come up with a random 14-word (or longer) sentence that makes sense only to you and no one else. Take the first letters of each word, and chain it together into a password. This becomes a mnemonic. The result is a 14 character password. Example:

My heart drops when the wall takes beta blockers; what a good use of time.

The result is:

"mhdwtwtbbwaguot".

The longer, the better, as long as you can easily remember it. That sentence makes no sense to anyone, but it's readily memorable to me.

Stick an underscore in the middle as a bonus.

"mh_dwtwtbbwaguot"

The strength of this is that it's highly memorable and easy to type in. This option is more reasonable than the below alternatives when you don't have a nice keyboard to enter it in, e.g., when you're on a small mobile device. Word-based dictionary attacks by computers should not work on this. 14 characters should be a sufficient length to counter completely random brute force guessing by computers.

The weakness of this is that the first letter we use in words do not follow uniform distribution, i.e., we don't start words with each letter equally often. This makes it easier to guess by a sophisticated algorithm. See letter frequency (Wikipedia). The resulting mnemonic is also not completely random. You can overcome this weakness by making the sentence even longer.

Option 2: Long nonsensical sentence

Just use the sentence you came up with in option 1:

myheartdropswhenthewalltakesbetablockerswhatagooduseoftime

The strength of this is that it's highly memorable and very long. The longer, the better. With a completely random brute force method, it's unlikely this will be guessed any time soon.

The weakness of this is that it's impossible to type in on a mobile device. It's too long to make no mistakes on a tiny keyboard. It's also a sentence with mostly proper grammar; it's possible someone else or a very sophisticated algorithm can come up with a similar sentence. Make it even more random and nonsensical to anyone but yourself to overcome this. Stick symbols in the middle to break up words to throw off dictionary attacks:

myheartdropswhenthewalltakesbetablo_ckerswhatagooduseoftime

Option 3: Diceware words

Use Diceware words. Check this out (resource by Electronic Frontier Foundation) for a guide.

Diceware passwords are passphrases, a chain of words used as a password. The words are uncommon and the phrases random. 6 words are reasonable for most purposes now. 8 words should be reasonable for quite a few years to come. The longer, the better.

This is still reasonably memorable as long as you envision the words in your head.

An example is:

"panoramic-nectar-precut-smith-banana-handclap"

Add dashes in the middle if necessary. Stick an underscore in the middle of a word (without creating more real words) to further throw off computer guesses based off a word list:

"panoramic-nectar-precut-sm_ith-banana-handclap"

This option is more useable when you have a nice keyboard to enter it.

Option 4: Completely random password from a password manager

Use a password manager (consider Bitwarden, it's open source) to generate and securely store for you a password with a mix of alphabetic characters, numbers, and symbols, at a length that most people cannot reasonably memorize or type in:

Te4@w28@sF8GPu!M%YYFKKJGZaP&NjWzajgv&dk$@MAFro4af7Sve2YpMem%ksXA4x7rAU3x6PF$cmE%%6wHoHwAHF&b6NZwCAh"

Copy the password from your password manager whenever you need it.

This is as secure as you can reasonably get with a password.

And then use options 1-3 as your password to the password manager. Use an even longer password/passphrase (16 characters or above, or 8 words or above) for this purpose.

Keep in mind that if the password to your password manager is correctly guessed and can be associated with your other accounts and usernames, your passwords and accounts become compromised.

Option 5: Completely random mnemonic from a password manager

Since we're at password managers, a stronger alternative to option 1 (albeit harder to execute):

Use a password manager to generate a completely random password. Then fit the letters/numbers/symbols of each into a sentence to form a mnemonic that is easily memorable to you.

Taking “Te4@w28@sF8GPu!M”:

Take elephant 4 at west 28 at street Faber 8...

You get the idea. This is completely unmemorable to me; come up with something that is memorable to you.

This can be the password to your password manager. The longer, the better, as long as it's easily memorable to you.


Other good practices:

  • (Depending on who you are protecting your stuff against,) remember that you are not defending against one person typing in passwords manually. You are potentially defending against any number of computers anywhere in the world.
  • Don't reuse passwords. Use a password manager to help solve the memory problem.
  • Use multi-factor authentication, regardless of how strong your password is.
  • Multi-factor authentication is not a reason to weaken your password. If your door is locked with both a key and a digital combination lock, you don't leave the key in the door, or leave a hint to the combination right on the door.

Other things:

  • Password strength can be measured as “bits of entropy”, a measure of how much randomness a password has.
  • Not sure to what degree quantum computing in the future affects passwords. One source reasons that 15+ Diceware passwords to be secure post-quantum, with certain assumptions. Uncertain how valid those assumptions are in practice.