When I was in high school (as a student, not my current job as a teacher), I remember my psychology teacher presenting a lesson on the primacy and recency effect and how it relates to our memory. The primacy effect is the bias we have to remember what we hear or see first and the recency effect explains why we remember what we hear last or most recently. To illustrate this, here is a string of numbers, 39, 87, 3, 18, 41, 26, 52. Chances are, if I were to ask you what numbers you can recall, you would have 39 or 52 in your lineup. We also have a tendency to remember what we hear frequently, what we can rehearse in our heads, and what we can associate with other cues. The mind is a powerful tool and ever since I sat in Mr. Baril’s classroom for this psychology class, I’ve been intrigued by the study of the mind and how it relates to our daily routine, habits, and capabilities. The recency effect is something I haven’t forgotten about and I relate it to the act of finishing strong in all I do. Finishing strong, you’ll find out, can set into motion the right mindset to be successful from that point forward.
You might be wondering what “finishing strong” means. Picture this. It’s Friday afternoon. You are about to clock out for the day and you’ve been ready for the weekend since the alarm clock went off 5 days ago before the sun came up. You’ve clocked out mentally long before you will clock out physically. You are not going to finish this week off strong. Does this sound familiar to you? Perhaps you don’t have to worry about end of the week performance but instead, you worry about finishing strong in that jog or run around your neighborhood. Maybe you are concerned with finishing strong with ending on a good note in your wilderness survival training and getting that fire started with flint and steel, friction fire, or unconventional means. No one likes barely getting by, having to walk that last ¼ mile feeling gassed, or watching your efforts result in plenty of smoke but no fire. It’s ALWAYS best to finish strong and leave on a high note. I’m not a fan of absolute statements but I will NEVER choose failure or lack of success over strength and accomplishment.
When we don’t finish strong, we leave doubt in our mind. We question our ability to complete a task with success. That doubt, that uncertainty may manifest itself in failure the next time around. Afterall, what we think, becomes our words, and our words become our actions, and actions become habits, and so on. For some, ending on a weak note or on failure means perseverating on that performance until the next time the opportunity presents itself to achieve success. You could have been successful numerous times at a particular task in a given day but you’ll probably remember the final attempt when you weren’t. According to the recency effect, you’ll likely remember that failure over all the times you were successful. Our minds are constantly working and sometimes against us.
There are ways to offset the recency effect should you struggle to finish strong. If you aren’t fatigued and the opportunity is there, you may want to revisit whatever you do and not quit until you experience success. Be careful though, if you repeatedly fail in finishing strong, you may build up bad experiences, training scars, and memories that work against you. If you can’t finish strong with a particular rigorous task, find a way to finish strong with a task that doesn’t challenge you as much or find a way to accomplish that task with a training modifier. Plenty of times in friction fire classes, I’ve watched students walk away in frustration from their fireboards, spindles, and bows. I often remind them they have the ability to make a fire with the lighter in their pocket or the ferro rod on their knife sheath. Sometimes, I have students end on a high note and make fire no matter what it takes. Training to failure shouldn’t be avoided and it is good to know your limits. Just remember your mind is logging all your reps and you need to “fool it” should you not find success. Sometimes just verbalizing “I’ll get it next time” tricks your brain into downplaying the failure and highlighting the willingness to survive. That is how positive mental attitude can offset the recency effect.
Personally, I’ve struggled with the recency effect in my marksmanship goals. I’ve thrown a few shots in a 5-shot group at distance and walked the target back in closer to finish strong. I’ve had “good enough” moments when working on leather projects late in the day only to wake up in the morning to disgust at my work. I’ve sat peering over textbooks to exhaustion with the law of diminishing returns proving itself as I caught myself zoning out instead of strict focusing. There are so many occasions when we can easily give in, end on a bad rep, We need to recognize when these moments sneak in and we need to choose strength over weakness.
Keep this in mind too, we are what we repeatedly do. I’ve heard plenty of coaches and trainers over the years explain how you shouldn’t practice until you get something right, you should practice until you don’t get it wrong. Don’t settle for finishing strong and never challenging yourself in that particular task ever again. Just because you accomplish a goal once, doesn’t mean you will always be able to. Afterall, we are what we repeatedly do. A championship sports team with dozens of trophies isn’t called a “failing team” if they lose one game/match/etc. On the flip side of the same coin, a student with all failing grades isn’t a high performer if they receive a single “A” on an assignment. We are the average of what we do, we are the average of our success and failure, and we should strive to have more success than failure. We should work on always finishing strong and we should start off strong too. In fact, we should only desire strength and we should consciously fight off weakness whenever we can.
Here’s some friendly advice from someone who embraces strength and teaches students to be a better version of themselves with each passing day. Start off strong. Don’t let your snooze button on your alarm serve as a crutch. Wake up before your alarm and don’t start off your day with failure. Remember the primacy effect. Create a to-do list and cross off items on that list all day. Be strong in all you do and at the end of the day when you make it to your bed (instead of falling asleep at your kitchen counter working on work you took home with you), think about all you’ve done. Let the first thing you do in your day be powerful and retire each day on your own terms when you decide. Be powerful, don’t let weakness affect your final rep, and watch how it impacts your overall being when the only option is to finish strong.
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