Monthly Archives: September 2012

Trying something new

Credit to Joanna Penn of Flickr

Every few months, I add a new hobby or activity to my repertoire. Over the last twelve months I have learned and practiced everything from reading microexpressions to performing Freudian dream interpretation.

I find three benefits to diving into something new:

  • Trying something new expands your comfort zone.

It takes courage to try something you’ve never done before. You learn to expand your comfort zone. As you grow your comfort zone, you also strengthen your self-confidence. When you try something for the first time, you have to develop the confidence to just “go for it.” This confidence for trying new things without fear translates into more confidence in other things you are already doing. The more new things you try the more able you are to try other things.

  • Trying something new keeps you from becoming bored.

I love routine and order, but somethings I feel my schedule becomes stale and the days start to blend together. Having a new hobby or activity helps me energize myself.

  • Trying something new opens up opportunities.

Steve Jobs audits a calligraphy class after dropping out of Reed College; he later credits this class for the Mac font. Ronald Reagan decides to become a spokesperson for GE before the Republican Party notices his communication skills. Bobby Jones takes up golf as a way to improve his health and goes on to co-found the Masters. Oprah Winfrey relocates to Chicago to host WLS-TV’s low-rated half-hour morning talk show, AM Chicago; three years later, the show is renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show.

All of the above mentioned are people who tried something new and it turned out to have a major impact on the legacy they have left for themselves. I am not saying by scuba diving that you will become the next Jobs or Winfrey, but I am saying that by trying something new you do open new doors for yourself.

Try something new for a day/week/month, what do you have to lose?

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Return tomorrow for a new post. My blog is updated every day.


What is one thing you always wanted to try? Why haven’t you?



Why are you doing what you’re doing?

Credit to Muffet of Flickr

Two types of motivation exists: extrinsic and intrinsic. Intrinsic motivation comes from “in”side you and include your desire to be healthier, smarter, more confident, etc. Extrinsic motivation is the opposite: it is “ex”ternal motivation. Extrinsic factors can include (but certainly not limited to) money, good grades, fame, and prestige.

Today I want to talk about the dangers of setting goals where your motivation is entirely fueled by external rewards. This is defined as a goal where your pleasure and satisfaction is in the rewards that come from completing the goal and not actually doing the goal.

For example, I think it would be pretty cool to have a pilot’s license and the “wow” factor from having one, but even the idea of being the most popular guy on campus if I was a licensed pilot would not motivated me to compete the training. Maybe after I log in my hours, I would be happier (I am popular after all) but during the process I am miserable and will find it next to impossible to continue. When it comes time to log in more hours, I am unhappy and I have just added another chore on my list of things to do.

There is nothing wrong with having external rewards. I study for exams to get  “A’s” and practice magic so I have interesting openers, but I also have intrinsic motivation for studying, I love learning; and practicing magic, I enjoy working with my hands and learning interesting hobbies. And for certain tasks such as laundry and cleaning my dorm, I have no choice. But for other time commitments such as clubs and volunteer projects, why am I doing them if I don’t enjoy doing them?

As a freshman I had more than 15 club memberships, after performing an internal review, I cut the ones I didn’t enjoy or I did just because they were “prestigious.” I feel much happier with my time and commitments now.

By going though your normal routine, you will be surprised how many activities you have no reason why you’re doing it.

Next week, I will be talk about journalist Dan Pink’s study on extrinsic motivation and its hindrance on optimal performance.


Think. Are you doing anything you don’t enjoy (that is not required)? Why are you doing it?

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To-Do Lists are Goals too

Got Pho?
Credit to snowpea&bokchoi of Flickr

When I mention goals, I do not always refer to my long-term goals. Sometimes I simply want to accomplish some smaller short-term goals. Such as studying for my exams next week or organizing a discussion panel.

Luckily, the method I use to accomplish my larger goals is equally effective for the smaller goals: I break down the ultimate goal into smaller manageable pieces.

The more I can break up a goal by setting a deadline and defining the resources (people and material) that I need, the more efficiently I can finish my task. This saves me time and unneeded stress.

This weekend I plan to review for my Cognitive Science midterm in two weeks.


  • Review Cognitive Science for Midterm


  • Review lecture notes (20-25 mins per lecture)
  • Read abstracts and summaries of reading assignments (10-15 mins each)
  • Write down questions I have (varies)
  • Make an appointment with Jonathan (my TA) and Brian (my professor) to answer any questions I have (30-45 mins per meeting).

You can also apply this method to bigger events. This school year, I am organizing a number of campus-wide events. Some big ones are the Vietnamese Student Association’s Pho Night next month, the microfinance panel this winter, and the Leadership Institute’s Leadership Conference next semester.

Organizing any one of these events might look intimidating, but if I break it down, the task becomes much more manageable.


  • Organize Vietnamese Student Association Pho Night


  • Recruit help (Mary and Kathy)
  • Define basics [location, date, pricing, etc.] [1-2 hours with committee]
  • Create a shopping list and budget [20-30 mins]
  • Fundraise [2-3 hours of contacting and filling out forms]
  • Reserve kitchen and location [15 mins]
  • Recruit ViSA members as cooks, staffers, hosts/hostesses [all done online]
  • Give cooks, staffers, hosts/hostesses orientation before event [45- 60 mins]
  • Go grocery shopping the day before [2 hours]
  • Cooking time [entire evening before and day of event]
  • Actual event [4 hours]
  • Personally thank committee and staffers

Total Organization time:

  • 6.34 – 8.75 Hours of Preparation


  • 4 hours

And there you have it: ViSA’s Pho Night. The entire event might be a huge task to organize, but breaking down my overall task into more manageable task and I save myself time and unnecessary stress.

Even for your short-term goals, break them down as you would your long-term dreams.


Define your goals for this weekend (turning in a report to your boss, studying for a midterm, etc.) and break it down into smaller tasks.

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Where are your Priorities?

Credit to Nono Fara of Flickr

Earlier last week, I talked about why it is better to accomplish 2-3 goals superbly than to undertake 5-6 goals averagely. If you haven’t read that article, I would recommend you read it before starting (short) this one. You can find that article here.

I find that even after I narrow my goals down to 2-4, I still don’t know if I have time to complete all of them before my deadlines. While I would love to give all my goals equal weight, preparation, and time, I understand this is not realistically. As with anyone else, I also have other commitments I must also uphold. This is a time crunch problem.

Often time, we tell ourselves, “I don’t have time for ‘A’ and ‘B’” when we should instead ask ourselves, “why don’t I have time for ‘A’ and ‘B’?” The difference is simple. The first is an excuse to avoid the problem, while the second is an analysis of the problem in an attempt to solve it.

To help me stay focused, I prioritize my goals. I do this in two ways: against other goals and in line with my other commitments. By doing this simple exercise, I gain prospective into what is most important in my life. For example, these are some of my major goals for this school year:

Working-out in the morning

  • Learning French
  • Maintain My GPA
  • Update my Blog Daily

This is how I would rank them internally:

  1. Maintain My GPA
  2. Working-out in the morning
  3. Update my Blog Daily
  4. Learning French

After ranking my goals, I write down other major commitments (to keep this list simple, I will group my commitments into general categories. My actually list has about 12-15 items).

  • Education
  • Extracurricular Activities and Community Projects
  • Health, Family and Friends
  • Hobbies

I rank these as well.

  1. Health, Family and Friends
  2. Education
  3. Hobbies
  4. Extracurricular Activities and Community Projects

Next, I see if any of my goals fit under the categories. For example,

  • Health, Family and Friends (Working Out = Health)
  • Education (GPA = Education)
  • Hobbies (Blog)
  • Extracurricular Activities and Community Projects

Next, I insert my goals into my priority list. Any goals that did not fit into a category I use personal judgment as to how I should prioritize them.

  1. Health, Family, Friends
  2. (Working-out)
  3. Education
  4. (GPA)
  5. (Blog)
  6. Hobbies
  7. Extracurricular Activities and Community Projects
  8. (French)

Notice that “Maintaining my GPA” and “Working-Out” have swapped places. This is normal. The purpose of this exercise is to help you gain a perspective into what matters most in your life. From my list, I can determine that “Learning French” has the least importance in my life and if I am ever short on time, I can reduce the time I spend learning French or cut it entirely.

Making a list like this helps me better manage my time as I know what is important in my life.  I do not center my life onto any one area, but I also do not over-prioritize any one area.


List out your goals. Rank them. What order of importance are your goals? Feel free to use the comments to do this.

If you have any comments, suggestions for future topics, or want to have your writing posted contact me at I update my blog daily so come back tomorrow for more articles.

I want to start featuring guest writers soon. If you have a story you want to have featured or experience and wisdom you want to share on the blog send me an email.

Have you burned your bridge? (the Commitment Device)

“Are you ready to fight?”
Credit to Xavi Talleda of Flickr

My favorite topic in economics is Game Theory, the study of strategic decision-making.  Studying Game Theory at the London School of Economics (LSE) last summer has changed the way I look at the world and the interactions I have with others. I am better at weighing my opportunity costs, seeing though non-credible bluffs, and playing board games.

One of the most useful concepts I learned in Game Theory was the commitment device. According to journalist Stephen Dubner and economist Steven Levitt a commitment device is “a means with which to lock yourself into a course of action that you might not otherwise choose but that produces a desired result.”

To demonstrate, imagine two armies (one red, one blue) who each occupy one of two islands. The islands are connected by a bridge and only a bridge. The two armies live in harmony as each prefers to live in peace rather than fight (and risk dying). One day, the Red Army decides to cross the bridge to the Blue Army’s island where the Blue Army awaits them. The General of the Red Army, knowing that his men would rather retreat home than fight, decides to force them to engage in combat. To do this, he burns the bridge that linked the two islands. Now his men only have two options: fight to win or die and lose. (What motivation!)

In this example, burning the bridge is a commitment device, because now the soldiers have no choice but to fight (escaping via the bridge is no longer an option).

So you might ask: what do commitment device and achieving your dreams have in common?

Like the soldiers in our example, you can motivate yourself to fight by burning your bridge(s).

I do this with goals where my self-motivation might be low.

For example for my exercise routine, I arranged a pre-commitment device with Tina. Both Tina and I love spending time together, but since we are a 1000 miles apart this is quite hard. We only get to see each other every so often, but when we do, that time is priceless to me.

Our deal is this:

Tina will buy a round-trip ticket to New Haven for the month of ________. If Davis reaches his first sub-goal (completing two months of the Insanity Workout), Tina will visit Davis. If Davis fails to complete his sub-goal, then Tina will cancel the trip.

Signed: Davis N. and Tina H.

Unreasonable? That is the point of the commitment device.

Now I have a choice, workout each day or not see Tina. Both would cause me pain, but waking up and working out is the lesser of the two evils. As a result, I am motivated to workout.

Are there bridges you could burn to motivate you?


Which of your goals could you tie to a commitment device?

If you have any comments, suggestions for future topics, or want to have your writing posted contact me at

I want to start featuring guest writers soon. If you have a story you want to have featured or experience and wisdom you want to share on the blog send me an email!

Just Do It!

My first time in NYC

I find that starting something new is always exciting and scary. I can remember my first time traveling to New York City by myself, riding public transportation for the first time, and navigating the streets with a map for the first time. Everything was new and frightening.

In much of the same way as my trip to NYC, I find that the hardest part about reaching goal (or doing anything new) is starting. There is so much uncertainty, “what if I don’t like what I am doing?”, “what if I fail?”, “do I really know what I am doing?”. I find the longer I wait to start a goal, the more I am scared to start. By not starting a goal, I am giving my mind more time to fill my head with doubt that continues to slow me down.

The best method I have found to overcome growing hesitation is to take Nike’s advice and “Just Do It”. Last December, I purchased a one-way ticket to NYC, bought a map, and never looked back. In the same way we approach all other new adventures in our lives (our first day at a new office, our first date, our first day of high school), we can prepare all we want and run the scenarios in our minds, but until we step foot into our new environment we can’t know for sure what will happen.

Sooner or later, what was once new becomes routine and comfortable. I use this philosophy in reaching my goals and in my personal life. Waking up to work out or performing in magic shows have become almost automatic to me.

I travel to NYC by myself almost every month and no longer have the fears I once had.


Next time you want to start a goal, do it right away.

If you have any comments, suggestions for future topics, or want to have your writing posted contact me at

I want to start featuring guest writers soon. If you have a story you want to have featured or experience and wisdom you want to share on the blog send me an email!

Do I really need a Journal? (Tracking Your Progress)

Credit to Erin Kohlenberg of Flickr

At the end of every 2 weeks of my workout, I take a day to complete a fitness test. I take the fitness test for the obvious reason of knowing how much progress I have made since the last benchmark, but also to help me in two often overlooked reasons.

When I notice that one or more of my score (the fitness test has eight components) increase, I feel immediately rewarded and am more motivated to move forward.

Equally important, when I notice that one of my scores has stagnated or even dropped, I know that it is time to reevaluated what I doing (or most of the time not doing). Should I alter my routine to improve on my problem areas? Am I not working out hard enough? Am I not getting enough carbs before starting? These types of questions run through my head as I look at how I can improve.

In both cases, I become more aware of what I need to do to reach my goal.

Keep in mind, that maintaining records of your progress doesn’t have to always be numeric. Some goals such as weight loss, cost saving, and grade improvement can be measured quantitatively, but other goals such as building a better relationship with your father or improving customer service at your store cannot be measured in numbers. For these another unit of account is appropriate. I like to keep a journal for the qualitative measurements. How satisfied are my clients at my real estate firm? How comfortable is Danny (my little brother) about coming to me with his problems? Do I feel more confident walking to the podium to deliver a speech?

Writing down your progress has the same effect as writing down your goals. It forces you to be specific with what you want and help you detect potential flaws in your action plan.


How are you keeping track of your goals?

If you have any comments, suggestions for future topics, or want to have your writing posted contact me at

I want to start featuring guest writers soon. If you have a story you want to have featured or experience and wisdom you want to share on the blog send me an email!

“All professional jugglers started by just juggling three items”

All Professionals were once Amateurs
Credit to Ted Ollikkala of Flickr

It is in our human nature to desire to do more and more.  I see this in people setting goals every day. They have big dreams, abundant motivation, but excessive impatience.  When they tell me about their goals I can see the sparks in their eyes as they set objectives, timelines, and build their support networks. The problem is when they try to make time and implement their goals, they are easily frustrated, “I can’t get everything done.” Soon they fall behind on their goals because they have spread themselves too thin. And when one goal doesn’t go well, they begin to lose hope and motivation to continue. They give up on all their goals.

When waking up for Spanish, jogging 10 miles a day, and then attending yoga class become the banes of your existence, you need to stop and reevaluate what you are doing. Goal setting and goal getting should be an exciting and fun part of your life. Working towards your goals should bring you joy and happiness not anger and frustration.

If you currently have big dreams but feel that you are overwhelmed, relax and reexamine what you are doing. Maybe you need to scale back a few goals or even cut some entirely. In achieving your goals, it is not about the number of New Year’s Resolutions you completed, but about the quality in which you complete them.

By focusing on a small number of goals, you build momentum when you make progress and this motivation will inspire you to complete your other goals.

Remember that all professional jugglers started by just juggling three items in their hands. Remember that you don’t have to accomplish everything right away. Start with one or two big goals and build up momentum.


What was on your New Year’s Resolutions list this year? Were you trying to do too much or not enough?

I want to start featuring guest writers soon. If you have a story you want to have featured or experience and wisdom you want to share on the blog send me an email at!

Doing More by Sleeping More

Get a great night’s sleep!
Credit to nicolafchild of Flickr

Did you wish you had more, less, or about the same amount of time to sleep last night?

The answer for most people will be to spend more time in “Inception” before having to intercept their emails in the morning.

Last year, the National Sleep Foundation found that the average American received  6 hours and 55 minutes of sleep during the workweek. About two-thirds (63%) of Americans polled said their sleep needs are not being met during the week.

Sleep deprivation is large problem and I see it every day on campus.

  • “I only slept for 2 hours last night, I had 4 problem sets, 2 essays, and an exam to prepare for”
  • “Oh yeah? I didn’t sleep at all, I had 3 essays, 5 problem sets, and 2 exams to prepare for”

Obviously I exaggerated my examples, but the general principle remains the same. The culture on college campuses, and throughout America, is to do more and sleep less. “Sleep is for the weak” I hear. But you know what, I love sleeping!

I love the feeling of going to bed early and waking up after nine hours of sleep. Although I could have used those 1 or 2 hours of my slumber to practice my French or lift weights, I prefer to invest that time to sleep.

Why? Because I wake up in the morning feeling happier, more energetic, and ready to start my day. With 9 hours of sleep, I begin my day with a smile on my face ready to workout at 8 am .

Sometimes I have reading assignments that I would like to finish before bed. However, I realize that my brain no longer operates efficiently at a certain point (usually around midnight) and I begin to misinterpret concepts that I’m learning. I start to make careless errors in my writing and I commence a trend of becoming tired, going to bed late, waking up tired and repeating the vicious cycle the next night.

If I could attribute my success in accomplishing my goals and staying motivated, I would say it has to do a lot with going to bed and getting a great night’s rest.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post and one of Forbes’ Magazine’s Most Influential Women, discusses the power of a great night’s sleep in one of my favorite TedTalks, you can hear Huffington’s speech on the importance of sleep here.

If you want to do more, sleep more.


Tomorrow night, go to bed earlier than you normally would and get into a sleep cycle (sleep in intervals of 1.5 hours). After your [7.5, 9, or 10.5 hours of sleep] record how you feel. Use this app to help you decide on a sleep time.

If you have any comments, suggestions for future topics, or want to have your writing posted contact me at

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but someone had to lay the foundations (starting small)

Refill anyone?
Credit to Dan McKay of Flickr

I was never one to eat healthy or care for my body. In middle school and most of high school, I was a little overweight, allergic to exercise, and ate more fast-food than I did home cooked meals. With my diet, I woke up with serious breakouts that I would blame on genetics.

I didn’t really care about what was happening to my body until a doctor’s visit near my 18th birthday revealed that I had a blood pressure of about 145/95. My doctor was upfront and told me if I didn’t change my diet I would be at high-risk for heart problems when I was older. Nothing like being told at 18 that you could die young to give you motivation to change.

I knew I couldn’t just go cold turkey on my diet but I knew I could take small steps. Using my support network (primarily my girlfriend who was a runner and consumed in a week what I did in a day), I set a long-term goal of lowering my blood pressure to around 120/80 (the suggested amount). I started by reevaluating my diet.

At this point I was drinking about 3-4 cans of Coke, Sprite, and Root Beer per day. Needless to say, I had a soda addiction. I knew I could not just switch to water, so I slowly cut back on my consumption.

For the first month, my goal was to only drink 2 cans per day (maximum 10 per week and refills counting as one can when I went out), the next month I cut my intake to 5 per week, the next month 1 per week, until four months into the goal, I was drinking only water and juice.

As of today, I have gone nearly two years without soda. (I have had one soda, but as anyone who has quit drinking soda knows, when you drink soda, your stomach can no longer handle it). My little brother seeing my conversion set a similar goal for himself when I was in college. When I went home last Spring Break, the storage closet where my mom used to store the soda has been replaced with juices and hundreds of bottles of water. And if you were wondering my blood pressure (as of May 2012) is just under 120/80.

The moral of the story is that you don’t have to do everything right away or throw a 100-yard Hail Mary pass on your first play. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but someone had to lay the foundations.


What large-term goals can you break down into smaller goals that you can gradually increase? Comment below.

If you have any comments, suggestions for future topics, or want to have your writing posted contact me at