Self-Care is the Best Gift You Give to Others.

As the holidays are approaching, we get so swamped with the pressure of getting everything right and perfect (i.e. shopping for the right gift, preparing the right dinner, and getting everything done right before we head out for holidays…), we lose sight of the true meaning behind it all.

When you take care of yourself, you have the space, time, and understanding of what it means to take care of others. If you get too tired, too stressed, and too frustrated (especially in the holidays), you are not your optimal self to take care of others. Soon, your ‘caregiving/caretaking’ may become resentful.

Thus, self-care is a vital gift, almost like the air you breathe, you give to yourself and to others.


Here are three “Rs” to Self-Care: Use (or try to use) time to reflect, rejoice and relax.  

Reflect. As the year 2016 is coming to a close, it is a good time to reflect on what you’ve done and what you look forward to the new year 2017. What worked, what didn’t, and what could have been better and what are some things that just wouldn’t have mattered … Systematic reflection is a healthy way to grow independently and creatively.  You know yourself the best and you will be spending the most time (pretty much, the entire time, unless you were in a coma and had forgotten your own existence) with yourself than with anyone else – so get to know yourself better.

Rejoice.  Take time to enjoy your wins – big or small. Enjoy your health, your body, your mind, and your breath.  Sometimes, we compare ourselves to others as a measuring stick to improve ourselves. Instead, take a close look at your presence moment, and observe all of your ‘presents’. Thank you for the legs that get me out of bed so I can walk. Thank you for my eyes to see this beautiful morning. Thank you for families and friends in my life that are reflection of my inner world.  Thank you, Life.

Relax.  It is sometimes difficult to have time for oneself while our society has marketed these holidays as a time to ‘buy, buy, buy’… It is hard to even enjoy shopping for loved ones when there is time pressure, financial pressure, and people pressure (you know, the folks who kill for that parking space!). Remember to carve time for self-care in micro moments. Yes, it is possible.

Here are some micro moments of relaxation: 

  1. While you wait for the long line to pay for gifts during this crazy shopping season, listen to the favorite ebook/audio tape. You’re already in line, so the probability of bumping into anyone or getting yourself in trouble is very low. You just need to keep your eyes alert to move forward. You can block out the noise and enjoy these few minutes of silence with your favorite ebook, podcasts, and even music.
  2. Sleep 15 minutes earlier and get up 15 minutes earlier, and enjoy this quiet moment for yourself.  I meditate everyday, even if it is just one-minute meditation. Set your timer for one minute and close your eyes. Envision how your morning will be – peaceful. Then, let all thoughts (negative thoughts especially) float away from your mind. Find comfort in this space that you have claimed as yours.
  3. While you eat your meal, take the time to really enjoy your meal with all your five senses. No one can take this moment from you.  This is called mindful eating. Listen to the sound of the chewing, observe the colors of the food on your plate, and take a deep sniff of the aroma from your food.  Then, if you have any leftover from your plate, be a kid or baby again – touch your food, look at it, and feel the texture of the food.  Revisit your childlike wonders.

Self-care is vital to your health and well-beings of others. When you are well-taken of, you have the energy, capacity, and the desire to care and plus, you’ll be a more pleasant person to be cared for.

Don’t let your inner critic get the best of you.

Acceptance is an art of living.  

When we look out the window, our view of the outside is really depended on where we are standing from. Have you tried looking through a window that was too high, too low, or simply too narrow and it was challenging? Did you give up or tried another way to see through?

When we become critical of others, it is really an alert to ourselves that we are reacting to something within ourselves.  The person, situation(s), or thing in the outside world triggering our inner critic to uprise is an innocent bystander.  It is simply that we are not seeing clearly because the lens (windows) through our eyes are cloudy and dirty.  


A funny story that my friend shared with me, which highlights that our inner critic can sometimes get the best of us.

A woman looks outside her window and complains at the neighbor’s dirty clothes. She is outrage and tells her husband that she feels that she needs to tell the neighbor off, and tell her neighbor how to wash the clothes, and how her washing is way better.  Her husband sits there and listens to his wife.  The next day, the woman looks at the window and said with surprise that her neighbor clothes are finally clean and she smiles with gladness.  

She said to her husband, “look outside the window, you can see that her clothes are so clean!”

Her husband said “Yes, I know.”

“How do you know?” said the wife.

Her husband said, “OH this morning, I cleaned our windows.”

The moral of the story:

When we point our finger out to someone or something, remember, there are three fingers (and a thumb) pointing back at you.  We must also clean our windows, so we can view the outside world with clear visions. This way, our “stuff” would not cloud our judgment. When we are highly critical of others, we are really reflecting our weakness and criticism.  As the saying goes, “It takes one to know one.”  

If we learn to love all of us, accept all of us – the good, bad, and the ugly – as a whole, we would more willing to sprinkle some grace on others as they have undone to us.  

3 Ways to Keep the Weight Off for the Holiday Feasts

The months of November and December is packed with holidays to celebrate with families, friends, and food (yummy food). During these holidays, the waistline of many also expands (expectedly, and unexpectedly by how much). However, there are ways to reduce the ‘damages’, and still enjoy the holidays.

How do you prepare yourself (and your waistline) for the holidays? It’s all about perspective. Don’t look at the food as filling up your body; instead, use the food to fulfill your other senses.  
The core stems from mindfulness in three dimensions of health: physical, emotional, and social well-being.


1. Physical Mindfulness. The jury is still out whether calorie counting really works, or the Paleo diet, or the plant-based diet … etc. Regardless of the type of dieting planning you are on, the best ‘diet’ is a non-diet plan, right?  What if you can continue your eating plan, but add a dimension of physical fitness now (in preparation of the holiday feasts), in incremental installment. This act will prepare the body to burn the extra calorie and increase your metabolism rate. When preparing your coffee, can you squeeze in jumping jack for 5 minutes, a few push-up, or Abs crunches.  Or before you get into the shower, do a 5 minutes yoga stretch in bed. As the turkey is baking in the oven, can you make it a game with your family to see how many squats you can do before the timer goes off?
2. Emotional Mindfulness. When you are eating, do you notice the sounds and the texture of the food as you chew. Often time, the taste of the food overpowers our senses, and because of the ‘additive’ ingredients in the food, we ignore the ‘full’ signal in our stomach.  By enjoying the ‘sounds’ and ‘texture’ of the food, you will become mindful in your action. Naturally, your attention to the other sense (beside taste) will become ‘full’, and you will automatically want to eat less.  Your mind is connected to your stomach.  Try it, it works ! When the holiday feasts start, you won’t be tempted to pack your plate with food, instead, you will be focused on enjoying the ‘music of your food’.

3. Social Mindfulness.
 I agree, the food during the holidays are sometimes extra special and extra delicious. Instead of packing on the calorie at the dinner plate, use the time to enjoy the conversations among families and friends. When you are busy socializing and listening to you other’s life stories, you mind and heart will become ‘full’, before your stomach notices.  You’re be too busy filing your mind and heart with good ‘soul food’ to notice that you didn’t get the second plate of turkey meat !

Use these 3 ways to become ‘full’ beyond your tummy’s desires: physical, emotional, and social mindfulness through the holidays will keep your waist line in check.  

The Era of Resilience: Are You An Adaptive Leader?

Today is Veteran’s Day, which is often overshadowed by the commercial departmental veteran’s special clearance/Big Deals/Early Bird Black Fridays Sales, or the extra day-off of work; but today, I reflected on my time when I was working for the Massachusetts Veterans Affairs (VA) Department, where I ran studies on evaluating HIV testing and Hepatitis C treatment programs for veterans. I am reminded of the resilience in our veterans and personnel who are currently serving the country domestically and abroad. In the face of constant changes in the landscape, players, and rules in the game, I am in awe in how people can work, live, and evolve during these adaptive challenges in all fields of life.

In the Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) in Leadership program, we teach students on the topics of systems thinking, systematic reflection, and adaptive leadership to create collective impact for population health. Because it is an online program, I teach students from all over the world, while being in my office located in Chicago, Illinois. Our students are working in various settings, and they are often faced with challenging situations to make a change in their organizations.

Becoming an adaptive leader is the key to creating a culture of health and well-being.


Let’s take a look at one of the biggest epidemic: obesity. Unexpected interruptions to a daily routine to get fit, eat right can derail their mental landscape for getting healthy unless an individual can learn to expect change and adapt accordingly. Creating space and tools to understand the barriers and challenges to achieve overall wellness is one step toward bringing individual awareness for adaptation and global change. With awareness, individuals can learn to adapt to the change for better wellness, and then be empowered to lead their way to a personal self-care model. Through individual’s systematic reflection and understanding of the ‘whole systems,’ we can promote collective action, wherein individuals motivate each other in their shared pursuit of health, can help people live life with optimal wellness as personal leadership in the era of resilience.

For today, let’s give thanks to our veterans for being adaptive leaders in their way.

In the Palm of Your Hand, a Strategic RoadMap for Career Success.

The holidays are just around the corner and time for work, family, and self is of the essence. But how do you squeeze in the extra things to do (fun things) along with the ‘have to do’ on your list.  To my students, I share my five ‘S’ system to manage their time effectively, efficiently, and mindfully.

The five “S” to strategic planning can be applied for project management, goal setting for personal and professional, and for time management for new ideas.


  1. Space
  2. System
  3. Schedule
  4. Support
  5. Self-Evaluation

1. Space refers to the physical, emotional, intellectual, and social space that you need to create, block off, and keep tight boundary.  Claim a physical space that is your for your study, for your meditation, and for your family/friends. A emotional and intellectual space is needed for yourself to grow independently.  A social space is where you can connect with others. When you have different spaces allotted for different purposes, it allows you to feel less guilty about declaring your personal space for clarity because you know you have space for the other things and people in your life.

2. System refers to finding a system that work for you based on your characteristics. Are you a morning person – then working out at the gym, doing your best writing, and/or working on the garden is your system. Or if your energy level is at its highest peak in the afternoon, reserve that precious time for your creativity muscle.  Find mentors to examine their system. For example, if you’re a writer, read a biography of your favorite author and analyze their writing process. Would it work for you? Modify the parts that makes sense to you.

3. Schedule refers to blocking out chunk of time to focus and drive through the resistance to focus. Minimize factors that get you to lag, delay, or be distracted.  A recommended schedule of time is to block 25 minutes to work, and then a 5 minute for a break, and the recycle the process again. Don’t forget to schedule time for fun, exercise, and meditation. Don’t think of these are ‘time-waster’. When you are unhealthy, unfit, and tired, you are wasting more time to regroup your mind and body to get things done effectively.  Schedule at least 7 hours of sleep, planned meals, and drink water throughout the day.

4. Support refers to your immediate cheerleaders to get your through the distraction toward your plan (i.e. your term paper, your project, or book).  For school, your study group may not be the same group of folks who you are skiing with. For writing your book, you may want to join a meet-up group in your local neighborhood who will hold your bottom to your seat and fingers glued to the keyboard to get you through the writing process.

5. Self-Evaluation refers to a periodic check-in with yourself. Reflect on your baseline, your timeline, your system, schedule, support, and space. Did you achieve what you wanted? What were the successful factors? Were there any barriers? If so, why?  When you are trying something new, give yourself time to learn and evolve with these tactics. Do a weekly check-in (i.e. Sunday night for an hour), or a monthly check-in (i.e. the 1st of every month).

Having the five “S” in my strategic roadmap allows me to lay out the time, space, and effort needed in achieving my goal. With this map, I can anticipate whether I have the time to say ‘yes’ to things to do (the have to and the fun things to do) or to say ‘no’ because according to my five “S”, I have neither the space, system, schedule, support, nor self-evaluation tool to assess it.

Don’t forget to enjoy the journey, the road bumps, and to roll down the window to enjoy the view toward your success.



SkinCare as the new HealthCare: the new mind-skin connection to health and disease

Do you know your skin is like a crystal ball?  Our skin is a window to your inner health, immunity, and psychology.  


Emerging research is demonstrating that meditation and mindfulness practices can improve emotional, spiritual and mental wellness.  The skin is the largest organ of the body, and the research is revealing the complexity of the biological process of the skin is a gateway to the mind-skin-body connection.

It makes senses.  Using a system thinking approach, we can see that our skin is connected to emotional, intellectual, and mental wellness. When you feel ‘stress,’ do you notice a cold sore, a pimple,  or dry skin? Or when you are feeling under the weather, does your skin feel ‘warm’?  Or do you have a habit of pulling hair, picking at dry nails, and scratching an itch?  Mind-Skin connection is probably more real than we had expected.  Nowadays,  public health professionals, health providers, and wellness managers are working together to develop and support wellness programs for patients with dermatologic conditions.  With this integrative approach, we can examine a type of skin-related disorders, biologic factors, environmental (external) factors, epigenetic biochemical changes, and demographic factors.

This is the beginning of a new conceptual framework to explore how our skin is connected to our mind-body-soul using complementary, integrative health practices.  Instead of focusing on the best cream for skin care, focus on providing nutrients through food, positive thoughts, and mindfulness to your body, which then can provide care for your skin.

Work is a Social Determinant of Health

How’s Work Treating You? 


I was reviewing the film “Unnatural Causes,” which highlighted the five social determinants of health: 1) economic stability, 2) education, 3) social and community context, 4) health and health care, and 5) neighborhood and built environment. As a health economist, I started to wonder how does the context of ‘work’ impact economic stability and health, or is it the other way around?  How does salary influences one’s status of health and well-being? Or does one’s health, well-being, and wellness impact one’s capacity to work more effectively, creatively and healthier, and thus impact economic stability (bringing home the bacon)? Perhaps, work and health are actually more closely linked, knitted in a cyclic way to well-being and to the other social determinants.

Based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory Pyramid, at the foundation of the pyramid model, we need and value ‘physiological needs’ (such as food and water to keep the body functioning), then the need for ‘safety’ ( a home to keep you warm), then ‘sense of love and belonging’ (family, friends, and community such as ‘work’), then ‘esteem’ (respect for oneself and others), and then finally at the top of the pyramid – self-actualization (finding purpose and meaning).  Work and health are not only cyclic and feedback to each other, but also a part of the fundamental human values of existence.

In the last decades, Schools of Public Health have been addressing social of determinants of health by focusing on the cross-cutting knowledge in systems thinking, professionalism, health communication, bioethics, public health biology, and cultural competency. Perhaps, using this inter-disciplinary approach in public health education, we can better define work wellness, occupational health, and employment well-being, thus move forward to creating a culture of health and well-being.  While we cannot change a social norm moving from unhealthy work to healthy work overnight (or even within a decade), we can make micro-changes for ourselves, starting today, every day, any moment. Feeling empowered now, huh?

Empowered Mind = Empowered Body = Empowered To Work Toward A Greater Cause.


Tips for Healthy Work Well-Being:

  1. Stop multi-tasking. Overstimulation of your mind with your too many tasks doesn’t allow your body and mind to tune into one thing. It takes actually between 10-20 minutes for your mind to transit from one task to another task. Become effective by focusing on ONE thing.
  2. Focus on 25 minutes Chunk.  Concentrate on your task for 25 minutes. Turn off the email notification, cell phone, and don’t have more than ONE internet browser window opened.
  3. Take 5 minutes to reflect, walk and stretch.
  4. Reflect on how much you have completed, how do you feel (little less stressed?) how does your body feel (less tension on the neck)? Did you mind wander off, and if so, how many times? Did you try to open more one window browser, check email, or text during the 25 minutes?  Try another 25 minutes chunk of time, and keep those social media distractors turned off – “out of sight, out of mind”.
  5. Integrate one-minute meditation throughout the day.  Clear your mind of clutter before going to next big project.  Meditative state activates your mind for creativity.

Repeat. Reflect. Repeat.

Try one of these tips toward work wellness.
As the saying goes, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” by Lao Tzu. 



Mindful Micro-Moments

I ask my students, “When you think of the word ‘mindfulness,’ what words appear in your mind?”

Their Responses:  A man/woman on the mountain top, yoga, zen, prayer, silence, and impossible.  The last word struck out at me. I ask why do you say “impossible.”  In our technology-driven society where we are constantly being pulled in multiple directions at the same time and battling for attention on too many social media channels (i.e. should I check into my Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat Like this or that, or thumb down this or that), it may seem impossible to be mindful about anything since our mind is ‘mind full of stuff’ already!


Within the chaos of noise, white noise, the noise of the buzzing tones of our phone, text, or notifications, finding mindful moments may seem impossible or does it only appear to be impossible to provide an opportunity of possibility?

My response:  “There is More to Than Meets the Eye” – (also, one of my favorite quotes from the “Transformers Cartoon series in the ’80s).

Mindfulness is not about finding solitude, retreating to a haven from the noise that makes up life (your boss asking for a report, your family wanting your presence), or going to a remote, beautiful island where the water is crystal blue, and it’s just you and the seagulls.  No, mindfulness is more about finding mindful micro-moments throughout our day that reminds us that we are alive, breathing, and still here today.  I think mindfulness is a great gift to oneself when you can take a few seconds in the midst of the chaos, screaming background, or piles of deadlines, and take a breath, and be still even for a second. The awareness of these beautiful mindful micro-moments can help drive us through the mud and is probably (in my opinion) more effective and long-lasting in permeating to all your senses than taking selfies sitting (and probably freezing in all your five senses) on top of a mountain.

Design Thinking For Creativity’s Strength

Our traditional educational paradigm focuses on building strength in literary, critical and analytic thinking. To solve our current public health issues globally, I believe that design thinking is the new, integrated approach to developing our creativity’s strength in our community of learners.

Design thinking is boundless, infinite, and undefined – an adjustable toolkit to create innovative solutions for any public health problems in the future.

As I take on this new role to co-direct our online Master of Public Health program at the University of Illinois, Chicago, School of Public Health, I am engrossing myself into the literature of instructional, educational, and program design. How do we educate and lead students to be creative problem-solvers for public health issues, especially the complexity of these issues can be transgenerational, global, and systemic?  The MPH program is often divided up in solo programs (Epidemiology, Biostats, Health Policy/Administration/Management, Environmental Sciences, and Behavioral/Community Sciences), and collaborations can be formed across the different fields. Rather than using a transdisciplinary manner, I’d like to adopt a new approach using design thinking to not only create solutions but also to create a new perspective on problems from ‘inside-out.’

The five principles of design thinking are: 1) empathy, 2) observations, 3) ideation, 4) prototype, and 5) experiment. 

Empathy – Before diving into suggestion solution and offering any recommendations, as public health professionals, we need to understand, feel and see the problem from ‘inside-out.’ Cultural competency becomes important.

Observation – With an openness to listen and hear, we do need to stop doing, and observe, take notes, and digest what are the needs and behaviors that are elicited from these public health problems.

Ideation – Using your observation and open heart to listen, brainstorm ideas (not solutions) with others. No judgments, no playing devil advocate, and no negativity.

Prototype – Try out your ideas, your hypotheses, and your suggestions with empathy. If ‘this’ was your community, would your idea be acceptable given the circumstances, conditions, and culture? Give and receive feedback before you test it.

Experiment – With the buy-in from the community, experiment and gather information. The key is to co-create new ideas to foster change for a culture of health and well-being for all.

Design thinking allows us to embrace our creativity muscle to move across different realms with one key feature – inspiring for a better change.



Finding Your Dream Career

Near the end of September when summer has officially ended and we enter the season of autumn, I often get inquiries from students about job searches, applications for graduate schools, or in some cases, what do I do with my degree now?

Outside the walls of academia, students need to face whether what they learned can actually get them a job that pays the bill or a dream career that carries them through the days when the going get tough.  Is it possible to get a job that is your dream career that pays well and moves you forward to your personal purpose?  Yes. head-1556567_1920

In one of my courses, I teach the subject in ‘strategic planning and management’. A very useful technique called SWOT, which stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, which allows assessment, inquiry, and reflection on a problem at hand, the issues to explore, or even a job search.  Here is a SWOT analysis to assess “job searches” effectively:

  1. Identify Your own Strengths. What did you do well in-class and outside of class (extracurricular activities)? When someone had a problem and asked you for help, what were those things? List these items. With  this list of strengths (your mojo), you feel confident during your job search and job interviews.
  2. Be Aware of Your Weaknesses. Even though we live in the world where folks don’t like to hear negative criticism from others, it is important that you are at least aware and can acknowledge your own weaknesses before others (i.e. your future boss) tells you. By having a mental inventory of your weaknesses, you know how you to improve these skills (i.e. take an online course, read books/articles …) or ask for help. Find a mentor who has these strengths.
  3. Find Opportunities.  With your graduate degree, what are new opportunities that you makes you more remarkable than before? For example, did you take a biostatistics class, and realized that you are good at statistical programming and your classmates often ask you for help. During your job interview, you can emphasize how you communicate and share knowledge with others. This illustrates that you are a team player.  Look for opportunities to showcase skills, practice, and sharpen your skills.
  4. Look out for Threats. We all have a tendency to derail our path to success. As you list your strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities, your internal dialogue may attack your positive thoughts.  What are the competing voices in your head? Are they real? Are they giving your reasonable feedback?

One position with many applicants. You can maximize your chances for a success job search by completing your own Self-SWOT analysis.