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.

Motivation and Procrastination are Two Sides of the Same Coin

Oh. I got a great idea, and here is another good one! The excitement of the new ideas can flood the mind, and you immediately get motivated to take action. However, for other things we tend to procrastinate, and that tomorrow would be another tomorrow. I see this procrastination tendency in myself, in my students and others.

Is it possible to create motivation or in other words, defend procrastination?

Researcher and Professor Pier Steel, who has researched on the theory of motivation theory, gives direct tools to stop procrastination or to get motivated.

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-11-33-41-pmBased on this formula, the level of motivation (M) is directly related the level of expectancy (E) and the value of the activity (V) to be done and indirectly related to the one’s level of impulsiveness (I) and time delay (D).

Expectancy relates to the one’s ability to achieve or to carry out the activity and the value of the activity regarding personal (one’s confidence), work (salary bonus), or social (greater good for humanity). Impulsiveness relates to one’s desire for immediate gratification. The longer it takes to obtain the reward, the strongest impact that delay has on decreasing motivation.


person-1281607_1920Tip #1: To increase motivation, since the E and V are in the numerator of this formula, increase your expectancy (your ability to achieve) and the value of the activity.

Tip #2: If you tend to be impulsive in your decision-making and strive for immediate gratification, practice embracing boredom. Strive to be comfortable to wait for a reward. Linger in the presence and be patient.

Tip #3: Sit still, meditate, and listen actively and with intention. Pay attention. Observe the task. Ask yourself whether this task or goal matters to you.


SMARTER Semester

block-1512119_1920How to Start and End each Semester SMARTER?  

With over ten years of teaching undergraduates, graduates, professional students, and myself,  I often see the same aspiration for a successful semester by turning homework on time, preparing for exams (weeks in advance), and making plans for the study group. Then, somehow, during the mid-semester, life happens, or one just realized that life has been happening.

In my course, Principles of Public Health Management, I teach students how to develop strategic SMART goals, which was developed by experts in business and management.

Make your goals:  Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timed. (SMART). 

Here is an example of a SMART goal:  This semester (realistic), I will study biology (specific) for 25 minutes (measurable) every day after class before lunch (attainable) for the next 15 weeks for Fall Semester (timed).

However, even with SMART goals, many failed to follow them, ignored them, and sometimes, just don’t like their SMART goals anymore. Why is that?

I’d like to add my own twist to it – how about making your goals SMART-ER, where ER refers to adding the “Enthusiasm and Reason (ER)” to your SMART goals. Without some enthusiasm, excitement, and energy to creating your goals, you’ll lose steam quickly in continuing your plan (when the going gets tough).  Without a reason, you won’t hold yourself (or others) accountable to achieving this goal.

Let’s revisit the same example:
This semester (realistic), I will study biology (specific) for 25 minutes (measurable) every day after class before lunch (attainable) for the next 15 weeks for Fall Semester (timed) because (reason) I love learning about the family history of my genetics (enthusiasm) so I can be better prepared about my health.

Begin and end this semester with SMARTER goals:

Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timed, Enthusiasm, Reason. (SMARTER)!