The State of Affairs by Esther Perel

  • How much I’d Recommend: 10/10
  • Date finished: 1/3/21
  • The State of Affairs, recommend borrowing from your local library

I love the way Esther Perel writes. She’s very clear with her points and her writing style is very smooth. She is a therapist (as opposed to a psychologist) so this book reads more like a friend with relationship experiences as opposed to a lecture. She explored the topic of infidelity (cheating) and why it is so prevalent in human history. I feel like there isn’t enough books/knowledge on romantic relationships that go this deep into the core of the problem. Esther does not judge at all, yet she goes straight to the source of the issues when she meets the couples and try to untangle the mess.

Quotes — 

Whether we like it or not, philandering is here to stay. And all the ink spilled advising us on how to “affair-proof” our relationships has not managed to curb the number of men and women who wander. Infidelity happens in good marriages, in bad marriages, and even when adultery is punishable by death. It happens in open relationships where extramarital sex is carefully negotiated before-hand. And the freedom to leave or divorce has not made cheating obsolete. After immersing myself in the topic, I have come to see that there is no singular truth, no comprehensive typography to describe this crucible of passion and betrayal. The only thing i can say for certain is that nothing I’m about to tell you is made up.

When a couple comes to me in the aftermath of an affair, I often tell them this: Your first marriage is over. Would you like to create a second one together?

For me, infidelity includes one or more of these three constitutive elements: secrecy, sexual alchemy, and emotional involvement.

Secrecy is the number one organizing principle of an infidelity. An affair always lives in the shadow of the primary relationship, hoping never to be discovered.

Sexual alchemy, because affairs sometimes involve sex and sometimes not, but they are always erotic.

Emotional involvement, most affairs register an emotional component, to one degree or another. Sometimes the term “emotional affair” is applied to relationships that are genuinely platonic but are perceived to be “too close.” Because for many today, marriage is wedded to the concept of emotional intimacy and naked honesty, when we open our inner life to someone else, it can feel like a betrayal.

If you cheat, it’s because you are a selfish, weak, untrustworthy person. But if I do it, it’s because of the situation I found myself in. For ourselves, we focus on the mitigating circumstances; for others, we blame character.

It’s worth remembering that until recently, marital fidelity and monogamy had nothing to do with love. It was a mainstay of patriarchy, imposed on women, to ensure patrimony and lineage – whose children are mine and who gets the cows (or the goats or the camels) when I die.

It is old news that in most cultures, men had the tacitly sanctioned freedom to roam with little consequence, supported by a host of theories about masculinity that justified their predilections for tasting widely. The double standard is as old as adultery itself.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, amidst the societal sea change of the Industrial Revolution, marriage was redefined. Gradually it evolved from an economic enterprise to a compassionate one – a free-choice engagement between two individuals, based not on duty and obligation but on love and affection. In the move from the village to the city, we became more free but also more alone. Individualism began its remorseless conquest of Western civilization. Mate selection became infused with romantic aspirations meant to counter the increasing isolation of modern life.

Monogamy used to mean one person for life. Now monogamy means one person at a time.

First we brought love to marriage. Then we brought sex to love. And then we linked marital happiness with sexual satisfaction. Sex for procreation gave way to sex for recreation. While premarital sex became the norm, marital sex underwent its own little revolution, shifting from a woman’s matrimonial duty to a joint pathway for pleasure and connection.

When sex was decoupled from reproduction, it became no longer just a feature of our biology but a marker of our identity. Our sexuality has been socialized away from the natural world and has become a “property of the self” that we define and redefine throughout our lives. It is an expression of who we are, no longer merely something we do. In our corner of the world, sex is a human right linked to our individuality, our personal freedom, and our self-actualization. Sexual bliss, we believe, is our due – and it has become a pillar of our new conception of intimacy.

In our consumer society, novelty is key. The obsoleteness of objects is programmed in advance so that it ensures our desire to replace them. Hence we no longer divorce because we’re unhappy; we divorce because we could be happier.

FOMO drives what is known as the “hedonic treadmill” – the endless search for something better.

Marriage, as philosopher Alain de Botton writes, went “from being an institution to being the consecration of a feeling, from being an externally sanctioned rite of passage to being an internally motivated response to an emotional state.” For many, love is no longer a verb, but a noun describing a constant state of enthusiasm, infatuation, and desire.

We want our relationships to inspire us, to transform us. Their value, and therefore their longevity, is commensurate with how well they continue to satisfy our experiential thirst.

Our primary duty is now to ourselves – even if it comes at the expense of those we love.

After all, aren’t we entitled to an affair, if that’s what it takes to be fulfilled?

Privacy is a functional boundary that we agree on by social convention. There are matters that we know exist but choose not to discuss, like menstruation, masturbation, or fantasies. Secrets are matters we will deliberately mislead others about.

In some cultures, infidelity is commonly treated as a private matter (at least for men), but in our culture, it is usually a secret.

“Have you forgiven her?” I ask him. “Yes,” he replies, “though at first it seemed impossible.” He recalls how I told him that one day he would understand that forgiving doesn’t mean giving the other a free pass. It’s a gift one gives oneself. Sure enough, as time passed, he got it. As Lewis B. Smedes writes, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

Rather than insulate ourselves with the false notion that it could never happen to me, we must learn to live with the uncertainties, the allures, the attractions, the fantasies — both our own and our partners’. Couples who feel free to talk honestly about their desires, even when they are not directed at each other, paradoxically become closer.

To quote Rachel Botsman, “Trust is a confident relationship to the unknown.”

Yes, trust is built and strengthened by actions over time, but by the same token, trust is also a leap of faith — “a risk masquerading as a promise,” as Adam Phillips writes. An affair throws a couple into a new reality, and those who are willing to venture forward together discover that for them, trust no longer solely hinges on the predictable, but rather, trust is an active engagement with the unpredictable.

Our partners do not belong to us; they are only on loan, with an option to renew — or not. Knowing that we can lose them does not have to undermine commitment; rather, it mandates an active engagement that long-term couples often lose. The realization that our loved ones are forever elusive should jolt us out of complancency, in the most positive sense.

Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube by Blair Braverman

I first heard about Blair Braverman from a quote from the New York Times article she wrote about the Iditarod after I came back from Alaska in September. Before Alaska, I never knew there was a race called Iditarod, nor did I know this race was run by sled dogs.

After coming back from Alaska, wanderlust, and trapped back into a COVID lockdown, I requested this book, Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube by Blair, from our local library. I think I was under the impression that this book is about Iditarod or dog sledding and it’s a lot more than that. This book is more about Braverman’s recollection of how she grew up, longed to live in a cold place (I still can’t understand why), lived in Norway and lived/raced in Alaska.

I love the book, and I love the way she writes her story almost like a novel but you know everything is true. It is more of a biography than JUST about sled dogs or living in the cold. I think one unsettled feeling of mine comes from the parts where she talked about being molested by her host parent in Norway, “Far” (I guess meaning farther). She made a great effort to try and come to terms with those emotions but I don’t think she quite got there yet in the book. Maybe she didn’t get there in real life either. She also pretty objectively (almost seem like from a third-person perspective) described how she was treated in Alaska by her first boyfriend Dan, and many other men out there. Goodreads reviews described these men as misogynistic 

In comparison to a similar adventure type of autobiography, the Push, by Tommy Caldwell, I think Tommy had some disturbing memories of his childhood and previous marriage but I enjoy the parts where he looks back and reflects on them in the book as the event happens. The reflection, obviously made many years after the actual event, was helpful for me to see his full story. I think Braverman’s book is lacking some of those deeper reflections that I would have loved. Even the last few pages, Braverman was still haunted by the memory of Far, and that in-and-of-itself disturbed me ever still. I really hope karma catches up to this horrible human filth.

Overall, it was a solid read, and I love Blair’s friend in Norway, Arild.

Building Wealth One House at a Time by John Schaub

This book has much detailed and down-to-earth advice on how to buy income property/rental property. I love the beginning and the end of the book, but the middle section about seller financing was lacking some serious details for me to understand how it would all work out. Overall, I have learned a TON from this book. My notes below do not include seller financing, preforeclosure, and foreclosure. If you are interested in those areas, I recommend checking out his other book called Building Wealth Buying Foreclosures possibly borrowing from your local library (because these books are expensive!). Otherwise, read my notes below!

General advice on income properties:

  • Buy a house in the best neighborhood you can afford
  • Don’t buy corner lots
  • Don’t buy houses with extra frills: wallpaper, fancy trim, pool/hot tubs
  • Buy in a good school zone
  • Buy in a neighborhood that’s on the way up
  • Buy close to where you live and study the market

Strategies for surviving the market crash: 

  • Get your home paid for.
  • Use options to buy in a hot market: a contract that gives the buyer the right, but not the obligation to buy.
  • Avoid personal liability on dangerous debt: debt you can’t repay from the cash flow on the property that is security.
  • Limit your losses: if you own a losing property, cut your losses.
  • Renegotiate debt that you cannot pay

Cause and effect of cycles:

  • When rents are cheap relative to prices to buy, either rent will increase or selling prices will fall.
  • Construction cycle: smaller Homebuilders rely on banks for construction loans typically one year in length. When they can’t sell, they are under pressure to pay. You could buy houses at a bargain price in a down market by just paying off the construction loan.
  • Older neighborhoods where renters are being displaced by owner-occupants who buy and fix up a well-located but older home will increase in value. Look for this trend and houses that you can rent for a few years while the neighborhood improves. They often are a better investment than new neighborhoods.

Finding opportunities that others miss:

  • Empty houses
  • Houses that need work – especially in nicer neighborhoods
  • Out of town owners
  • Landlords who are not maintaining their property
  • For sale by owners
  • Letters to owners who may need to sell
  • Foreclosures

Ask questions to know what the other party wants

  • Are you the owner?
  • Where is the house?
  • How large is the house?
  • How large is the lot?
  • How old is the house?
  • Does the house need any work?
  • What school district is the house in?
  • What are the neighbors like?
  • How long have you owned the house?
  • Have you made any additions or remodeled?
  • Is the house listed with a realtor? If so, when does the listing expire?
  • Do you have a current appraisal? If so, how much?

Step 2 questions:

  • Sounds like a great house, why are you selling?
  • Can your existing loan be assumed?
  • What’s the balance on your loan now?
  • Are your payments current?
  • What will you do if you don’t sell? Is the owner moving away? When? The day they move, most owners are really ready to make a deal.
  • How long has your house been on the market?
  • How much did you pay for the house? (If the owner balks at this question, tell them you want to buy in a neighborhood that is appreciating. Ask if the house has appreciated since they bought it. You can point out that you can learn this info in the public records and would appreciate their time-saving assistance.
  • If you don’t sell the house, would you consider renting it? If the owner’s answer is yes, you may be able to buy it from him or her with a small down payment. The owner won’t get much down when he or she rents it.

Use your time wisely:

  • Ask questions on the phone. You will be surprised how much sellers will tell you
  • Rank motivation and potential profitability from 1 to 10. Use this to compare houses to decide priority.
  • Motivated seller: asking them questions like “are you ready to sell your house today?” Or “can you be out by this weekend?” To show you are interested in buying NOW.
  • before sitting down with seller, write down your strategy using figure 4.1

Knowing what a house is worth before you make an offer:

  • If you are buying on a street with many foreclosures or short sales, calculate your best offer, and then reduce it by 20%
  • pay no more than 10% down, pay no more than 10% interest, buy at least 10% under the market
  • 72/rate of return = years of a house that will double value
  • Buy properties that produce enough rent to pay the expenses and repay the loan
  • Buy properties that are relatively easy to manage and easy to sell
  • Borrow the longest term possible

Making an offer:

  • Let the seller make the first offer
  • Never never never try to think for the seller
  • Make your first offer an offer you know will make you money and see how she responds. If you decide you’d like to buy this house for about $175k, the seller wants 250k, offer 160k. If they make a big move in your direction, go up to 165k, then settle the difference at 175k. If they move to 245k, offer them 175k, with 10k down, balance payable at $1000 a month including 3% interest.
  • Don’t let the seller shop your offer (get you to bid with another buyer). Tell them you have two houses you like theirs better but if they don’t accept the offer by end of day, you will buy the other house.

Renting a house:

  • Spend the money to clean the whole house
  • Introduce yourself to the neighbors and ask them to keep an eye out for you. Tell them if there is a problem with the tenant you want to know about it and will do everything in your power to fix it.
  • Usually, a tenant can afford to pay between 30-40% of their income as rent.
  • Rather than charging a late penalty, give tenants a discount for paying on or before the first of the month. Pay on time and not call for maintenance to earn the discount.
  • Give tenant phone numbers to call for “emergencies” – 911, police, plumber (for leaks). Then have your weekend off.

This is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick

  • How much I’d Recommend: 8/10
  • Date finished: 7/19/20
  • This is Where You Belong: recommend either borrow from the library or read my notes below

It is a lovely book full of ideas. I did not read through every single page. Behind every chapter, there is a list of activities you can do to feel more settled down and here they are below. I have also added some items I found helpful. I am never one to promote consumerism or spending money for the sake of some higher cause, so even though some of the tips below mentioned spending money, I’d say do the free stuff first and see how you feel 🙂

  1. Lace Up Your Sneakers
    • Follow the “1-mile solution” and walk / bike to all your errands under a mile
    • Explore unfamiliar parts of your town without a GPS.
    • Draw a map of your part of town and see how many details you can fill in
    • Sign up for a local walking tour
    • Switch to a walking or biking commute
    • If you’re moving soon, aim for a neighborhood with a high Walk Score.
    • Make your own Walk [your city] signs at WalkYourCity.org
  2. Buy Local
    • Find the one item that you can commit to buying from a locally owned business, then stick with it.
    • Before you decide that buying local costs too much, consider the unexpected benefits, like advice, free gift wrapping, or tie-in promos that support other local organizations.
    • Invest locally.
    • Other ones I can think of: buy local gifts when you visit friends/travel, and kind words to local shops always go a long way.
  3. Say Hi to Your Neighbors
    • Celebrate National Good Neighbor Day
    • Join a Newcomers Club
    • Meetup.com
    • Keep a spreadsheet of the people you meet on your block: names, kids preferences, where they work, what they do.
    • Welcome anyone who moves into a house that you can see from your front porch. At least say hi.
    • Eat a meal with your neighbors
    • Join your neighborhood association, your block club, or your HOA.
    • Offer to house-sit or pet-sit when neighbors go out of town.
    • Throw a block party.
    • Other things I do: share my home-grown vegetables, extra candy from Halloween, and other tools with my neighbors. Ask for help when you need it, people love to feel needed.
  4. Do Something Fun
    • What ten local sites, historic landmarks, tourist attractions, parks, museums, statues, or events can you show off to visitors?
    • Find out what’s going on in your town.
    • Asking people “where do you take visitors?”
    • Do the stuff your town is good at.
    • Annual festivals
    • Make your own asset map with Google’s My Maps to remind yourself of how much your town has to offer and to plan outings for yourself and visitors.
    • Show up.
    • Other things I do:
  5. Commune with Nature
    • Make a list of your town’s natural assets
    • Learn the names of the flora and fauna in your area
    • Find ways to do the outdoorsy things you love where you live
    • Invite friends for a hike
    • Go Geocaching or letterboxing
    • Pick up litter, buy low-energy fluorescent lightbulbs, recycling, air-dry laundry
    • Other things I recommend:
      • Find state parks to camp
      • Explore more interesting places to visit by scrolling through google maps
  6. Volunteer
    • Volunteer at a place you are passionate about, be it your church, local SPCA, women’s shelter
    • Check the city’s website for government volunteering
    • Perform random acts of kindness, either on a special day like your birthday or a day you’re bored. RandomActsofKindness.org lists dozens of ideas. TheBDayProject.com.
    • Donate – I donate to my local children’s shelter bc I am petite 🙂
    • Join or start a giving circle
    • Other things I thought about:
      • Donate locally (women’s shelter, children’s shelter, etc.) instead of to Salvation Army
      • Find free items to share on Facebook; they are called buy nothing [your city]
      • Volunteer to get your elderly neighbor’s groceries
      • Find the local chapter of AMillionCups.com to support local start-up businesses
  7. Eat Local Food
    • Try strEATing, the practice of turning an average street or public place into a quick, cheap social eatery.
    • Make dinner into a mini block party by eating on your front lawn
    • Find a place in your town to be a regular
    • Shop regularly at your farmer’s market or join a CSA. LocalHarvest.org keeps a database of them.
    • Try a one-week “25-mile challenge,” eating only foods grown within twenty-five miles of your house.
    • Plant a garden
    • Follow local restaurants on social media
  8. Get More Political
    • Follow your mayor and city councilors on social media
    • Figure out when your next election is and vote.
    • Join your local citizens’ academy
    • Keep up-to-date on what’s happening in local government (+ restaurants, volunteer opportunities, and a place attachment bonanza of additional information)
    • If you have coding skills, join a Code for America brigade where you live, or sign up for a one-off civic hackathon. HackForChange.org
    • Run for an elected town office
    • Download and use civic apps for your town
    • If there’s something in your place that’s driving you nuts – a pothole, a broken light-go on your city’s website and figure out who can help you get it fixed. If there is something in town you love, write about it too.
  9. Create Something
    • Find out what art events are happening in your neighborhood – concerts, dance shows, festivals, guys with guitars playing at the back of a coffee house on Friday night – and show up to as many as you can afford, even if it’s not typically your thing.
    • Throw a few bucks in the case whenever you see a busker in your town.
    • Gather friends for an adventure and make something silly and creative happen in your neighborhood. Write inspirational quotes on sidewalks, set up a good-luck stand, and pass out homemade fortunes, impromptu singing, dancing, and befriending.
    • Write a love letter to your town, explaining all the things you adore about it
    • Tour all public art in your town, including murals, statues, and sculptures. If there isn’t one, consider making a digital guide to them with an app like Tour Buddy.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

  • How much I’d Recommend: 9/10
  • Date finished: 7/19/20
  • So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed: recommend borrowing from your local library – everyone should read it as soon as possible.

I asked our local library to purchase it a while back before COVID. Because of COVID, our local public library shut down for the longest time and only recently opened back up. When they told me that this book is ready for pick up, I had already forgotten who recommended it.

Jon brings you on a journey of many people who have been publicly shamed or somehow have insights into surviving public shaming. Unlike a lot of the research/academic books written by professors from colleges, Jon seems to have a personal opinion on these issues, tho his curiosity keeps him open-minded in the pursuit of the truth.

I am surprised some of the more iconic public shaming didn’t get into the book, like the Monica Lewinsky & Bill Clinton scandal. I enjoyed it tremendously nonetheless. It is a book I couldn’t put down.

Main events from the book:

  • being “impersonated” on Twitter by scientists for a brief moment
  • the plagiarism story of the journalist Jonah Lehrer, and his #epicfail public apology with Twitter live-feed in front of him.
  • Justine Sacco and her disastrous tweet about AIDS and how she’s white and won’t get AIDS has destroyed her career. 
  • The judge, Ted Poe, who uses public shaming (not online, in the physical world) as punishment instead of prison time. Criminals are grateful to him that they didn’t have to serve jail time and also found their purpose in life in the process of it.
  • Zimbardo’s famous Stanford Prison Experiment, and Dave Eshelman, one of the student participants who said he was being cruel just for show.
  • Two techies were fired after Adria Richards took a photo of them and complained that they made an inappropriate comment (“forking someone’s repo”) at a tech conference. Adria was later on fired from her work because someone from 4chan DDos’ed her employer’s website and said the attack would stop if they fire her.
  • Max Mosley and his S&M photo of being whipped by a woman dressed in German military uniform, and how he had survived this public shaming unscathed. Jon was fascinated by his story and hoping to find the solution for everyone, but it appears to be situational that this happened.
  • Jon visited S&M expert Kink.com and the porn movie producer Princess Donna and was on set for a public disgrace.
  • Jon attended the Shame-Eradication Workshop set up by Brad Blanton based on Radical Honesty. Based on Jon’s description, this is my least favorite chapter. It is maddening; the theory of Brad’s Radical Honesty was not explained. It just appears that people say mean things to each other with no actual strategy to remedy the issues.
  • Jon tried dressing up as a woman to go to a Muslim area of London and document the journey. This experiment ended because Jon couldn’t do it.
  • Alexis Wright who ran a Zomba brothel in Kennebunk, Maine released all 69 of her clients. 68 of them were men and they were afraid of the public shaming that would come after this, but it never came. The society seems to be not so interested in men cheating on their wives anymore.
  • Mike Daisey, who told the story as a monologue about Apple using N-hexane in their factory that resulted in workers having their hands permanently damaged. But this story had factual inaccuracy after it was discovered that Daisey had lied about his experiences.
  • Lindsey Stone, who posed in front of the national cemetery with an obscene gesture and was publicly shamed and fired from her job.
  • Jon also met Michael Fertik, founder of Reputation.com, and arranged him to help Lindsey Stone to a new reputation. Although, I searched “Lindsey Stone” today, and the first picture that came up was still the one where she’s giving the middle finger in front of the national cemetery.

I find this book and the topic of public shaming more and more concerning since this COVID started in 2020. The Central Park Birdwatching Incident with Amy Cooper now has its own Wikipedia page. People judge others by whether they wear masks in public about their political stance and their moral characters. People getting fired from posting “fake news” on their Facebook pages at work. It feels like a more hostile environment where people judge others by their tweets. From one tweet of 280 characters, people quickly make a snap judgment of others and decide you are either for me or against me. If you are against me, then we pile up like in a vicious dog fight, to tear this person apart to show our disapproval, distaste, disagreement on their views. 

People losing their jobs, marriages, career, the will to live, and lives because of public shaming. Do they deserve all that? Perhaps not. Maybe it’s not our place to pass on that heavy judgment to our fellow humans.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book.

It felt like we were soldiers making war on other people’s flaws, and there had suddenly been an escalation in hostilities.

It turns out that the concept of group madness was the creation of a nineteenth-century French doctor called Gustave LeBon.

His idea was that humans totally lose control of their behavior in a crowd. Our free will evaporates. A contagious madness takes over, a complete lack of restraint. We can’t stop ourselves. So we riot, or we jubilantly tear down Justine Sacco.

We have always had some influence over the justice system but for the first time in 180 years – since the stocks and the pillory were outlawed – we have the power to determine the severity of some punishment.

I suddenly feel with social media like I’m tiptoeing around an unpredictable, angry, unbalanced parent who might strike out at any moment.

We are defining the boundaries of normality by tearing apart the people outside it.

Pre-suasion by Robert Cialdini

This book asserts that our choices of what to say or do immediately before making an appeal significantly affects its persuasive success. It reminds me largely of Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. You know when a book is written by a professor because more than 1/3 of this book is references.

The alarm system sales guy asks couples to take the fire safety quiz prior to selling them the alarm systems. He intentionally forgets his book in the car and says “I forgot something important in my car, and need to get it. I don’t want to interrupt the test; so would you mind if I let myself out and back into your home?”

  • Who do you let walk in and out of your house on their own? Someone you trust. The salesman wanted to be associated with trust in those families minds.

Single cutting questions can get you both to mistake and misstate your position. For example: How satisfied are. you with the brand? (Single chuting) vs. how satisfied OR dissatisfied are you with the brand? (Two-sided, and more objective results)

Framing questions:

  • Are you a helpful person? to get people to agree to help you.
  • Are you adventurous enough to consider a revolutionary model of influence? to get people to try something that’s out there.

Of course, to be fair, it must be acknowledged that experienced and discerning users are unlikely to be fooled by the offers they receive electronically. I, for instance, have been flattered to learn through repeated internet messages that many Ukrainian virgin prostitutes want to meet me; if that can’t be arranged, they can get me an outstanding deal on reconditioned printer cartridges. Notwithstanding this particular exception, we’d be well advised to regard the authenticity of such solicitation skeptically.

Using the word “you” instead of “they” help predispose your audience toward a full consideration of that strong case before they see or hear it.

On a task that we feel committed to performing, we will remember all sorts of elements of it better if we have not yet had the chance to finish because our attention will remain drawn to it. If pulled away, we will feel discomforting, gnawing desire to get back to it. This reflects a craving for cognitive closure.

Robert argues that because of the desire above, some of the readers actually purposefully not finish their sentences while writing to keep the desire to draw them back to writing. I am not sure how much of this would work on me, because I feel that I’ll just forget about writing altogether. 

Robert also encountered a healthcare company that refuses to use aggressive words. This helps the company and its employees to better comply with their ethics of being helpful and non-combative.

  • bullet points = information points
  • attack the problem = approach the problem
  • business target = business goal
  • beat our competitors = outpace our competitors
  • This is silly = this is interesting

I find this very helpful as changing words changes how people perceive and feel about the issue, and ultimately one would be able to convince others to jump on board with them. This is similar to using metaphors to invite feelings into the conversation below.

Running obstacles and fatigues are called “hitting a wall” because it feels like physically hitting a wall when you are suddenly tired and cannot seem to muster up the courage to finish the rest of the race.

Describing the crime as “a ravaging beast” helped politicians win over their constituents in the topics of strong policies on crime prevention.

Weight & heaviness in the English language is associated with seriousness. Next time go into the interview with a heavy-looking clipboard as opposed to a light/cheap one assumes importance and your seriousness.

Other word replacement like this:

  • used => preowned
  • final destination => destination
  • terminal => gate

People who learn they have a birthday, birthplace, first name in common come to like each other more. Find something in common with the person you are talking to helps them like you more.

Study of happiness by Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky:

  1. Count your blessings & gratitude at the start of your day, write them down.
  2. Cultivating optimism by choosing beforehand to look on the bright side of the situation.
  3. Negate the negative by deliberately limiting time spent dwelling on problems or on unhealthy comparisons with others.

Tips on taking exams: don’t cram the last minutes with the study. Use the time to consciously calm fears & simultaneously build confidence.

Fun fact: infomercials are late at night because viewers don’t have the mental energy to resist the ad’s emotional triggers (likeable hosts, enthusiastic studio audiences, dwindling supplies, and so on.)

  • If you want to sell someone a box of expensive chocolate => ask them to write down numbers that are much larger than the price of the chocolates.
  • If you want to sell someone a bottle of French wine => play some French background music.
  • If you want someone to agree to try untested products => ask them whether they consider themselves adventurous.
  • If you want someone to feel warm towards you => hand them a hot drink.
  • If you want someone to be more helpful => show them photos of individuals standing close to each other.
  • If you want someone to be more achievement-oriented => show them an image of a runner winning a race.

Interesting ethics experiment results:

  • The more unethical the climate (work environment), the poorer the worker’s job performance. 
  • The more unethical the climate, the more stress they felt at work
  • That particular stress caused their poor performance.

Economically centered pitch to business leaders against unethical activities:

  1. Strike one: Employee turnovers. Estimates of direct expenses associated with turnover (severance pay, recruitment, hiring, and training of the replacement) can extend from 50% of the annual compensation package to 200% of the total package for executive-level positions. The average voluntary turnover in the U.S. is about 15% a year. Even at 10% of workers (average of $40k a year) will make $4 million every year in turnover costs. When asked if the employee would change teams and stay with the company, 51% elected to stay but change teams in an ethical group, and 80% elected to leave in an unethical group.
  2. Strike two: employee fraud and malfeasance. 
  3. Strike three: leaders of the organization need to believe in ethical behaviors in order to make this work.

Win Bigly by Scott Adams

Some of the stuff I feel like it’s telling the story afterward, like saying Trump’s slogan was great, and none of Hilary Clinton’s stuck with the voters. There is probably a good amount of truth in this, but it feels over-analyzed.

I wanted to read this book because I really liked Scott Adams and his other book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, however, I did not enjoy the read. I still summarized the persuasion tips below and think many of them are helpful.

  • Persuasion tip #1: When you identify as part of a group, your opinions tend to be biased toward the group consensus.
  • #2: Humans are hardwired to reciprocate favors. If you want someone’s cooperation in the future, do something for that person today.
  • #3: Persuasion is effective even when the subject recognizes the technique.
  • #4: The things that you think about the most will irrationally rise in importance in your mind.
  • #5: An intentional “error” in the details of your message will attract criticism. The attention will make your message rise in importance – at least in people’s minds- simply because everyone is talking about it.
  • #6: If you are not a Master Persuader running for president, find the sweet spot between apologizing too much, which signals a lack of confidence, and never apologizing for anything, which makes you look like a sociopath.
  • #7: It is easy to fit completely different explanations to the observed facts. Don’t trust any interpretation of reality that isn’t able to predict.
  • #8: People are more influenced by the direction of things than the current state of things.
  • #9: Display confidence [either real or faked] to improve your persuasiveness. You have to believe yourself, or at least appear as if you do, in order to get anyone else to believe.
  • #10: Persuasion is strongest when the messenger is credible.
  • #11: Guess what people are thinking-at the very moment they think it-and call it out. If you are right, the subject bonds to you for being like-minded.
  • #12: If you want the audience to embrace your content, leave out any detail that is both unimportant and would give people a reason to think, That’s not me. Design into your content enough blank spaces so people can fill them in with whatever makes them happiest.
  • #13: Use the High-Ground Maneuver to frame yourself as the wise adult in the room. It forces others to join you or be framed as the small thinkers.
    • Pundit 1: your side didn’t do enough to end street violence.
    • Pundit 2: I agree. Luckily we have learned a lot since then. A number of cities experimented with different approaches and some worked better than others. Let’s try to find the best practices and see if we can spread them to other cities.
  • #14: When you attack a person’s belief, the person under attack is more likely to harden his belief than to abandon it, even if your argument is airtight.
  • #15: Studies say humans more easily get addicted to unpredictable rewards than they do predictable rewards.
  • #20: People are more persuaded by contrast than by facts or reason. Choose your contrasts wisely.
  • #21: When you associate any two ideas or images, people’s emotional reaction to them will start to merge over time.
    • if you want to make a good impression, don’t jokingly complain about the traffic on the way over. Try to work into the initial conversation with some positive thoughts and images. If your positivity has some visual imagery, that’s even better.
    • Another easy way to influence yourself by association is to decorate your living space in a way that you find emotionally pleasing.
  • #22: People automatically get used to minor annoyances over time.
  • #23: What you say is important, but it is never as important as what people think you are thinking.
  • The things that you think about the most will irrationally rise in importance in your mind.
  • Humans think they are rational, and they think they understand their reality. But they are wrong on both counts.
  • The McGurk Effect.
  • Confirmation Bias: People don’t change opinions about emotional topics just because some information proved their opinion to be nonsense. Confirmation bias is one of the many reasons you should not solely rely on past experience to predict the future.

A Dry White Season by Andre Brink

Apartheid Museum tickets gives you assigned race/color of skin
  • How much I’d Recommend: 9/10
  • Date finished: 5/20/20
  • A Dry White Season, recommend borrowing from your local library

I picked up this book before I went to South Africa in 2018 but I only finished it yesterday. I wish I had read it before going to Johannesburg (“Jo’burg”) to visit the Apartheid Museum and Nelson Mandela’s house in Soweto (Township in Jo’burg).

It was a book that’s hard to put down. It’s not a happy ending sort of book. Of course, you know that from the start. This book reminds me of others alike. They are such unpleasant truth about our history that we try everyday to turn a blind-eye to, like To Kill a Mockingbird. Even though it’s a fiction, just like To Kill a Mockingbird, it is undeniably a glimpse into the horrific and startling history of South Africa’s Apartheid period.

Quotes from the book:

  • “I know, lanie.” His voice sounded almost soothing. “But you still believe in miracles. I don’t.”
  • “Don’t you think I know what it feels like? Waiting and waiting: as if life is an investment in a bank somewhere, a safe deposit which will be paid out to you one day, a fortune. And then you open your eyes and you discover that life is no more than the small change you’ve got in your back pocket today.”
  • “What I think, Dominee, is that once in one’s life, just once, one should have enough faith in something to risk everything for it.”
  • “Aren’t you afraid, Sis Emily?” the old priest reproached her. She shook her head. “No. In the end one grows tired of being afraid,” she said.
  • “Not an easy road you’ve chosen,” he commented.

“I have no choice.”

“Of course you  have a choice, damn it. One always has a choice. Don’t fool yourself. Only be thankful you made the choice you did.”

  • Perhaps all one can really hope for, all I am entitled to, is no more than this: to write it down. To report what I know. So that it will not be possible for any man ever to say again: I knew nothing about it.

This also reminds me the Introduction written by Howard Jacobson for Primo Levi‘s book If This Is a Man, a documentary of his experience in the concentration camp.

Strong though the words, they are still weak before the will to deny or forget.

Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin

  • How much I’d Recommend: 10/10
  • Date finished: 12/31/19
  • Your Money or Your Life: recommend borrowing from your local library – everyone should read it as soon as possible.

If you don’t like reading all that much, here’s an easier route. Listen to this almost-TED talk given by one of my favorite Financial Independent “accidental-financial-advisor” Mr. Money Mustache. 

Everyone is bad at finances, until they spend the time and put in the hours to learn it. It’s not very hard to learn, you just have to be vigilant about your spending, and put every extra penny you find into an index fund. Ok Vicki does a way better job explaining this in her book.

Some of my friends are not ready to read this book. Others have already sworn by blood that they shall live consciously about their spending. So maybe when you are reading this blog, you are not ready yet. That’s totally ok. Once you are ready, if you are in the future, you can check out this book.

The reason I highly recommend this book yet still encourages you to borrow it from the library is to avoid the paradox of paying for a book that’s suppose to ask you to save money. Otherwise, I’d say, everyone should have a copy and read it like the bible because YOU ARE SELLING YOUR LIFE for money, every single minute that you work. 

Some people may say, well I love my work. I became a doctor because I love saving peoples’ lives or whatever. Of course, these altruistic values are absolutely admirable. But you’d be an EVEN better doctor when you don’t need that money (and you know for a fact you don’t need it). 

Your Money or Your Life details the entire course of resetting your relationship with money in 9 steps. Personally, I feel the last few chapters kind of blended in together. Here are my simpler version of the steps; let’s see how many steps I can make after drinking Mr. CodeJunkie’s homemade ginger mead.


Step 1: make peace with the past

Emotionally: acknowledging everyone probably has made financial mistakes in the past.

Financially: Figure out how much you have earned in your entire life. Use social security website to log in / register to find out what was reported if you are usually a w-2’er. You will find shockingly you’ve earned so much, and saved so little.


Step 2: figure out your actual hourly wages

Take your take home salary (after tax and deductions), minus all the work related expenses (gas, wardrobe, gifts for coworkers, eating out with coworkers), and use this net amount, divide by the hours spent related to work to calculate your ACTUAL hourly rate, including:

  • actual working hours
  • commute
  • hours to unwind and decompress at home
  • hours feeling tired because of work
  • hours working out to combat stress at work
  • hours taking for vacation to relax from work

This will shock you. This is why Vicki is explaining that you are exchanging your life energy for money.


Step 3: set up expense tracking for EVERY SINGLE PENNY

You can do this pretty easily these days with online apps if you mostly use credit cards / debit cards. Most people recommend Personal Capital. I find it more user friendly than Mint, but since I am an accountant, I still use my own fancy google sheet for my expenses. You can find my learnings from tracking my expenses here.


Step 4: Invest all your extra money in a low cost index fund.

Here’s a few to start. Pick one, stick to it, and don’t sell until retirement. Ok this isn’t exactly what the book was recommending, but a summary of many many financial independent podcasts, years of reading Mr. Money Mustache. Or you can always just open a Betterment account, here’s why.

  • VTI – vanguard total market
  • FSKAX – Fidelity total market
  • SWTSX – Schwab total market

Sapiens by Yuval Harari

  • Date read: April 2020.
  • How strongly I recommend: 10/10. 
  • SapiensRecommend having a copy, and read every year.

This is such a great summary of human history from the start. At the same time, Yuval addresses some of THE BIGGEST problems we face today: religion, war, consumerism, nationalism, and so much more.

Granted, he is probably a bit depressed giving the overview of the entire human history, seeing a lot of its brilliance, but also its faults, and unavoidable stupidities. See this fun interview of him by Dan Ariely here after his second book Homo Deus was published. He argues that science is about control (e.g., being able to control nature, our health, death, etc.), and religion is about order.

This book is so well written. It would be ironic and almost impossible to make a summary of a book about the entirety of human kind. Here are some quotes I love.

That spectacular leap from the middle to the top [of the food chain] had enormous consequences. Other animals at the top of the pyramid, such as lions and sharks, evolved into that position very gradually, over millions of years. This enabled the ecosystem to develop checks and balances that prevent lions and sharks from wreaking too much havoc. As lions became deadlier, so gazelles evolved to run faster, hyenas to cooperate better, and rhinoceroses to be more bad-tempered. In contrast, humankind ascended to the top so quickly that the ecosystem was not given time to adjust. Moreover, humans themselves failed to adjust. Most top predators of the planet are majestic creatures. Millions of years of dominion have filled them with self-confidence. Sapiens by contrast is more like a banana republic dictator. Having so recently been one of the underdogs of the savannah, we are full of fears and anxieties over our position, which makes us doubly cruel and dangerous. Many historical calamities, from deadly wars to ecological catastrophes, have resulted from this over-hasty jump.

How many young college graduates have taken demanding jobs in high-powered firms, vowing that they will work hard to earn money that will enable them to retire and pursue their real interests when they are thirty-five? But by the time they reach that age, they have large mortgages, children to school, houses in the suburbs that necessitate at least two cars per family, and a sense that life is not worth living without really good wine and expensive holidays abroad. What are they supposed to do, go back to digging up roots? No, they double their efforts and keep slaving away.