a: capable of withstanding shock without permanent deformation or rupture

b: tending to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change

Definition from Merriam-Webster:


Being resilient is so critical but telling someone that one needs to be resilient is the most useless thing ever! If you google "how to be more resilient", more likely, you won't find anything you don't already know... It's a daily challenge for me to be resilient, but I often find more inspirations from things that are on the surface so distant from the very topic "resiliency".

Then, I wonder, what if I can do a better job than Google to help myself and maybe a few other in this world to be a little more resilient, and thus feeling a little bit better? And maybe, perhaps, little by little, with the compounding power, the world gets beyond a little bit better?

Deep Work

Date posted: May 4th, 2021

Today's review is not on a book but on a NYTimes article by one of my favorite authors Adam Grant.

"Deep Work" by Cal Newport

  1. What I learned from this book to write on my white board?

"Your goal is not to stick to a given schedule at all costs; it's instead to maintain, at all times, a thoughtful say in what you're doing with your time going forward - even if these decisions are reworked again and again as they day unfolds. "

  1. What helped me to be a little bit more resilient?

Having a shut-down ritual

The Zeigarnik effect

  1. Well-known people/Event I did not know:

  1. So counter-intuitive!

  1. What is one thing I can do to act on what I learned from this book right away?

Date posted: April 13, 2021

"Digital Gold" by Nathaniel Popper

  1. What I learned from this book to write on my white board?

I'm taking a very different approach this time. Instead of picking a direct quote, I found myself citing myself repeatedly while reading this book, "None of the major players included in this book is female."

  1. What helped me to be a little bit more resilient?

This book is non-fiction, but it is more fiction (thriller + sci-fi) -like than many fiction books. If I may adopt some oversimplification, I would like to list two points:

1) The simple fact that a decentralized currency backed by the blockchain technology is now a reality;

2) There are so many unknowns that can be known in non-costly ways such as reading a book.

  1. Well-known people/Event I did not know:

The majority of the characters introduced in this book are people I did not know before reading this book. If I must name one person, then it has to be Satoshi Nakamoto. Nobody knows his real identify. Here's the link to his well-known white paper "Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System". It is written as an academic paper, but a very well-written that a layperson can easily grasp the general idea behind it. I think this is an exemplar case where the writing was done to serve clearly-defined objectives and based on methodological rigor and sound logic.

  1. So counter-intuitive!

This book only included the history of the bitcoin from late 2008 to 2015. I kept wondering if I lived in the same period with these events. How come I almost completely missed out on these developments? What I did or did not do may have prevented me from getting to know these events/info?

  1. What is one thing I can do to act on what I learned from this book right away?

No, I am not going to share if I bought bitcoins or if I can share my opinion on this. I see a huge void of knowledge that I need to

I wanted to learn so much more about this fascinating decentralized global digital currency, "bitcoin". I'm now reading "The Bitcoin Standard" by Saifedean Ammous.

Date posted: April 11, 2021

"Atomic Habits" by James Clear

  1. What I learned from this book to write on my white board?

"Incentives can start a habit. Identity sustains a habit."

"By combining your skills, you reduce the level of competition."

"Small habits don't add up. They compound."

"Keep you identify small."

  1. What helped me to be a little bit more resilient?

This books shares lots of insights with "The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg. What struck me most is something the author discussed in the chapter called "The Downside of Creating Good Habits". The world is constantly changing, which requires us to constantly adapt. Unavoidably, we may face a situation where some of habits or part of our identities may not sustain due to external reasons. COVID-19 might be one of the most overwhelmingly shared example of such an unanticipated drastic change that we all need to face. Some of us may define us as travelers or world explorers, which can be one of the most important identities to us that we are forced to forego at least temporarily. If we cling too tightly to any single identity, we become fragile.

The author recommended us to redefine our identify such that we get to retain the critical aspects of my identity even if the particular role changes. So rather than defining myself as a "traveler", I can try to find the important features of being traveler, such as being curious and open-minded, and enjoying the fun of learning new things. As such, I can find other things to fulfill these important things to me even if I cannot travel easily via a plane ride these days.

  1. Well-known people/Event I did not know:

Twyla Tharp, one of the greatest dancers and choreographers of modern era. The author introduced that Ms. Tharp keeps this habit of getting up at 5:30 am and hailing a taxi to the gym to work out for two hours every single day. She is now 79. The secret of keeping up a seemingly challenging habit is to really harness the decisive moment, a.k.a. the entry action. In Ms. Tharp's case, the entry action is "hailing a taxi" so that everything else can just easily follow through. This is another example supporting that "showing up".

A PBS documentary called Twyla Moves premiered just a few weeks ago!

  1. So counter-intuitive!

"Distraction is a good thing because you need distractions to practice meditation." This simple sentence empowers me so much when I face distractions. Instead of trying to use my willpower to stay away from any distractions, I can now treat them as a helpful "training buddy".

  1. What is one thing I can do to act on what I learned from this book right away?

Now I adopt the principle to also assign a physical location designated for reading. Specificity really matters. I now try to write down on my to-do list, 1) the name of the task, 2) the time the task needs to be completed, and 3) the location the task needs to be completed.

Date posted: Feb 28, 2021

"A Mind for Numbers" by Dr. Barbara Oakley

  1. What I learned from this book to write on my white board?

"The Law of Serendipity: Lady Luck favors the one who tries. "

  1. What helped me to be a little bit more resilient?

Types of relevant setbacks: The fear of learning anything new. Procrastination.

The brain has two working modes: the focused mode and the diffuse mode. Sometimes, the brain doesn't just stop working on the problem that you were intensely focusing on if you decide to take a break to do something else such as taking a walk or sleeping.

It is actually quite important for us to activate the diffuse mode of the brain by not stubbornly focusing on the problem we need to solve. Sometimes, it can be a wonderful sign to get confused and do something else before returning. A lot of people gain new insights after the break (the time we allow our brain to get into the diffuse mode).

Procrastination represents our tendency to choose instant gratification such as browsing a website mindlessly or grabbing a snack. It can be dangerous if we constantly allow the same type of behavior to happen over and over again so that it becomes a permanent habit without us even consciously realizing it. It is recommended that timed intervals separated with short breaks can be a good practice to develop a new habit to replace procrastination.

Dr. Oakley also referenced several times the book "The Power of Habit".

  1. Well-known people/Event I did not know:

Santiago Ramón y Cajal, also known as the father of modern neuroscience, won the Nobel Prize for Physiology. Santiago however did not do well at all when he was in school to start with. He was infamous for his lack of discipline as a boy. He also had a super strong passion for drawing and developed exceptional abilities to convert visual images into sketches, which helped him uncover many scientific discoveries.

  1. So counter-intuitive!

One of the practical advice offered in the book is to write down a daily to-do list the night before so that your brain may process it during your sleep!

  1. What is one thing I can do to act on what I learned from this book right away?

I've started to use the Pomodoro method to use 25-minute intervals to have better focused work time. I use this site:

The Power of Habit

Date posted: Feb 21, 2021

"The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg

  1. What I learned from this book to write on my white board?

The habit loop: Cue --> Routine --> Reward

With enough repetitions of the same loop, a habit forms and it will never be removed our the brain. However, by understanding the key components of the habit loop, we can get better at creating new habits to replace "bad" old habits.

  1. What helped me to be a little bit more resilient?

Types of relevant setbacks: It could be any habits we would like to form or change. For example, I may have wanted to start a new exercise routine to run every day but failed to do so.

1) Awareness alone is of paramount importance

Before reading this book, I often associate "changing a habit" with "strong willpower". I did not realize how our amazingly power brain can store habits in the basal ganglia part of the brain to bypass a trip to the prefrontal lobe area so that everything can be achieved with the utmost automation with as little energy needed as possible. Therefore, habits are automatic sequences without much of any active decision-making involved. The very reason that a habit loop can be so efficient is one of the root reasons why it is hard for us to de-activate an existing habit.

A habit includes not only the "routine" part that we either want to keep or discard, but also their accompanying triggers and follow-up rewards. So now when I want to change a habit, I need to actively look for the relevant cues and rewards associated with this habit and experiment with difference replacement cues and/or rewards to, in addition to the plain "willpower" to counteract the routine part.

2) A Keystone habit

This is not a new concept that one small positive change in one's life can trigger a series of other related positive changes. It is refreshing though, to learn how Duhigg unpack this common theory in light of the habit loop. A keystone habit, a small change in our daily routine, such as jogging for 15 minutes, may eventually help us develop an additional collection of healthy habits such as eating less sugary food, going to bed earlier. This can be fairly cost-effective since that we may only need to invest in the process of consciously deploying and developing the first keystone habit, and 10 other healthy habits may just form unconsciously/naturally without a seed fund.

3) Handle moments of adversity

Willpower can become a habit! It is very enlightening in the chapter where the habits of organizations were introduced and "willpower" was spotlighted as one distinct type of habit. This chapter included a riveting story on how Starbucks developed a thorough employee training plan (including detailed instructions on how to properly react to angry customers) to enable an automatic habit so that willpower becomes automatic. First we have to learn that we all have a limited amount of willpower reserved each day and there are situations when we have less willpower left, such as after a long day at work. However, the situations that require us to exert a great amount willpower will not just benevolently choose to happen when we are most ready. Reality taught us that we often need a lot of willpower when have least amount left.

In order to prepare to respond to challenging situations where we don't have enough willpower to exert, it is better to develop a willpower habit so that it requires less of an active efforts and we can automatically operate it when we need it. Starbucks developed detailed instructions for its employees to achieve this automation. I believe there are plenty of opportunities to design this kind of instructions of individuals as well, especially when we are faced with recurring challenges in our lives.

  1. Well-known people/Event I did not know:

The Hit Song "Hey Ya!" and how it became a hit song.

Duhigg introduced this fascinating on how "Hey Ya", a song with key features of a hit song and supported by music executives didn't become a hit song immediately. It is revealed that radio listeners tend to favor familiar songs (new or old) when it come to making the decision to switch the channel or not. Since at the time of the release of "Hey Ya!", it did not resemble any existing hit songs so that it is harder for listeners to accept it right away. The strategy used was to sandwich the new song in between two existing hit songs and repeat the patterns multiple times to help listeners develop a new "habit" to accepting new auditory patterns in between familiar ones until the new pattern also becomes a familiar. And Voila, a new hit song.

  1. So counter-intuitive!

It's fascinating how companies like Target can use data to probe into consumer habits while consumers are not aware of them. Here's a link to the NYTimes article written by Duhigg with more details on the Target story: How Companies Learn Your Secrets.

Why do we always see fruits at the entrance of supermarkets!? I never thought about this question, yet this is so true. One study referenced in this book talks about how we, as supermarket goers, tend to be more likely to grab junk food after we put some healthy food in the basket. Hence, we now are greeted with healthy fruits and veggies first so that we will be primed to feel more OK to buy junk food...

  1. What is one thing I can do to act on what I learned from this book right away?

I will change my route when I enter a supermarket. I'll go for the snacks session first and end with the fresh vegetables. I'll experiment to see if I'm more likely to put the snack back to the shelf following this new routine.

Date posted: Feb 14, 2021

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a specialized world by David Epstein

  1. What I learned from this book to write on my white board?

"First Act and then Think!"

"Be a scientist of myself!"

"Test-and-learn, not plan-and-implement.'

  1. What helped me to be a little bit more resilient?

Types relevant of setbacks: Switched careers a few times, being older than your peers, not being a specialist of anything.

We often talk about being resilient after a specific event or context such as COVID-19, when we are most likely to search "how to be more resilient". However, there are many different types of challenges and setbacks that are perennial and hard for us to consciously recognize and reflect upon. Epstein introduced numerous stories of successful people from all walks of lives that did not specialize early in their lives and they dabbled in many different fields before creating something innovative and impactful. So one type of chronic challenge or setback that surfaces pretty often in our lives are the fear of being older and not successful in anything particular yet.

I find myself (and perhaps a lot more people as I think I'm not that unique) rushing to the Wikipedia page of any "famous" person I newly encountered (TV shows, articles, etc.) and jump at their birth years... and calculate their ages. This has gotten so often and habitual and I don't realize I was doing this calculation. My point is that we probably can't stop comparing ourselves with others and we may not need to quit this habit, but it is critical to realize that being older is not a perfect reason to not try and that there are many advantages you ought to celebrate.

It is remarkable to learn that many successful people including Roger Federer, Van Gogh, and Tu Youyou did not specialize early in their lives in a narrow field.

  1. Well-known I did not know:

Frances Hesselbein: The former CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA. Hesselbein is now 104 years old. She has switched her careers many times and become a great role model who excels at testing and learning.

  1. So counter-intuitive!

Van Gogh passed away at the age of 37! Somehow I always had this impression that Van Gogh was at least over 50 with his famous self-portraits.

Tu youyou, the first Chinese national to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, did not have a doctoral degree and did not receive oversees medical training. Tu made great contribution at developing a cure to malaria which she found inspiration from reading a fourth century medical text written by a Chinese Alchemist then.

  1. What is one thing I can do to act on what I learned from this book right away?

I started writing this blog post! I'll keep my habits of reading books in many different genres. I already enjoy seeing similar patterns emerge across different books.