All posts by jtxu2008

I enjoy writing about my life and what I observe around me. Creativity, passion, and fun are what I aim for the most.

Why We Do What We Do

What makes the difference in the quality of people’s lives?  How do you make a change?  What is it that shapes us?

So many people fail to do what they want to do, and they blame it on so many things: financial issues, lack of training, social or family issues, even lack of motivation. It seems like only the super-gifted and talented people become what they want to be; we don’t know why we can’t achieve what we want to achieve, it seems.

People like Tony Robbins are not just here to just motivate people, their job is to find out why people do what they do.

In this TED talk from the legendary man himself, Robbins explains everything he knows about how to help people accomplish their dreams and aspirations.





The Art of Stillness

Sometimes we are all so caught up in our own business; sometimes we feel like we are so ‘busy’, like we have so many things to do. Sometimes we simply feel like we have no time to do what we really want to do. Indeed, I sometimes experience this same predicament. ‘If only I had more time.’ I keep telling myself. Hours and even days go by and I wish I had them back, feeling like my seconds are ticking away. We all want to do great things, like traveling the world, or writing a novel, or becoming famous, or changing lives. This world puts a lot of expectations on our backs. But, ironically, the place that travel writer Pico Iyer would want to go to is… nowhere.

Pico Iyer is the author of the book The Art of Stillness, and he talks about his story in TED talks, like this one below.

In a world where everything is happening and people want to do everything, I take some time to just do nothing but think. It’s a cathartic experience; taking a break from the world helps you come back to your senses and set your mind back on track. Spending just 5-15 minutes just being separate from EVERYTHING, is a very powerful act. It’s not very easy to explain here, so I recommend you try it for yourself. Pico Iyer is a much better speaker than I am, so take his word for it.

True Underdog

I’m certain a multitude of you are familiar with the story of David and Goliath. Here’s an excerpt from a source which I will explain later:

“At the heart of ancient Palestine is the region known as the Shephelah, a series of ridges and valleys connecting the Judaean Mountains to the east with the wide, flat expanse of the Mediterranean plain. It is an area of breathtaking beauty, home to vineyards and wheat fields and forests of sycamore and terebinth. It is also of great strategic importance.

Over the centuries, numerous battles have been fought for control of the region because the valleys rising from the Mediterranenean plain offer those on the coast a clear path to the cities of Hebron, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem in the Judadean highlands. The most important valley is Aijalon, in the north. But the most storied is the Elah. The Elah was where Saladin faced off against the Knights of the Crusades in the twelfth century. It played a central role in the Maccabean wars with Syria more than a thousand years before that, and, most famously, during the days of the Old Testament, it was where the fledgling Kingdom of Israel squared off against the armies of the Philistines.

The Philistines were from Crete. They were a seafaring people who had moved to Palestine and settled along the coast. The Israelites were clustered in the mountains, under the leadership of King Saul. In the second half of the eleventh century BCE, the Philistines began moving east, winding their way upstream along the floor of the Elah Valley. Their goal was to capture the mountain ridge near Bethlehem and split Saul’s kingdom in two. The Philistines were battle-tested and dangerous, and the sworn enemies of the Israelites. Alarmed, Saul gathered his men and hastened down from the mountains to confront them.

The Philistines set up camp along the southern ridge of the Elah. The Israelites pitched their tents on the other side, along the northern ridge, which left the two armies looking across the ravine at each other. Neither dared to move. To attack meant descending down the hill and then making a suicidal climb up the enemy’s ridge on the other side. Finally, the Philistines had enough. They sent their greatest warrior down into the valley to resolve the deadlock one on one.

He was a giant, six foot nine at least, wearing a bronze helmet and full body armor. He carried a javelin, a spear, and a sword. An attendant preceded him, carrying a large shield. The giant faced the Israelites and shouted out: ‘Choose you a man and let him come down to me! If he prevail in battle against me and strike me down, we shall be slaves to you. But if I prevail and strike him down, you will be slaves to us and serve us.

In the Israelite camp, no one moved. Who could win against such a terrifying opponent? Then, a shepherd boy who had come down from Bethlehem to bring food to his brothers stepped forward and volunteered. Saul objected: ‘You cannot go against this Philistine to do battle with him, for you are a lad and he is a man of war from his youth.’ But the shepherd was adamant. He had faced more ferocious opponents than this, he argued. ‘When the lion or the bear would come and carry off a sheep from the herd,’ he told Saul, ‘I would go after him and strike him down and rescue it from his clutches.’ Saul had no other options. He relented, and the shepherd boy ran down the hill toward the giant standing in the valley. ‘Come to me, that I may give your flesh to the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the field,’ the giant cried out when he saw his opponent approach. Thus began one of history’s most famous battles. The giant’s name was Goliath. The shepherd boy’s name was David.”

This was how it all began. A battle between two seemingly polar opposites in terms of strength, power, might, and skill. You have Goliath, an absolute giant who was trained to fight from birth, and then you have David, a young shepherd boy (which was one of the lowest occupations back then) who claims that he killed lions and wolves. Who do you think would win?

Here’s how it all played out. Goliath was offended when he saw David walk down the hill, looking at his staff and saying, “Am I a dog, that you should come to me with sticks?” While the giant was mocking him, David took a stone and put it into the leather poach of a a sling, and fires the rock at Goliath’s forehead. Boom. The stone hit him square in the head, making him fall unconscious. David then “runs toward him, seizes the giant’s sword, and cuts off his head.” The Philistines were so afraid that “their warrior was dead, and they fled.”

How is this all possible? How could a shepherd boy who couldn’t have weighed more than 150 pounds take on a brute of a man with spears and swords and armor that probably weighed more than David himself? This type of story is what popular culture likes to call “an underdog story” – a battle that was won by someone who shouldn’t have won at all. This is how I interpreted this story, but as Malcolm Gladwell states in his new book David and Goliath, we all got the story wrong.

Since this is Gladwell’s book, I feel he deserves the honor of explaining how we all messed up the legendary story of David and Goliath. Here is a video of Gladwell speaking at a TED talk, where he tells the story perfectly.

The Sound of Silence

“The Sound of Silence” is a song written by Paul Simon and recorded by the American folk-rock music duo Simon and Garfunkel. Paul Simon himself stated that this song was about people’s lack of ability to communicate freely, and that people are oppressed into silence. The song speaks of the need to come to grips with reality and that when meaningful communication fails, the only thing that remains is silence.

The general essence of the song goes as follows: A man meditates on a vision that has been troubling him. The vision was about people idolizing celebrity, wealth, and possessions and worshipping the materialism/consumerism and fake culture that everyone lived in but did nothing about; a shallow, culturally bankrupt society that crushes a more beautiful, simple world.

People are afraid to speak up, and so remain silent. Besides, no one is listening anyways, so “the cancer grows”, as everyone lives in ignorance, complacency, conformity, and submission, completely powerless against the fakeness and absurdity of what they are doing.  One stanza that is very profound includes the lines: “

People talking without speaking,

People hearing without listening,

People writing songs that voices never share

And no one dared

Disturb the sound of silence.”


The word ”dared” implies that the people knew of the absurdity of what they were doing yet still refused to speak up, and instead resorted to remaining silent. Later in the song, even when the narrator tries to reprimand and lecture the people of their ways, his words fell like “silent raindrops”, and the people continued to blindly worship their “neon god”. The narrator himself eventually settles into helplessness and grief, as he watches the people fall to their doom.

The entire song is laced with negative words, like “darkness”, “cold”, “damp”, “stabbed”, “naked”, “disturb”, “fools”, “cancer”, “silent raindrops”, “wells”, ”warning”, so that just listening to the song makes one experience the sense of loneliness and gloominess, the kind that someone feels when he/she gives up hope on the people around, when the end, the conclusion, is drawing near. For me, this song perfectly compiles all of my feelings about the absurdity that this world can have sometimes.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”  —-Martin Luther King.

This is the sound of silence. The oppression that is accepted, not fought.

That’s What It Takes

The book Outliers by Malcolm is a real treasure. This book just takes your past knowledge of the world and just warps it, flips it upside-down, and cuts it in half. It’s amazing how many misconceptions we can have of the world. Yet we lived in it for thousands of years, I feel like we are understanding it less and less… However, just in case some people want to be informed, I’ve read the book, processed the information, and am now regurgitating it for your reading pleasure or for your intellectual curiosity.

Once again, success is not all about individual traits! We all wonder, ‘Is there such thing as innate talent?’ Of course there is! But it’s not about how ‘smart’ you are or how ‘talented’ you are! I know it’s hard to understand, but it’s true! Your environment and all the factors around you decide first. In Outliers, it is mentioned that birth dates are much more important to success than many would think. Now I’m going to debunk the myth of the ‘natural’, a person who breezes the top without working hard.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s chapter ‘The 10,000-hour rule’, he provides an example of a study. The study featured students at Berlin’s elite Academy of Music. There were three groups of violinists: the first were the stars, the second were the “okay” ones, and the third were the “not so good” ones. You might be thinking, ‘The first group must be the one with talent!’. Really? It turns out, by the age of twenty, the elite performers totaled ten thousand hours of practice. The “okay” students totaled eight thousand hours, and the “not so good” students totaled four thousand hours. In fact, there were no “naturals”, people who succeeded without working, nor were there “grinds”, people who work hard, but fall short. It seems that practice really does make perfect. A LOT of practice, that is. The results were then compared to that of pianists. The same pattern emerged. The number 10,000 kept popping up. What’s so special about this number? Why is it that true mastery always seems to be linked with this number?

You all know Mozart, right? Child prodigy, he wrote his own music at the age of six! Many use him as an example to argue against the idea of hard work- that talent reigns supreme. However, it turns out that the earliest pieces by Mozart were mostly written by his father, and his childhood works were not all that original. Mozart’s greatest, finest work came when he wrote pieces for ten years! After his ten thousand hours! In fact, it might be possible that Mozart actually developed late! What?

Two examples of the ten-thousand hour rule: The Beatles and Bill Gates. The Beatles are the unanimous choice for the greatest band in the history of music. They were simply spectacular (I listen to some of their songs today!). Starting from February 1964 to 1970, Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr just TOOK OVER America! But do you want to know how long Lennon and McCartney had been playing together beforehand? Seven years! Even more, their past has some even more secrets. While the Beatles were still in Europe, and not that famous, they performed in Hamburg, Germany. They mostly played in strip clubs, so they got a lot of alcohol and sex, which is probably why they kept going there. The real kicker is this: They played eight hours a day, seven days a week. Holy smokes! That’s essentially performing twelve hundred times in a period of four years. They definitely hit ten-thousand hours by the time they came to America in 1964! 

Bill Gates used to be the President of Microsoft, and is currently the richest man in the world. Everybody knows that he was a good, if not great, programmer, but do they know how long he worked on his craft? Back in the 1960s, it was very difficult to find a computer that wasn’t larger than a full-sized room, but Gates did. In fact, when most people had to use these clunky, slow computers that required cards to execute commands, Bill Gates was about to do real-time programming at THIRTEEN! Over his school career, Gates just kept getting lucky, by getting opportunities to program ALL DAY LONG. He would sneak out of his house at night and just program away, and everybody around him probably wondered how he could have gotten so addicted. By the time he dropped out of Harvard and started Microsoft, he had been programming continuously for seven consecutive years. That’s MUCH more than ten-thousand hours! You know what they say, “You get out what you put in”. And Bill Gates got a lot! Therefore, it was his determination and grit and passion for computers which created his endless wealth.

Sometimes success is not what we always believe it to be.

Broken Windows

What we think we understand about how people and their behavior operate is actually the opposite from the truth. Seems like a rather powerful statement right off the gate, right? Well, it’s important realize that the way people behave/act is less dependent on their “personality” or their “disposition”, but rather on the environment and context in which they are place in.

Let me explain.

Criminologists James Q. Wilson and George Kelling created a theory called the Broken Windows theory. They “argued that crime is the inevitable result of disorder. If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a signal that anything goes. In a city, relatively minor problems like graffiti, public disorder, and aggressive panhandling, they write, are all the equivalent of broken windows, invitations to more serious crimes.” This excerpt is of course from Page 141 of The Tipping Point (The Power of Context (Part One)). This groundbreaking theory perfectly explains why crime could sometimes be “contagious”; it is a series of behaviors and poor decisions that can somehow be passed on through the minds of people and encourage others to partake in illegal activities. The chapter also talks about how the 1980s New York City crime epidemic was solved through a rather counter-intuitive plan. First, a man named David Gunn decided to stop one seemingly unimportant problem: graffiti. He thought that graffiti was an incentive for bad behavior, just like how a broken window can send a message of anarchy to an entire neighborhood. Gunn proceeded to set up a system which ensured that all trains in the New York Transit were completely “reclaimed”. He made sure that if any delinquents sprayed graffiti on the trains, “we’d walk over with rollers and paint it over. The kids would be in tears, but we’d just be going up and down, up and down. It was a message to them. If you want to spend three nights of your time vandalizing a train, fine. But it’s never going to see the light of day.” Why did Gunn do this? ‘Shouldn’t he be focusing on more serious crimes like murder or rape?’ you ask. But the truth is, graffiti basically sends as signal, a small expression of disorder that “allows” others to do even more serious crimes. The next step was to crack down on fare-beating, which means to not pay for using the subway system. Just like graffiti, fare-beating sends a signal to everyone else that “everything goes, no one will stop you”. Another man named William Bratton, who headed the transit police, “put as many as ten policemen in plainclothes at the turnstiles…The idea was to signal, as publicly as possible, that the transit police were now serious about cracking down on fare-beaters.” Cracking down on these small problems ended up turning around everything; the crime rate for New York City dropped tremendously. Thanks to the Broken Window Theory and the Power of Context, we can all feel safe in the New York subway knowing that someone won’t try to mug us.

But how does this apply to us? What does this tell us about how we can live our lives?  According to the Power of Context, our behavior is not affected by “who we are”, but rather “where we are”. For example, anyone, even a murderer, can be kind when everyone is treating him/her in a genial way, but anyone, even a saint, can get pissed off in a long line or in a traffic jam. So why do we characterize people despite the obvious conditions that they are put through? “In one experiment, for instance, a group of people are told to watch two sets of similarly talented basketball players, the first of whom are shooting baskets in a well-lighted gym and the second of whom are shooting baskets in a badly lighted gym (and obviously missing a lot of shots). Then they are asked to judge how good the players were. The players in the well-lighted gym were considered superior…There is something in all of us that makes us instinctively want to explain the world around us in terms of people’s essential attributes: he’s a better basketball player, that person is smarter than I am…The mistake we make in thinking of character as something unified and all-encompassing is very similar to a kind of blind spot in the way we process information. Psychologists call this tendency the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE)…human beings invariably make the mistake of overestimating the importance of the situation and context. We will always reach for a “dispositional” explanation for events, as opposed to a contextual explanation.” Malcolm Gladwell states that character “…isn’t a stable, easily identifiable set of closely related traits, and it only seems that way because of a glitch in the way our brains are organized. Character is more like a bundle of habits and tendencies and interests, loosely bound together and dependent, at certain times, on circumstance and context.” He also talks about himself, saying that “I have a lot of fun at dinner parties. As a result, I throw a lot of dinner parties and my friends see me there and think that I’m fun. But I couldn’t have lots of dinner parties, if my friends instead tended to see me in lots of different situations over which I had little or no control – like, say, faced with four hostile youths in a filthy, broken-down subway – they probably wouldn’t think of me as fun anymore.”

What do I want us all to take away from all this? My main point is that character is not some “essential” trait that we’re all born with and can never change, rather, it is developed through habits and tendencies and can be easily manipulated through the context and situation you are in. So next time you want to judge someone as “mean”, “stupid”, or “weird”, try to imagine yourself in their situation, and you’ll learn to understand.

I want to leave you with one lasting impression which is almost guaranteed to convince you of the Power of Context. “In the early 1970s, a group of social scientists at Stanford University, led by Philip Zimbardo, decided to create a mock prison in the basement of the university’s psychology building…Seventy-five applied, and from those Zimbardo and his colleagues picked the 21 who appeared the most normal and healthy on psychological tests. Half of the group were chosen, at random, to be guards…the other half were told that they were to be prisoners…The purpose of the experiment was to try to find out why prisons are such nasty places. Was it because prisons are full of nasty people, or was it because prisons are such nasty environments that they make people nasty?…The guards, some of whom had previously identified themselves as pacifists, fell quickly into the role of hard-bitten disciplinarians…The guards…stripping them, spraying them with fire extinguishers…’There were times when we were pretty abusive, getting in their faces and yelling at them…It was part of the whole atmosphere of terror.’ …’It was completely the opposite from the way I conduct myself now…I think I was positively creative in terms of my mental cruelty.’ After 36 hours, one prisoner began to get hysterical, and had to be released. Four more then had to be released because of ‘extreme emotional depression, crying, rage, and acute anxiety.’ Zimbardo had originally intended to have the experiment run for two weeks. He called it off after six days….’I began to feel that I was losing my identity…I was 416. I was really my number and 416 was really going to have to decide what to do.’…Zimbardo’s conclusion was that there are specific situations so powerful that they can overwhelm our inherent predispositions. The key word here is situation. Zimbardo isn’t talking about environment, about the major external influences on all of our lives. He’s not denying that how we are raised by our parents affects who we are, or that the kind of schools we went to, the friends we have, or the neighborhoods we live in affect our behavior. All of these things are undoubtedly important…His point is simply that there are certain times and places and conditions when much of that can be swept away, that there are instances where you can take normal people from good schools and happy families and good neighborhoods and powerfully affect their behavior merely by changing the immediate details of their situation.”

Jock vs. Nerd

For the answer to the eternal question “Is it better to be a ‘jock’ or a ‘nerd’?”, consider the following:

When Michael Jordan played basketball he made over $300,000 a game. That equals $10,000 a minute, at an average of 30 minutes per game. With $40 million in endorsements, he made $178,100 a day, working or not. If he sleeps 7 hours a night, he makes $52,000 every night while visions of sugarplums dance in his head.

If he goes to see a movie, it’ll cost him $7.00, but he’ll make $18,550 while he’s there.

If he decides to have a 5-minute egg, he’ll make $618 while boiling it. He’ll make $3,710 while watching each episode of Friends. If he wanted to save up for a new Acura NSX ($90,000) it would take him a whole 12 hours.

If someone were to hand him his salary and endorsement money, they would have to do it at the rate of $2.00 every second.

He probably pays around $200 for a nice round of golf, but will make $33,390 while playing that round. Assuming he puts the federal maximum of 15% of his income into a tax-deferred account (401k), he will hit the federal cap of $9,500 at 8:30 am on January 1st of each year.

If you were given a penny for every 10 dollars he made, you’d be living comfortably at $65,000 a year.

He’ll make about $19.60 while watching the 100-meter dash in the Olympics.

He’ll make about $15,600 during the Boston Marathon.

While the common person is spending about $20 for a meal in his trendy Chicago restaurant, he’ll pull in about $5,600.

In his last year, he made more than twice as much as all U.S. past presidents did for all of their terms combined.

However, if Jordan saves 100% of his income for the next 250 years, he’ll still have less money than Bill Gates has today.

Game over.

Nerd wins.


If you thought you heard radical ideas from politicians in the past, just wait ’til you hear this one.

Imagine this, what would happen if we took the United States of America, the so-called “most powerful country”, and Canada, the second-largest country in the world, and put them together? It would solve America’s declining living standards and Canada’s trouble with developing and defending the large space!

I’ll wait for the laughing to stop. And I’ll keep waiting. And waiting.

I know it sounds crazy (This merger would be nearly as big as the Louisiana Purchase back in 1803), but it might actually be possible, and plausible. Here are some reasons why:

1) Canada has 126,000 miles of coastline and just 33 ships in the navy. The U.S. could help with that.

2) The U.S. is prone to droughts and Canada has 20% of the world’s water.

3) Much of Canada is basically untouched. The U.S. could provide workers and money to develop the land, creating millions of jobs.

4) Our cultures are already very similar. Case in point, how many celebrities do we have in the U.S. today who are Canadian? Rachel McAdams, Ryan Reynolds, Anna Paquin, Seth Rogen, and Drake, just to name a few.

5) Both nations have been facing problems, the most recent being the 9/11 attacks and the 2008 financial crisis, while the other nations like China and India are constantly growing stronger.

Think about it. What would you do if you are pressed against the proverbial wall with no way out?


Oh Word?

Many people enjoy rap music (I prefer Eminem or Jay-Z) and many people hate rap music. Indeed, the image of the genre is quite divided during this time, but there is nothing really wrong with rap music, right?

Wrong. When you read these lyrics to a song named “Ride Out” by Antwain Steward, you might have some doubts.

“Listen, walked to your boy and I approached him, 12 midnight on his traphouse porch. But nobody saw when I [expletive] smoked him, roped him, sharpened up the shank, then I poked him, .357 Smith & Wesson beam scoped him.”

It doesn’t take a Shakespeare or a Hamlet to decipher what the meaning of these lyrics mean. Clearly, this is about murder, but is it an actual crime, or just “art”? That’s what Detective Carlos Nunez of the Newport News was wondering when he saw the music video on Youtube in 2011. In 2007, two men had been murdered and there were no leads nor suspects, so the police used the Youtube video as evidence that Steward was a gang member and that he was responsible for the murders. Steward was promptly arrested and charged with the murders.

Surprising? Not really. It turns out that in more than 100 cases, rap music has been used as evidence for crimes. Here’s another example of some lyrics with dark motives. These are the words of Dennis Greene of Covington, Ohio, who was found guilty of killing his wife.

“The [expletive] made me mad, and I had to take her life. My name is Dennis Greene and I ain’t got no [expletive] wife.”

The question right now is, what is the difference between art and confession? Think about it.

References: The New York Times Upfront Magazine December 8, 2014: Rap Music on Trial by Veronica Majerol

Shed Some Truth

I’ve been a fan of the NBA for three years now, and I’ve always considered Kobe Bryant among the elite greats, like: Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Tim Duncan, etc. Don’t mind me, I’m definitely not the only one who thought this way too!

However, there is much that is overlooked, and I’ve finally come to realize this. Just for the record, I’m trying to downplay Kobe at all! He is a very deserving player and is an obvious member of the top 25, if not top 20 players of all time. But get this. Kobe Bryant is probably the most overrated player of all time! There, I said it! Now let the hate wash over me like the champagne that covered Kobe’s face five times in his career! (He wishes for one more…) Just to be sure, I did not come to this conclusion by myself, there are many sources, like:  or or even

Let’s settle this once and for all. The word ‘overrated’ is not by any means an insult or a term meant to deride someone. The exact definition in Merriam Webster for ‘overrate’ is: “to rate, value, or praise (someone or something) too highly”.  That’s exactly what Kobe is, praised a bit too much than he deserves! Here’s a series of points that will help you better understand. (Please don’t hate me, Kobe/Laker fans)

1) This season, Kobe’s usage rate is nearly equal to his field goal percentage! 38.6% to 38.9%! That’s a lot of chucking and bricking right there!

2) According to polls, 79% of general managers vote Kobe Bryant as the player they would want with the ball in his hands in crunch time. Of course, Kobe has clearly shown that he is a formidable foe in the closing seconds/minutes.

Here’s the kicker, though. Kobe only made 31.3% of his shots in the final 24 seconds of any game (regular/playoff), more accurately, he only made 36 out of 115 shots. Therefore, he misses more than twice the amount of shots he makes!

3) In the finals, Kobe has been rather underwhelming. He has shot 40.5% or under in four out of six Finals appearances. That’s much lower than the likes of: Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and even Lebron James!

This is my point. For all you Kobe fans out there who will stop at nothing to prove that their superstar is the best, just think about it! I’m not in anyway trying to put him down! This is my final statement: Kobe Bryant is absolutely an amazing player, probably top-20 of all-time. There is nothing shameful in being up there! Nothing! But the truth is that Kobe is not nearly as great as some people may claim!

I rest my case.