3 years, 7 months, and 17 days. How to study.



I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have. ~Thomas Jefferson

People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing. ~Dale Carnegie


My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

I’ve missed you.  How are you boys?  How is your summer?  Are you doing anything fun?  How are you occupying your time?  Are you reading?  Are you getting outside and getting exercise?  Remember how we used to explore and try to go places we’ve “never been before”?  I hope you still have your sense of adventure.  I’ve missed you.

It’s raining hard outside as I write this.  I love the sound of the rain, the bubbles that form in the puddles, the crack of thunder.  It is all so natural, wholesome, organic, powerful…  What I love best comes next: the clean and fresh air that follows a rain storm.  I relish those moments, and hope you do too.

Last night, I dreamt we were camping … like those Dads and Sons camping trips we used to take.  Remember them?  I do.  Jaialai, recall how one time you followed the big boys and got left behind when they crossed the log over the creek?  Instead of freaking out and screaming for help, you scooted yourself across that log, then made your way back to camp, using the whistle as you went.  You rocked it!  That’s how you test yourself and grow.  I loved those camping trips — rain and all.

But the days of summer are waning.  Our thoughts must now turn to fall and school.  I want you to prepare yourself for a successful academic year.  To do that, you must change your study habits and actively engage in the learning process, OK?

What do I mean by that?  Almost four years have passed; thus, I cannot pretend to know your study habits.  However, I suspect that, like most students, your usual process is to plow through your assigned readings, from the first page to the last, without pause to take note or stock of what you’ve read and how it fits in with the materials covered in class.  Likewise, during class, you act as a human recorder and try to write down as notes as much of what the teachers said as possible.  Once done with the class reading or lecture notes, you leave them untouched until a test or a quiz is announced.  Am I right?  While those practices are the norm, they are neither efficient nor productive.  Memories of the ideas contained in your readings or captured in your notes will have long faded by the time you review them.

What’s a better way to study?  Engage.  Think of class as conversations between you and the author of the readings, and between you and the teacher.

(Jaialai, this letter is more appropriate for Shosh at the moment, but the lessons apply equally to you as you schooling progresses.  Shosh and Jaialai, follow these steps and I promise you that your grades will improve, and the world will open itself to you as you get into top colleges in the nation.)

On the first day of class, the teacher usually gives you a syllabus that lays out what will be covered in class and in what order.  This is the road map for the class.  It tells you where the teacher is going to go, and what you are expected to know to succeed.  Pay attention.  Write it down, and keep it at the top of your class notes.  Go back to this every day to make sure you are on track and focusing on what the teacher thinks is important.  If, for example, there is confusion or ambiguity between the direction of the reading and the lecture notes, talk to the teacher to clarify.

Upon opening the text book for the first time, read the outline.  See where the author is going with his book and why.  Look at the progression of ideas, and how the author presented them.  Now, compare the outline of the text book to the syllabus.  What is different?  Where are they aligned and where do they depart?  The teacher may choose to concentrate more on one area and gloss over another.  That is the teacher’s prerogative.  Bear it in mind as you do the reading so that you don’t waste time focusing on matters the teacher think unimportant.  (That said, you are both a student of life and of the teacher.  If something interests you, by all means, pursue it.  Nurture your curiosity; don’t ever repress it..)

When you start a reading assignment, first scan the chapter outline, executive summary, headings, subheadings, material in bold or highlighted by the author, and the conclusion.  Use this process to get a sense of the journey on which the author is about to take you.  Create a road map for yourself so you won’t get lost.  More importantly, this road map is the foundation on which you build the knowledge gained from that reading.  For example, if were visiting Newport Beach for the first time, you want to know the major streets, the section of town nearest the beach, the section where the shops lie, the section where restaurants are, etc.  This will, for example, help us remember where Stanford’s Restaurant is located so we can go get their Bacon Mac & Cheese for dinner, and the location of the movie theater if we wanted to catch a movie before turning in.

Then, as you read, annotate.  Highlight key words and ideas, then summarize the paragraph in the margin.  Note the development of the ideas in each paragraph, and of the main idea of each paragraph with respect to the whole chapter or reading passage.  What are the basic assumptions?  Is the progression of idea logical, sensible, balanced?  (Just because it’s in a text book doesn’t mean it’s right.  A lot of educational politics go into what’s published, which text books to buy, which books to ban from school, etc.)  Ask questions about the author’s intention, his theme, his tone, his use of metaphors and other literary tools, etc.  The point is to read critically and actively.  You are not just scanning words and mumbling them in your mind.  Read to understand.  Since you will be tested on the reading later, you might as well make the best use of your time by understanding what they author is presenting and making notes for later review.

Remember, the goal of critical reading is three-fold: (1) to understand the author’s thesis and the purpose of his presentation; (2) to understand the elements of his arguments (i.e., how he argues — by using statistics, imagery, diction, appeal to emotion, appeal to reason, etc.) and whether he successfully used those elements to persuade the reader; and, (3) to recognize the author’s biases.  Make sure your annotations and reading notes capture these data.

When you take notes, use the Cornell Notes method.  The following are brief explanations of this note taking method:

The chief benefit of this method is that it makes you think about and summarize what you wrote in your notes.  In other words, it forces you to engage in the note taking process, and not just mindlessly jot down words that escape the teachers’ mouths or the authors’ fingertips.  Under this system, you touch the ideas captured in your notes not just once, but three times at least: (1) you write the notes in the main section; (2) you annotate those notes or ask questions in the margin; and, (3) you summarize those notes at the bottom of the page.  Memory works by repetition and active engagement.  The Cornell Notes method utilized both.

Integrate your reading and lecture notes for each class.  Use one three-ring binder or a spiral notebook for each class.  I prefer the former because it allows you to integrate hand outs from class as well as your notes.

Study hard today, so you’ll have a brighter future tomorrow.  Life is long.  It is best to position yourself to make the most of it.  If you have to work to earn a living anyway, why not enable yourself to do something that you would enjoy doing and that would pay you well?  Is it not better to spend 40 hours in an air conditioned office doing work that requires the use of your brain and is highly compensated than to spend 40 hours in the hot and oily kitchen of a Panda Express or other eateries?

Be well, my sons.

All my love, always,



3 years, 7 months, and 8 days. Living for yourself will never make you happy.


The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

The best antidote I know for worry is work. The best cure for weariness is the challenge of helping someone who is even more tired. One of the great ironies of life is this: He or she who serves almost always benefits more than he or she who is served.
Gordon B. Hinckley, Standing for Something: 10 Neglected Virtues That Will Heal Our Hearts and Homes

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

First, I apologize for the long silence.  Some days, when my heart is very heavy, it is better not to burden you.  Know that even on those days — no, especially on those days — you are nearest to my heart.

Second, I am sorry if this is a repeat.  I harp on this because it is a lesson of utmost import.

Too often, people complain about how miserable are their lives.  Yet, if asked, you would find that, nine times out of ten, those miserable individuals spend most of their time focusing on themselves, on making themselves happy.

One of those great ironies of life is that the more you chase happiness, the more elusive you will find it.  We are ultimately “black holes” … vacuous, empty spaces that can never be filled.  Why?  The answer is simple: we are built to adapt.  Thus, what once brought us joy (e.g., a new pair of jeans, a new toy, a new car, etc.) quickly became the new normal.  We adapt to the novel.  In time, that new BMW becomes just another car.  Your eye will be on the newest model, or even a different car.  Thus, the chase for happiness is ultimately a losing proposition.  http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/07/magazine/the-futile-pursuit-of-happiness.html?pagewanted=print.

Unfortunately, this is the American way.  Don’t fall for it.  (There are a lot of great things about America; however, this is not one of them.)  The “it’s-all-about-me” mentality leads not happiness, but to certain loneliness.  We have fewer friends.  More people are eating Thanksgiving meal by themselves.  Don’t be like that.

Be kind.  Help those less fortunate than you, even if it is with just a smile and a kind word.  Volunteer.  I promise, you will be happier for it.


All my love, always and forever,


3 years, 6 months, 27 days. Eat a live frog in the morning.


But I’ve discovered that the biggest benefit I get from taking cold showers isn’t any of the wonderful things listed above (I’ve noticed many of them, though). The thing that most draws me to the cold water is also the thing that most repels me: It’s really hard to do….

It reminds me a little bit of that Mark Twain saying, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

…. The point is that starting your morning by tackling challenges head-on will help encourage similar behavior throughout the day. And, it turns out, there’s a wealth of research to back up this idea as well. People who do hard things first tend to procrastinate less and get more done, according to Brian Tracy’s book, “Eat That Frog.”

It’s important to note that it’s not just about taking cold showers, it’s also about doing it in the morning. Consider that a one-two punch. According to the Florida State University psychology researcher Roy Baumeister, one of the leading experts on willpower, “The longer people have been awake, the more self-control problems happen.” In other words, if you wait until the evening to take your cold shower, there’s a greater chance you just won’t do it. Not to mention that it nullifies the whole idea of getting your day started on the right foot. So don’t just do it, do it in the morning.

The world is full of hard and scary things. We are at our best when we can tackle them bravely and confidently, not when we are accustomed to shying away.


My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

I hope you enjoyed your day, Shosh.  I’m sorry that this is the third year I’ve been unable to share it with you.  (And, Jaialai, it’s the fourth for you.  I know.)

Hang in there,  my sons.  This too shall pass.

Meanwhile, I want you boys to work on being the best young men you can be.  Be self-disciplined, and be humanistic.

These are the attributes of happy and successful human beings.  (Intelligence, creativity, vision, etc., are also hallmarks of success; however, being self-disciplined and having heart are things under your complete control, and you already have the other attributes! =))

The world is littered with the gifted who have made nothing of themselves.  Don’t join their ranks.  Be self-disciplined.  Do what you know must be done: even when you don’t feel like it, study, exercise, volunteer, be kind, etc. Do the right thing.

Too many chase after the ever-elusive “happiness”.  Don’t.  Live right and do the right thing, and happiness will come to you.  Chase after it, and it will always be temporary and elusive.

What do I mean?  Shosh, you used to love spicy Korean noodles, remember?  It made you happy to eat it, right?  What happened when you ate too much, or ate it too often?  Jaialai said you once threw up at your mom’s after eating too much of it, and I suspect after a while, that noodle no longer catches your fancy.  Am I right?  Jaialai used to love Jolly Ranchers.  Yet, I’ve seen him save Jolly Ranchers to share with you and Little V.  By not overindulging, I’ll bet he hung on to his love for Jolly Ranchers longer than you and your love for spicy Korean noodles.  Moderation was key.  Self-discipline made that possible.

Man is predisposed to normalcy.  We adapt.  With repetition, what was once amazing (the first time you ate sushi or spicy Korean noodle, the first ride on that cool roller coaster, etc.) loses its luster and becomes normal.  The same is true of negative experiences.  We adjust.  We adapt.  What was so good (or so bad) becomes the new normal and is no longer that great or that bad.

(This is why you should never do drug and always guard yourself against addictive behaviors.  You would jeopardize yourself legally and medically in exchange for a very short-lived euphoria.  One puff of pot may have made you feel good at first, but soon, you’ll adapt and will need two puff of pot or even stronger drugs.  That’s why they call pot the gateway drug.  Stay away from it and other bad elements.  Look at where it got your cousin, Al, on your mom’s side — a felony conviction for sale and distribution because he hung out with the bad crowd.)

Don’t take my word for it.  Studies bear this out.  See, e.g., http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/07/magazine/the-futile-pursuit-of-happiness.html?pagewanted=print.  (As a lawyer, I make it a habit to rarely say anything that cannot be corroborated with documentary or testimonial evidence.  Thus, I want you boys to make it a habit to not overstate or understate things, beyond the evidence; and, to always try to verify the statements of others instead of taking them at face-value.)

The above article discussed the ground-breaking research (by psychologists from Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Virginia, and an economist from Carnegie-Mellon) about the futility of chasing after happiness.  The researchers found that humans are very bad at predicting the intensity and duration of how we would feel about certain things and events.  They called it

 ”impact bias” — ”impact” meaning the errors we make in estimating both the intensity and duration of our emotions and ”bias” our tendency to err. The phrase characterizes how we experience the dimming excitement over not just a BMW but also over any object or event that we presume will make us happy. Would a 20 percent raise or winning the lottery result in a contented life? You may predict it will, but almost surely it won’t turn out that way. And a new plasma television? You may have high hopes, but the impact bias suggests that it will almost certainly be less cool, and in a shorter time, than you imagine. Worse, Gilbert has noted that these mistakes of expectation can lead directly to mistakes in choosing what we think will give us pleasure. He calls this ”miswanting.”

…. Much of the work of Kahneman, Loewenstein, Gilbert and Wilson takes its cue from the concept of adaptation, a term psychologists have used since at least the 1950’s to refer to how we acclimate to changing circumstances. George Loewenstein sums up this human capacity as follows: ”Happiness is a signal that our brains use to motivate us to do certain things. And in the same way that our eye adapts to different levels of illumination, we’re designed to kind of go back to the happiness set point. Our brains are not trying to be happy. Our brains are trying to regulate us.” In this respect, the tendency toward adaptation suggests why the impact bias is so pervasive. As Tim Wilson says: ”We don’t realize how quickly we will adapt to a pleasurable event and make it the backdrop of our lives. When any event occurs to us, we make it ordinary. And through becoming ordinary, we lose our pleasure.”

As the researchers in the article explained, for various psychological reasons, we often want or choose things that do not make us happy in the long run.  So, then, how do we achieve happiness?  Do the right right and be kind.

Self-discipline and humanity will bring you happiness.  Instead of the short-term, temporary happiness found from the acquisition of things, doing the right thing and doing what we are supposed to be doing will bring long-term happiness.  Helping others, completing a task well, studying instead of watching TV or playing video games, etc., will fill you with a sense of accomplishment and joy that none can take away.  You know this to be true.  You’ve experienced it.  Doing what you are supposed to do will give you satisfaction and move you down the road towards success.

Helping others and being kind to others will also help you find deep friendships and create strong social networks that will make you truly happy.  http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/raising_happiness/post/happiness_is_being_socially_connected/ (“The upshot of 50 years of happiness research is that the quantity and quality of a person’s social connections—friendships, relationships with family members, closeness to neighbors, etc.—is so closely related to well-being and personal happiness the two can practically be equated. People with many friendships are less likely to experience sadness, loneliness, low self-esteem, and problems with eating and sleeping.”)

One without the other won’t make you a happy and successful human being.  Let’s take Andy Fastow, for example.  http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/companies/management/2004-05-05-cfomag_x.htm.  You may not be familiar with his name, but people of my generation  know him well.  He was the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Enron, a major corporation with reportedly $111 billion in revenues in 2000, that ultimately imploded because of its fraudulent financial practices.  Fastow was a disciplined and hard worker.  Before he was indicted and imprisoned for fraud, he was celebrated by CFO magazine for his ingenuity.  Yes, the man was actually on the cover of CFO magazine before he was sent to prison for bringing to financial ruin grandmothers and others, and defrauding them of their hard-earned savings.  Self-discipline and hard work, without humanity, is nothing.

Be self-disciplined and be humanistic.  Make the hard choice to live right, and be the man that you would be proud to be, and I would be proud to have for a son.  Now, go take that cold shower!  http://www.medicaldaily.com/benefits-cold-showers-7-reasons-why-taking-cool-showers-good-your-health-289524.

All my love, always,