focus joyful living purpose

How To Stop The Mental Focus Deprivation Torture

A Kafka-esque World

Everyone’s racing around trying to get more done.  Faster. More, more, more.  It’s a system of torture kind of like a Kafka-esque world where we don’t know why we’re rushing around but we know it’s important.  We are becoming shallow and it’s all because of focus deprivation.

Uber Generation

Hard to believe only ten years ago, the iPhone was introduced to the world.  And it’s changed us.  It’s made us always “on.”  Caffeinated, pumped-up, arrogant, “Uber generation.”   Whomever pushes further, faster with the sharpest elbows wins.

There are lab rats who would rather ingest cocaine than even food.  Every few seconds, a beep, buzz, chime alerts them to another dose.  It’s the same with the modern smartphone user.

I’m no luddite or ditching my phone anytime soon.  (I’m an Apple fanboy since 1985!)  But to truly make an impact in the world (and isn’t that what we all want?) we need to slow it down.

And we need blocks of uninterrupted time so we can work with deep focus.

This is impossible when we have a lifestyle that encourages shallow thinking.   Open office plans may be great for sales people or customer service.  These folks need to be reacting to others all day.  But for anyone who needs to think deeply, it’s torturous.  It’s kind of like sleep deprivation where someone pokes you every 5 minutes.   Focus and deep work can never happen with constant interruption.

So How To Get Mental Focus?

For getting impactful, meaningful work done, we need blocks of deep focus time.  And that requires you to…

Turn off your notifications!

Try it for a day.  A week.  You just may want to continue longer.  You don’t need someone else telling you that they are important.  You need to preserve the sanctity of your focus.

Turn off your notifications!

And see your productivity soar.  Do not continue this self torture by being a lab rat for Facebook.

Turn off your notifications!


music purpose

The surprising struggle with composing music for media

For the past twenty or so years, I’ve been involved as a composer for theater, film, television and other media.  In the past, I have done projects for commercial advertisers pushing products and services that I didn’t always believe in.

That’s tough.  Because there’s a conflict internally.  And while I wanted to create the best possible music analogue to the message, it became more and more difficult with projects I couldn’t believe in.

Belief.  It’s the only thing that makes us who we are.  Our beliefs and our values.

Recently I was invited to create the soundtrack and trailer music for a new podcast.  The subject is about immigrants and the deportation of the most vulnerable of them.  As a child of immigrant parents, married to an immigrant, it’s something I can get behind.

While I don’t condone illegal immigration, I do think the way we treat people who are here, no matter how they arrived is a reflection on our society.

The podcast is called Indefensible and is sponsored by the Immigrant Defense Project.  


growth purpose

Chris Cornell asked me this question in 1990

I heard the terrible news about Chris Cornell’s suicide.  I was laying sick in bed with a horrible cold and had spent a few feverish nights.  It was something Chris said to me that echoed through my head for decades.

Back in the late 80’s, I was working as a freelance journalist for MTV and other publications.   The band had just signed to major label A&M, and their publicist was keen to set up an interview.

I absolutely loved the album.

Louder Than Love was the perfect combination of old classic riffs a la Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin fueled with some punk vitality.  I dived back to hear their earlier stuff on SubPop and was similarly impressed.  What also resonated with me was the ethnic diversity of Soundgarden.  As a young Asian American, I was astound by the fact that guitarist, Kim Thayil and bassist, Hiro Yamamoto were Asian!

Growing up in an all-white suburb on Long Island, I was an outsider all my life.  It was only through music, rock and roll, that I began to find some common ground with my peers.  I had never seen anything like this!

We set up an interview and met at a restaurant.  It was Chris and Kim and we just hung out.  Nice normal guys.  It was their first time in NYC and they knew about a party.  I tagged along.  We spent the whole night going from party to party.  At one point, we were hanging out with guitars and I showed Kim a funky slap style which he thought was kinda cool.

I wrote an article for MTV-to-Go Magazine.  Then wrote up a segment for MTV Headbanger’s Ball.    The album came out and was getting a bit of attention.  But this was still 1989.  Remember Bobby Brown’s My Perogative?   Straight Up from Paula Abdul and pretty boy hair metal bands like Poison were top of the charts.    Soundgarden was too dark and dangerous, yet.

About a year later, I was a panelist at an industry trade show for hard rock/heavy metal.  I ran into Chris in the parking lot and we greeted each other.  I was happy he had remembered me.  But then as he was turning to leave, he stopped and said, “Hey man, when are YOU going to be famous?”

I don’t recall what I said, but it was a strange feeling.  What does that mean?  Did he see something in me?   

Within a few months, I was selected as one of the new on-air hosts for MTV Asia based in Hong Kong with a satellite footprint of millions!  I was the daily host of the morning show, Classic MTV and a weekly top 20 countdown.

It was the early 90’s and I was living in Hong Kong, not in touch with the music scene in the US.   Asian audiences were very conservative and we were broadcasting Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey.

But, by December 1991, a bunch of us at MTV gathered to watch Nirvana’s new video, Smells Like Teen Spirit.  It was like a bomb had dropped.  It was fantastic and instantly I knew music was going to shift.  But I never expected it to change in such a big way.

When I was an intern at a marketing agency in the mid 80’s, we worked with under-served artists at major labels, specifically heavy metal bands.  No one at big labels knew what about this music or how to handle it.  It wasn’t played on mainstream radio.  It was underground.  And yet, hard rock and heavy metal bands had been filling stadiums for years.  A perfect problem to solve.

We broke these bands to a level of success.  But it was still far from the mainstream.

By 1994, Soundgarden’s album Superunknown debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200.  I was still in Asia and read it in the news.  I was shocked.  Soundgarden is in the mainstream?!  It was like music had changed overnight.  Nirvana broke the floodgates open and gone were all the teased hair pretty boys.

I recall thinking how I would probably get to interview Chris again at some point and tell him, “Hey man, do you remember what you said to me?”

It was probably an offhand remark.  I don’t think he would remember it.  But it was like he had given me permission to be something more than I even believed at the time.   

Thank you Chris.  For everything.  Your music, songwriting, voice, stage presence.  You were undeniably one of the greatest.

But for me, it was the gift of a question that reverberates still.

Photo: Variety
awakening growth purpose

How Do You Know If You Are In the Season Of Yes or No?

What Season Are You In?  The Season of Yes Or the Season of No?

So many times, you and I, we get stuck.  We get stuck in the details.

You say you’re going to create a new project?  But then, you look around and see that it’s already been done before.  Or something similar. 

You say to yourself, “Why even bother?  It’s not so unique.  It’s been done before.”

But the problem with that, is it may have been done, but not in your way.

You Don’t Always Have To Be First

Here’s the thing.  It’s not what you do, but how you do it that counts

You know how Apple has become the most valuable company in the world?  It’s NOT by being completely original, unique and novel.

No, what they are known for, is coming in with an improvement on what’s been done before.  Just last week, they announced a new home speaker with artificial intelligence.  Sounds just like the Amazon Echo, Tap, etc.  But, it’s a little different.  It’s done differently.  The execution is flawlessly Apple-like.  They’ve created an aura around their products.

Say you have an idea for a book that is kind of like a detective mystery, but in New York City.  How many detective books have already been set in NYC?  A ton.  But it doesn’t matter.  It’s how you execute the book.  It’s your style, your delivery, your voice that will attract others to your work.


A lot of my clients have businesses or want to start a business. 

These “want-trepreneurs” have yet to take action because they have talked themselves out of it.  I hear, “Well there’s so many version of that already.  Or they say, “I’m a life coach, how am I going to make a difference when there are so many other life coaches in the world?”


“How am I going to get enough music students when they can all just take Skype lessons or find one of the big schools.”

You can actually insert any job, role or title into this “Why does anyone need another ______ in the world?”

But why does anyone need any more of anything in the world?

This is no way to talk to yourself.  Self-talk, well that’s a whole conversation in itself – no pun intended.

You can always look at it as the glass being half empty, or half full.  It’s up to you.

The Danger of Over-Analyzing

If you over-analyze any project, endeavour, business venture – just about anything, you can always find a reason to say “no.”  But, you can also always find a way to say “yes.”

The Season of Yes

If you’re in the early stages of a new business, new career or want to start a new side project, then you need to be in the SEASON OF YES.   Say “Yes” to it all.  Opportunities can only come if you say yes and open the doors.  You never know what opportunities will happen that could not have happened without you taking a few steps in this new direction.

The Season Of No

Much later on, when you are established and humming along in your new project or business, that’s when you need to start shifting to the SEASON OF NO.  I heard of stories saying that Warren Buffet says no to 99% of the opportunities presented to him.  He is definitely in the Season of No.

awakening focus inspirational quotes purpose

You’ve Got To Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive

Everything in life can be viewed in one of two ways, positive or negative.  Re-reading the classic book The Magic of Thinking Big, by David J. Schwartz, I came across this wonderful passage where he talks about having an internal broadcasting system.

“View it this way. Your mind is a mental broadcasting station. This broadcasting system transmits messages to you on two equally powerful channels: Channel P (positive) and Channel N (negative).”

I love this.  The mind is a screen that you can project the images you have control over.

“You own it, so manage your thought broadcasting station . When your thoughts turn to people, make Channel P your listening habit. If Channel N cuts in, say stop. Then switch channels. To make the switch, all you must do is think of one positive quality about the individual. In true chain reaction style, this one thought will lead to another and another. And you will be glad. When you are alone, you and only you can decide whether you will listen to Channel P or Channel N. But when you are talking with someone else, that person has a measure of control over how you think.”

Tune Into Channel P, for Positive
Tune into Channel P and Eliminate the negative.

The more you tune into one or the other the more you get of the same.  You’ve tuned your frequency to only receive on that channel.  It’s like setting the defaults on your car stereo or the favorites on your TV remote control in your living room.  It’s also what everyone has been saying with the Law of Attraction.

“Bear in mind that the longer you stay tuned to either Channel P or Channel N, the more interested you become and the harder it is to switch channels. This is true because one thought, positive or negative, sets off a whole chain reaction of similar thought.”

What channel are you tuned to?

Do you need to change the channel?

It may take some effort at first, just like learning to program the remote on your TV does.  But this one is far more powerful with much greater impact.  And it will last, as long as you stay tuned to…Channel P!

This of course makes me think of the wonderful song, Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive.

You’ve got to ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive
Elim-in-ate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
And don’t mess with Mr. In Between.

– From the 1944 popular song of the same name – Music by Harold Arlen and Lyrics by Johnny Mercer


And here’s one of my favorite versions by the great Aretha Franklin.