Archive for January, 2012

How to achieve your goals in 2012 like a piece of Pi

Posted in optimal performance, psychology with tags on January 23, 2012 by gohelpyourself

Achieving goals can be a piece of Pi. (Photo courtesy of Michal Zacharzewski; photo taken from

By Anthony O. Alcantara

Yes. It can be a piece of Pi. The Pi, of course, is that number introduced to us when we were in elementary or high school.

Pi doesn’t talk much, but it has a lot of digits in it. It is infinite, as far as existing supercomputers tell us.

So, you may ask, who am to give you advice on achieving your goals in 2012? Am I an expert? Am I a productivity guru? Well, no. But I’ve read David Allen and recently learned about the Pomodoro technique, among others. And I’m hoping that by the proven scientific principle of osmosis, I can give you some sensible advice.

But what has Pi anything to do with it? Well, in college, I had a math textbook containing the first 100 digits of Pi on the cover. I challenged myself to memorize it. Then in December last year, I rediscovered Pi while surfing the internet, and stumbled upon the Joy of Pi website.

Actually, I was looking for something to help me with my meditation. And since Pi is supposed to be a “transcendental number”, I thought it might help.

After setting a goal of memorizing 1,000 decimal places of Pi before the end of December, I realized that achieving this feat is a lot like setting and achieving goals in life.

So here are some tips:

1. Chunk it up.

Yes, I know you’ve heard it all before. But repetition can be a good thing. In any case, any big goal should be broken down into easy-to-achieve goals. It’s pretty obvious. If you masticate on a big chunk of steak, you are likely to choke, especially if someone decides to tickle you pink. So if you want to make the process more bearable and enjoyable, you cut it into smaller pieces.

It’s the same with memorizing random digits. What I did is to break down the 1,000 digits into 100-digit segments. Then I memorized those segments one at a time. Each segment is like a poem to me. “Come live with me and be my love…” Something like that, but less sexy.

2. Use what works for you.

I’m familiar with some mnemonic techniques that others use. Some have used transliteration of digits into letters, such as 0 for s or z, 1 for t or d, 2 for n, 3 for m, 4 for r, 5 for l, 6 for sh or ch, 7 for g or k, 8 for f or v, 9 for p or b.

So for the first 24 digits of Pi, for example, you can just memorize this sentence:

“My turtle Pancho will, my love, pick up my new mover Ginger.”

It’s cool isn’t it? But it doesn’t work for me. It makes me a lot slower when reciting the numbers because I still have to “translate” the letters into numbers. Neither do the other techniques work for me, such as the method of loci where you think of your favorite spots at home or some familiar place and make silly or outrageous images.

So I used my old technique which is a combination of visual and auditory stimuli generated by the numbers. I divided each 100-digit segment into five or six “sentences”. Within those “sentences”, there are two- to six-digit “words”.

There are some repetitions within the numbers. For example, 6535, 8979, etc. Somewhere between digits 701 to 800, there is also a string of six 9s. I don’t know how statistically improbable is that. I’m not a mathematician.

Anyway, I think there are few people who use the same technique.

3. Focus.

This is obvious. But certainly it’s very hard to do for most of us. I think it may help to make it mindless or automatic to a certain extent. Just like brushing your teeth or taking a bath, you should find the time to achieve one single task that would help you achieve your goals everyday.

I’ve come to love the blog of Leo Babauta. Though his articles have become a little repetitious, I’ve come to view them as useful reminders. Two posts that may be useful are those about how to set and achieve life goals and about how to establish new habits.

Establishing habits is important. I do recommend that instead of setting new year’s resolutions, we set habits instead.

You may want to try out the Pomodoro technique, too. It’s a simple productivity tool that you may like. I’ve been experimenting with it and, so far, I’m noticing some wonderful improvements in my productivity.

And as for memorizing the digits of Pi, I set aside 30 minutes each day. I have work and other responsibilities so this is the only amount of time I can set aside. And before December was up, I was able to memorize 1,000 decimal places of Pi.

Now I’m hoping that these tips I’ve learned from memorizing Pi will also extend to my ability to achieve other goals, and thereby make me more awesome, and less inclined to do seemingly useless things.

Here’s wishing you more awesomeness for the Chinese New Year.


Ristorante delle Mitre: Eat like a bishop

Posted in food on January 10, 2012 by gohelpyourself

Carding's Crispy Pata (regular). You can literally die eating this. At least you die happy and content.

By Anthony O. Alcantara

If you want good food fit for a gourmet, tag along with a bishop and you won’t be disappointed. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many bishops out there willing to dine with you. But good thing there’s Ristorante delle Mitre.

The restaurant is located just across San Agustin Church in Intramuros. In this restaurant, you eat what the bishops love to eat. The menu will show you the favorites of the bishops, exactly how they want them cooked.

So the first thing you do is to think of your favorite bishop. Then you look him up in the menu. No, they don’t serve bishops there. They serve dishes based on the bishops’ favorite recipes. You will see the description of each dish and the bishop responsible for putting it on the menu.

If your favorite bishop isn’t on the menu, well, he probably doesn’t care much for good food. Too bad.

Another option is to scan the menu and ask the waiter for the best sellers or his recommendations. In our case, we asked for the best pork dish and the best fish dish in bishopdom.

Voila! We have Carding’s Crispy Pata (regular). It’s the favorite of His Eminence Ricardo J. Cardinal Vidal, the Archbishop Emeritus of Cebu.

One look at this dish evokes images of gustatory bliss. It didn’t disappoint. After eating a piece of the crispy pork skin, I gasped and suddenly poured out hyperboles of pleasure. And after chewing lazily on a piece of meat, tears of rapture almost dropped from my eyes.

The special mix of soy sauce and vinegar and spices added to the heavenly taste of this dish. I can now conclude that Bishop Vidal has awesome taste buds. Not bad.

Grilled Salmon and Chicken Arroz Caldo. Yummy, yummy, yummy.

Bishop Gabriel Reyes of Antipolo also has an entry that we liked–Grilled Salmon. The presentation is nice. The sculptured tomato is something I’d like to learn how to do. On top of the salmon is a slice of lemon with a slit three-fourths through and twisted.It’s a great-tasting simple dish.

For our baby Aria, we ordered Chicken Arroz Caldo, an epiphany of the recipe of Bishop Edgardo Juanich, Vicar Apostolic of Taytay. It was very flavorful, not the usual arroz caldo on the streets. The chicken is tasty, too. And judging by the smacking I heard, the dish hurdled the high standards of Aria. Or was Aria just hungry?

Anyway, the price was reasonable:

P288 – Carding’s Crispy Pata (regular)
P238 – Grilled Salmon
P78 – Chicken Arroz Caldo
P604 – Total

If you have P1,000 for a date, you’ll have enough left for your fare going home.

Originally, Ristorante delle Mitre is a place where Bishops dine. And since Bishops feed their flock spiritually, and sometimes with crispy pata and grilled salmon to nourish their bodies, they thought of opening a restaurant to let ordinary people “partake of the Lord’s bounty.” It started as an outreach program of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

You will see a few miters on display in the restaurant.

The text on the menu describes the restaurant as a “place of dining and relaxation after a day’s toil.” It provides “affordable menu for Intramuros workers at lunch break and fine dining for discerning patrons in the evening.”

Another thing I liked about the restaurant is that they provide equal opportunity employment. They have deaf persons as servers. So don’t be surprised if a few people there communicate with hand signals.You may like to tip them generously. In any case, the service is excellent, the food, heavenly, and the ambiance, redolent of Spanish times and religious fervor.

Mitre, after all, is the Italian word for miter, the headdress worn by bishops.

My rating? An enlightening 4.5 stars out of 5.

Spiritually and physically sated. Aria also gets a lollipop from the lady at the cashier.


Should we praise our kids for their intelligence?

Posted in learning, optimal performance, parenting on January 5, 2012 by gohelpyourself

Grow neurons, grow! (Photo courtesy of Rodrigo Galindo; taken from

By Anthony O. Alcantara
It’s but natural for moms and dads to praise their kids for being smart. What insane parent wouldn’t?Then again, what exactly are we teaching kids when we tell them they are smart, or that they are geniuses?

A few years ago, I interviewed an executive of a company for an article. He was either in his late 40s or early 50s and he just topped the teacher’s licensure exam. I asked him how he did it, considering the demands of his job. I wanted to know if he studied hard for the exam.

“Actually, hindi nga ako masyado nag-aral (Actually, I didn’t really study much),” he said.

Surprised and somehow impressed, I prodded him with more questions. He said he prayed a lot and even sought the intercession of St. Jude before he took the exam. I was about to accuse him of unfair divine intervention. Still, he made it appear the test was a breeze for him. He made it appear he had oodles of IQ points that lower life forms such as myself lack.

But later on, I discovered he was a pretty diligent student in college and graduate school. He even won a scholarship. And he told me he has been teaching college students for many years already.

Aha! So he had some practice and worked hard after all. So why brag about not studying much?

2 mindsets

Dr. Carol Dweck, an expert in developmental psychology in the US, said people generally have two kinds of mindsets: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.

Those with the fixed mindset believe that intelligence is fixed. It cannot be changed. People are either smart or dumb. And it stays that way forever. A test score on an IQ test is forever. They see that effort is useless because their intelligence is fixed. Their capabilities are wrought in stone.

Those with the growth mindset believe that intelligence can be developed. They believe they can become smarter. They believe that an IQ score, or any score in any test, can be improved. Effort, especially deliberately directed effort, leads to success. They believe they can always improve in anything that they do.

We all exhibit these mindsets in different situations. This is just a simplification to show contrast, and demonstrate the perils of a fixed mindset.

So what?

So what if a child is made to believe that he or she is smart? And what if that child comes to the conclusion that being smart is a permanent thing? What if the child becomes convinced that everything should be easy? Learning numbers is easy. Learning words is easy. Writing is easy. Science is easy. Everything is easy because I’m smart. We are dealing with malleable and impressionable minds after all.

And what if the supposedly smart child suddenly flunks a test? That doesn’t seem to describe a “smart” person, does it? Professor Dweck said the effects of the fixed mindset on children and adults can be subtle, and yet it may affect various aspects of our lives in a powerful way.

Some children with the fixed mindset learn to avoid challenges in order to maintain their “smart” image. They also feel threatened by the success of others. They believe they are better and it should always be like that. Their abilities are fixed, right?

Truly successful and happy people generally have the growth mindset. Manuel V. Pangilinan, one of the most respected businessmen in the country, once said his success is not much a result of his intelligence or ability, but of hard work.

Focus and endurance

Haruki Murakami, one of the world’s greatest novelists from Japan, said a person needs three things to be a successful writer: talent, focus, and endurance. Of the three, he said focus and endurance can make up for the lack of talent most of the time.

So what do we do?

Well, for a start, we can begin by praising our kids more for the effort that they exert, and for the new things they learn. When they complete a puzzle, we say, “Wow, you must have worked hard on that one.”

Praise effort more, rather than intelligence. Recognize improvement rather than fixed qualities. That’s what Dweck recommends. I heartily recommend her book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, which is available in some inconspicuous crevices in bookstores.

Mindsets can change

The good thing about the growth mindset is that it can always be learned at any age. The language and behaviors of the growth mindset can be mastered.

Right now, in order to remind myself of the growth mindset,  I’m praising myself for the effort I’ve exerted to write this.

“Good job, Ton. Hey, I see some neurons growing.”

I hope all of you grow neurons, too.