How to Actually Enjoy a Party (tips from Vanessa Van Edwards’ Captivate)

He’s a young guy, 23 or 24. His name is Michael. He just graduated college and he’s starting to go to real parties. Like, no Natty Ice. No. Like the parties where there are cute little cupcakes and napkins.

This party is overwhelming for him. He’s stepped into the home of his boss. He wearing an ill-fitting sport coat and khakis. It’s much bigger than the place he lives and, it’s honestly a bit intimidating to him.

But, he came because he knows it’s probably a good opportunity to get to know his coworkers better and maybe gain some better understanding of what makes them tick.

He’s a pretty friendly guy. And in the right setting, he gets along well.

Michael came alone, and the moment he walks in he feels isolated. Everyone is paired off in couples. There are lots of people already talking. Michael thinks, “maybe it’s already too late and the good conversations are halfway over.”

Whether you relate to Michael or not, would you like some tips about how to work a room that aren’t ambiguous or inauthentic?

I recently wrapped up Vanessa Van Edwards’ Captivate. The book is an excellent quick read on how to engage people. And there’s a nice section on working rooms. I’m going to run through her advice here.

It’s quite a good read and does a nice job of packing a ton of practical tips into a very readable book that’s still fun.  Vanessa is a fun personality and is super relatable as an author.

Rules for working a party

Pick your battles

Know in what types of situations you thrive and what types of events don’t interest you. What events do you enjoy? Try focusing on these. You’ll always be a more effective communicator when you’re having a good time.

Along with this comes the fact that you’ll need to be able to say no to things. If you don’t want to do something, let your invitee know that you’re flattered, but that this type event is not a priority at this time for you. There’s no need to single out their event. Just let them know you’ve made a blanket decision not to make this type of thing a priority at this time.

The party “map”

Vanessa is the first I’ve ever seen to practically identify the best places in a room to meet people.

Avoid the food table. You’ll just get in the way of people who want to eat, not talk.

Avoid the bathroom area. It’s creepy to hang out there.

Avoid the entry area. People there are still getting accustomed to being at the party. They are also often still making their obligatory hello’s to the hosts and guests of honor.

The golden zone? Right near the drinks and the eating area. This is where people have settled in and are now ready to mingle. This is a crucial space to wait and allow people to come to you. I’ve personally tried this method at a few events and was really surprised at how well it works. Most people at parties are there to meet people to, you just have to be in the right place to make it easy for them.

Whether it’s alcoholic or not, people are more comfortable with a drink. (from Wikipedia)

First Impression Body Language

Vanessa found in her social science research lab that people are much friendlier and interested when you make hand gestures as you meet someone. This is probably due to the fact that it’s disarming and friendly. It signals that you’re willing to lead the interaction and that you’re socially confident enough to feel comfortable expressing yourself.

Shaking hands is almost always appropriate. This sort of goes without saying I think. But, it’s a tried and true way of offering a gesture of peace, comfort, and friendliness to a new person.

The best level of eye contact is 60-70%. More is creepy, less is weak. People who use 60-70% eye contact in their interactions come off as more attentive, friendlier, and less dangerous.

Pro Baseball Hero Ted Williams and astronaut John Glenn using friendly hand posturing (from Wikipedia)

Conversation Starters

A few conversation starters can help you be interesting and also make others’ feel like they have permission to share something about themselves.

  • What was the highlight of your day?  (I like it because it’s specific, concrete, and shows concern/interest beyond the ornery.)
  • What personal passion project are you working on? (give someone a lot of leeway to discuss something they are passionate about.)
  • Have anything exciting coming up? (Probably the same as above but might work better for folks you think may not have “projects.”)

It’s always good to focus on asking specific and unique questions that show you really want a personal answer beyond the generic “oh, pretty good.” In our age, you have to create a conversation starter that really creates a space for this to happen.

These are some quick tips that can make parties or “networking” events a bit more enjoyable. I find that having trusty rules of engagement for these types of things makes them much more inviting and even a bit of a game.

This book I got these from, Vanessa Van Edwards’ Captivate, was good. If you want the deep dive into this stuff, its worth a read.

Do you have any tips like this?


How to Memorize Every World Capital in 2 months

Memorizing World Capitals

I’ve always been a fan of geography. It seemed like a good idea recently to memorize the capital of all ~232 countries/territories for fun. Over the past 3 months I’ve gained very strong proficiency of almost every world capital. It was super easy and could be done by anyone.

I did this for a few reasons.

  1. Develop stronger geographic sense of place.
  2. Develop a more cohesive understanding of the geopolitical environment.
  3. Have an automatic conversation starter with anyone who is not from the US (I am constantly amazed at how happy someone is to hear that you know the capital of their country, especially for smaller countries.)
  4. Gain a better understanding of how to memorize lists.

The purpose of this post is to demonstrate the power and simplicity of computer flashcards.


Parliament gardens, Windhoek (Capital of Namibia), By Foundert – Hochgeladen am 17. Juli 2006 von coda, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The best program for memorization

The absolute best program for memorization, one that is used in medical schools, is called ANKI. It’s a totally free and simple desktop and mobile application.

ANKI is based on the theory of spaced repetition. The theory is that we learn best when we space out the things we’re learning. ANKI uses really simple flashcards that are presented on a daily basis according to each card’s difficulty for you.


Sample ANKI Card

How it works

As card’s become easier for you, the program increases the delay for which they are shown to you again. This allows you to focus primarily on the hardest cards each day, with some reviews of easier cards.


Here is the commitment it took to memorize 232 world capitals, 83% of which I have a full memory and 13% I’m still iffy on. Keep in mind, some of these capitals have very tough non-English names.

  • 5 minutes of study per day for 68/104 calendar days.
  • A total of 5 hours of studying.

I think ANKI is a very good system for memorizing things you understand, but need to have in your head. You would never be able to learn a language with it alone. But, it could be a great help for memorizing words.

I am very impressed by how simple and quick it was to memorize such a long and (seemingly) difficult list. I studied 5 hours in college for tests that contained much less than 200 points of memorization. ANKI seems to be an efficient and scientific memorization tool.


Cliff in Saipan (Capital Island of the Northern Mariana Islands)

How ANKI Decks work

ANKI has a flashcard database and a method to create your own deck. Because I was not satisfied with any of the options on their database, I made my own deck. There are several advanced options for setting the card repetition rate, deck appearance, and review style, but I stuck to the simple reverse card deck for mine. This creates two cards for every country so you can memorize the capitals forward and backward from country->capital and capital->country.

Setting up a deck

Chances are that you’ll need to create your own deck for this to be of value to you. It’s actually pretty simple but needs to be done in a specific way.

  1. Download ANKI. It’s a free , small, safe file.
  2.  Go to Google Sheets or Excel and put your cards into two columns, front and back. No need for column headers. This video might be helpful.
  3. Save the spreadsheet as a CSV file (note where you save it to)
  4. Open ANKI
  5. Click “Import File”
  6. Import the CSV you saved in #3.
  7. Choose either Basic or Basic (Reverse) deck style depending on whether or not you want to study your cards in the reverse or not.
  8. Check to see your columns from your file line up with the mapping that ANKI reads.
  9. Save the deck. It will now appear on your main ANKI home screen and you can now review it as you see fit.
  10. Settings allow you to set how many cards you want to review per day.

I wish I had this tool when I was in school. It makes memorization super structured and simple. It also kind of makes it fun. This is not a tool for understanding concepts, but it is very valuable for memorization. ANKI could be used for most types of studying.

Storm clouds over N’Djamena (Capital of Chad)


2017, A Totally Awesome Personal Annual Review

Reflection on the past is extremely important to the determination of goals for the future. That’s why I want to take a look at my 2017.


Travel is an important part of what I’m starting to call my “tertiary” (third-level) education. I travel to…

  •  Develop resilience to change.
  • Be able to connect with people from various cultural background through sharing a knowledge of their homeland.
  • Expose and develop palates for new foods and flavors.
  • Have conversations with fellow travelers  TOTALLY outside my mindframe to get a “headcheck” on my ideas, thought processes, passions, etc. (This is WAY underrated.)
  • Remove myself from my daily routine in order to gain perspective.
  • Enjoy a less rigid schedule. (I enjoy my daily schedule, but taking a break/changing it up is important to growth and appreciation.)
  • Consume podcasts/books at my own pace throughout the day.
I don’t look happy there. But I was (I promise.) I’d later this year get a tour of Copenhagen from the girl to my right. She’s now a good friend.

The year started with an incredible eye-opening journey to South America with my friend Matt. Just being able to feel the warmth of the tropical sun in February was amazing.

Getting to see how they live in Ecuador was really cool. It wasn’t a glamorous trip with fine dining adventures, but it was amazing. We dug our feet into the Pacific sand, climbed hills in the low jungle, and developed friendships along the way.

Read more about that trip here.


On the domestic side, we got together several old friends for a culinary tour of New York. This was an important trip for me. It allowed my old and new friends (MD and PA) to meet and get to know each other. That was a great joy for me.

It didn’t hurt that we ate at Le Bernardin, which has become likely my favorite restaurant in the world.

We stayed in a small apartment in Chinatown for $30each/night. It was special to get together with all these guys at once. It’s a rarity now that many of us are spread out and some have children.

L to R: My roommate Matt, my childhood friend Andrew, his brother and my roommate Gregory, my roommate John, my coworker Matt, and my childhood friend Nate.

My brother Chris really wanted to go to Texas, so I obliged (It was awesome.)

We visited with his college friend Greg. The trip was a time well spent with my brother and two of our good friends, Nate (see image above) and Greg.

We went cliff jumping in a big lake. We ate obscene amounts of BBQ. And we drove around central TX in the heat cracking jokes and drinking beers. This was another joyful trip.

Me and my brother Chris

Vegas was an interesting trip. I went with four guys I don’t know that well, but had met their group through mutual friends. They are all deep thinkers and take personal growth very seriously, which is why I wanted to spend time with them.

While Vegas itself was a bit of a depressing place wrought with prostitution, licentiousness, and just overall garish anti-intellectual “new money” Dionysian complacency, I found the trip to be a nice time to be able to have some good conversations with new people.

It didn’t hurt that Vegas has some very well-executed food (albeit very pricey.)

Read more about my thoughts on Vegas here.

Hanging out with Matt, Vinny, Kyle, and Joe in the Cosmo hotel .

After having met Andrew through I mutual friend I decided to come out and see how he lives in Cincy.

Andrew was an incredibly gracious host. We explored the town he live in. We played soccer with his work crew (great guys, hope to hang out with them in the near future.) We discussed travel hacking and Euro soccer. We went to the best apartment complex impromptu pool party I’ve ever attended.

Cincy Skyline on a perfect day.

My roommate Matt and I did a quick weekend NYC trip to tour some food joints with my friend Kana (we met through Yelp and our mutual obsession for good food.) Kana is always fun. She has such an intense love for the NY food scene, which I really appreciate. She may be one of three people on this planet to love talking about food more than me.

Wildwood/Cape May

My roommate John had a place in Wildwood, NJ for the week so we decided to go down with my other roommates for a quick beach trip. The Wildwood boardwalk and beachfront  itself is an utterly debase place (dirty, loud, and crowded.) However, nearby Cape May is pretty and has a lovely quiet beachfront.


I covered this solo trip in depth here.

Solo travel is really fun if you’re the type of person who enjoys novelty and excitement (with the tradeoff of some uncertainty.)

I met a lot of really cool people on this trip around the continent. I was quite satisfied spending two weeks just walking around european cities in the summer listening to my favorite podcasts and walking long distances to find the restaurants I had mapped out.

Just spending time by the hostel bars in Copenhagen, London, Barcelona and Ibiza chatting with fellow travelers was a gold mine of fun. Meeting new people of all ages who are in a place where they are open-minded and conversational is hugely rewarding for me.

These cities were all unique in geography and culture. It was really cool to see these places I’d alone ever heard about before from friends, textbooks, and news articles.

NYC Friend Trip

We went back to NYC with a smaller group of childhood friends. We had a whole two-bedroom apartment to ourselves. We ate our way around the city. It was fantastic.


I ended up in Pittsburgh this past Thanksgiving weekend for a surprisingly fun non-“baby shower” baby celebration party.  It was good to connect with a few friends and send them off into this new chapter in their lives. This whole “getting married and having kids” thing is starting to become very popular amongst my friends :).

Major moves and focii


I have implemented and stuck to a much simpler approach to my living space. This has been a joyful simplification as now the stuff I have is all owned very intentionally.


I had a solid year in reading. Books that stick out are. I could probably benefit from doing a bit more fiction.

  • Guns, Germs, and Steel
  • Tidying up 
  • The Little Book that still beats the market
  • Obesity Code
  • The Boron Letters
  • Early Retirement Extreme
  • The Six Pillars of Self Esteem
  • Don’t Shoot the Dog
  • Million Dollar Consulting
Social Gatherings

We hosted 6 dinner parties for friends. We hosted another 6 bigger parties at the house, most of which were very well attended and raving successes. I’d like to continue to provide a space for my friends (and new friends) to gather and meet in a comfortable and fun setting.


I started the year a bit pudgier than I’d prefer. I think I took a healthy and sustainable journey in 2017 towards being healthier. Here is an album of pictures taken about monthly through the year. I don’t see much change really (which is good.)

Best Purchases


This was an excellent year. I’m exceedingly grateful for the wonderful people that made this an joyful and rewarding year.


The bitter pain of surveying your friends for feedback.

This past month I decided to ask my friends to fill out a survey giving me feedback. I wrote up a 5-question survey (using SurveyMonkey) and asked around on Facebook, text, and email for responses. I got 19 replies.

The first 3 questions asked about interestings things my friends had done for 2017. I received some great suggestions about movies, book, and restaurants that I will definitely be checking out in 2018. Almost none of the responses were the same.

The next two questions got into the heart of the matter: What have I been doing well, and where can I improve? I am confident that everyone took this to be anonymous because the answers were very forthright.

In terms of my areas of weakness, there were some clear patterns.

  1. Lack of patience with others and with situations.
  2. Lack of empathy towards the opinions and needs of others.

Growth opportunities

At first I took these results very harshly. People think I’m too self-oriented and oblivious to their needs. I had so many frustrated thoughts about how I only use the harsh language I do because…

  1. I expect the same or more from myself.
  2. I only want everyone to get better along with me. And complacency and feelings shouldn’t get in the way of that.

However, I hope I realize now that I don’t want my friends to view me as a ruthless critic. It’s not worth the optimization if you hurt people along the way (even if it is with good intention).

My mind is geared to correct, improve, and suppress emotional reaction in order to optimize my life. It is really hard for me to empathize with others, especially when they seemingly (to me) show no concern for my well-being or the well-being of whatever worldly endeavor on which we happen to be sharing a journey.

Can a person be both ruthlessly effective AND empathetic? I don’t know. It’s been shown that 20% of CEO’s are clinically diagnosable psychopaths and probably many more are almost there.

Now, I’m not a psychopath (or a CEO) but I understand the underlying psychic dilemma here: Empathy slows progress.

What I need to assess is: How much progress am I willing to give up for the sake of deeper levels of friendship connection? That’s a really tough question. Obviously, I’m already doing it somewhat. I don’t lash out at every opportunity. But, I clearly have an issue with slowing down and hearing others’ thoughts, feelings, and concerns. I know this is important, and I know, in some cases, it can lead to greater progress (though many times it does not.)

This is a topic I will be thinking about a lot in 2018, as I already had been less formally in 2017.

It’s important to add that not everyone felt this way. In fact, this was a minority of people. But, if 5/19 comments mention this, there is a pattern that needs to be addressed.

The positives

In terms of strengths, there were some clear patterns. My friends (and some acquaintances/fellow travelers/etc.) felt that I (am)…

  1. Friendly and take an effort to bring people together.
  2. Oriented towards progress and making things better.
  3. Takes initiative to make things happen.

To a lesser extent: Open to suggestions and sincere.

I am happy and proud that my friends see me as a man who takes initiative, adventures, plans, and brings people together in a friendly, fun, and sincere way. The positives did seem to significantly outweigh the negatives in the survey.  My problem is in shared decision-making, not spending time with others in fun/social settings.

Was it worthwhile?

I’m glad I did this survey. While it is harsh to hear criticism, it’s really the only way to improve. I hope to focus in 2018 on ways to develop empathy and patience without sacrificing any commitment to personal growth.

At the same time, I will think about ways to amplify my strengths of focusing on improvement and being a social connector.

This is definitely a dangerous exercise that isn’t for everyone. It was very tough to hear critiques that I couldn’t rebut. However, it was invaluable to get this feedback from people I trust and whose opinions I value.



How to “Workcation” and Tips for Long Drives

I’m writing this from my laptop in suburban Pittsburgh. I’m in an empty Panera Bread in a busy strip mall. It’s a brisk day today.  I’m on a weekend-long solo road trip across the state.

I’ve been thinking recently about ways to improve my ability to clear my head and come up with new ideas. Brian Grey of the CGP Youtube Channel likes to go on “workcations” where he goes on a trip to a hotel and just focuses on his work. I decided to try something similar this weekend.

I didn’t have anything specific to work on this weekend. But, I’ve gotten great rest and renewal.

Not this weekend’s hotel room. But a setup from earlier this year that I quite liked. I prefer to keep light hitting my skin while I work and to be able to look out a window for eye fatigue reduction and quick non-invasive distraction.

On Friday morning, I drove from Baltimore to Pittsburgh. I decided to drive in 90 minute chunks. I chose this segment length because…

  1. It’s about the maximum time I can focus on a single task.
  2. It’s about how much time it takes me to digest a small meal.

Every 90 minutes I would stop at a top Yelp restaurant. I found this strategy make the trip go by MUCH faster and I never felt that I was getting burnt out from driving. I have never enjoyed long drives before, but this is beginning to change my mind.

The other thing that kept the drives interesting was having a podcast list from which to pull. I have about 50 hrs worth of podcast episodes downloaded on a wide range of topics I am personally intensely interested in:

  1. Philosophy
  2. Economics
  3. Personal Finance/Investing
  4. Productivity
  5. Psychology
  6. Self-Improvement

These made the trip very intellectually stimulating and created an ability for me to pick out the next audio without being forced into content.

Very good burger from The Girl’s R’ Cooking on the route from Baltimore to Pittsburgh

It also is a great use of my theory of sandwiching anticipation. I’ve found it vastly invigorating and motivating to have things that will excite me coming up next. I’ll often intentionally delay things I’m excited about and sandwich them with boring necessary tasks. This feeling of having something  exciting coming next is phenomenal at keeping my spirits up during boring tasks. I recommend you try this if you haven’t before. It’s one of the reasons I like to plan trips at random times of the year. Because it helps add excited anticipation right after otherwise mundane times of year. In this way, I always leave a few really edge-of-my-seat intriguing  podcast episodes to help me always look forward to getting in the car to drive.

So I got to my destination very quickly from a psychological perspective because I felt the time spent listening to podcasts was time well spent. It didn’t feel like lost travel time. The feeling of travel time loss I think is a MAJOR motivator for folks to avoid travel. Think about ways you can feel productive while traveling. Maybe hold brainstorming sessions in the car, plan out phone calls, etc.

I found myself coming up with a ton of ideas for blog posts, future books I want to read, and people I’d like to reconnect with just by giving my mind this mental space in the car to churn in a different environment listening to episodes I know will perk up my ears at least a few times per episode.

I stayed totally free (I got 5-8 free nights free by signing up for the Hyatt Rewards card which required a $75 annual fee and $2000 spend in 3 months) in an upgraded King Suite at the Hyatt in Pittsburgh. Having a hotel room was awesome. I felt totally obligationless and distractionless. I decided to use the time doing some research, napping, and catching up on Game of Thrones. I didn’t feel like I was being less productive than anyone around me. I didn’t feel I had anywhere to be. I was in “travel mode” without having any real travel goals, other than trying out a few awesome restaurants in the city. The night in a hotel was extremely relaxing. There was nothing to clean up. No noise. And everything I needed was right there in a small, comfortable 1 bedroom environment. The one thing I was dissappointed with was the lack of a bathtub. I really was looking forward to just soaking in hot water. Oh well. There was a heated pool, but I decided not to grab  a used swimsuit from the local goodwill. Could have been fun.

I wouldn’t need much else if I lived on this block in Pittsburgh.

I think what I’m getting at is the importance of creating physical and mental spaces in our lives that allow us to “reset.” The goal isn’t to get anything specific done. Or to visit a person. Or to see sights. The goal is to let your brain work on the things it’s intrigued by in a setting that is wholly free of distractions. Sometimes we are distracted more by our normal spaces than we think.

The other insight here I think is the importance of not allowing the fear of lost travel time to become a roadblock in your exploration of travel and new things. Have a strong list of podcasts downloaded at all times to tap into during road time. I’ve found this actually now has me looking forward to long trips.

Excellent BBQ Eel from Little Tokyo Bistro on Carson St. Pittsburgh


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