Be mindful of the words we use. Focusing on becoming a stronger communicator in our relationships and in the workplace is an invaluable skill. Our tone and language convey our intent and how others may react emotionally. Being able to manage our own and other’s emotions will lead to more constructive communication.
As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Kien Vuu.
At his VuuMD Longevity and Performance Clinic, Dr. Vuu regularly works with celebrities, top corporate executives, and high-functioning professionals to optimize their health, performance, and vitality. He’s also a health media personality, appearing on national TV shows such as The Doctors and Access Hollywood, and helps to train the next generation of physicians as Assistant Professor of Health Sciences at UCLA. As someone who has overcome two chronic diseases himself, Dr. Vuu is passionate about empowering people to reclaim their health and live with fulfillment, abundance, and purpose.
Thank you for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was the only infant to survive on a refugee boat escaping post-war Vietnam. I was born to Chinese parents in Vietnam, and after the Vietnam war, due to the change in the government regime, my parents didn’t feel like there would be a future for me there. And so we escaped on a refugee boat and found ourselves docked in Manila Bay in the Philippines for 8 months, as there wasn’t any room in the refugee camps. My dad still gets really choked up talking about how I became floppy in his arms as I had very severe diarrhea from dysentery. I luckily survived that, and we were later transferred to a Philippine refugee camp for three months, before being sponsored to America by a Catholic church. I grew up in Chinatown, Los Angeles, and one would think I would be grateful to be alive after my experience. But when I compared myself to the other kids in school or the kids I saw on TV, I just saw myself as this immigrant child who was poorer, shorter, and less American than those around me. I felt every kind of “not enough”ness — not tall enough, not rich enough, not American enough.
And it was really that story of not being enough that carried into adulthood. This led me to receive validation and love from external things, whether it be money, power, or a sense of accomplishment.
I began my career being a physician, specifically an interventional radiologist, which is minimally invasive surgeon using medical imaging to perform surgeries. I worked long, hard hours, had lots of patients, and was always striving and “chasing” these benchmarks of success. And it wasn’t until the stressful lifestyle of chasing these external endeavors caused me to develop a chronic disease such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and was on several prescription medications, that I really had to take a deep look into my life to see where in my life was I not in alignment. It’s been quite the journey of self-rediscovery, self-love, and stepping into a more authentic and powerful version of myself.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
As a child, I always had this feeling like I wanted to make an impact in the world.
I wanted to inspire people like Tony Robbins, make people laugh like Robin Williams, or make grooves like Mic Jagger. But when I looked at these heroes as a kid, I realized that nobody looked like me. There weren’t any Asian motivational speakers, comedians, or rockstars. My mom politely encouraged other career choices. If fact, she gave me three choices. She said, “son, you could be a doctor, an MD, or a physician.” And so I ended up going to medical school.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
That’s simple. That’s my fiance, Tiffany. Before I met Tiffany, I was a bit lost. As I briefly mentioned earlier, about four years ago I was in private practice. I was a minimally invasive surgeon having a very lucrative career. I had a fancy car. I had a very fancy house. I was traveling around the world delivering these medical speeches. From the outside, I would have appeared I’ve achieved what many people saw as a “very successful” life. I had all this “external success”, but on the inside, I didn’t really like the person I became. I set my dreams aside. I ended up chasing this lifestyle or chasing these external benchmarks of success was defined by others that I thought would bring me joy. And they didn’t. In fact, they brought a lot of stress into my life. And then that led to stressful actions and a lifestyle that led me to develop diabetes and hypertension. And I was on several prescription medications. I actually became that doctor who was giving medical advice, who then became a chronic disease statistic. I felt like a fraud. Chronic disease is the biggest problem we face in healthcare today.
And it really took being very committed to discover what true health and healing was. I learned things I didn’t learn in medical school and started to implement new mindsets, taking new actions, cultivating new positive emotions. I started to become more aligned with the person I truly was. And as I started to take all these steps, it reversed all my diagnoses in a matter of months. I got off prescription medicines and I became fitter, healthier, and more joyful than I’ve ever been in my life.
I felt that calling again…now to share a message of health. But I just didn’t know how. I had given up my house. I’ve left my full-time position. I had given up a lot of external possessions, but there was still a part of me that didn’t realize my own love and worth without those possessions.
That was a difficult transition.
And it was through the deep love my fiancé has given me, despite me not having all those things that I thought would give me love and respect. It was that deep love from her that I started to develop my own sense of love for myself. And with that sense of self-love comes more confidence to pursue what’s next for me, which is really to help create more superheroes in the world by helping others achieve optimal health, longevity, and peak performance. I also have the vision to use the power of media and entertainment to shift health consciousness and to preserve the chronic disease epidemic we have.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
When I finished my residency and fellowship, I landed a very coveted position in one of the best hospital systems in the country. I was practicing in Los Angeles, which is a very competitive market. I was practicing at a very high level. I was teaching residents, and I had a very lucrative pension and benefit plan. And as much as I enjoyed teaching residents and treating patients, there was something that didn’t feel right. And I felt like I was missing something in life. And I wasn’t sure what that was but it led me to take an opportunity in private practice, thinking that I could maybe find more freedom or growth in this new position. And it was actually at this new position where I was overworked and found myself exhausted at every level. I had developed diabetes and hypertension.
And I really thought I made a big mistake in leaving that very first job. I recall spending nights not being able to sleep, regretting my decision. But it was in that act of leaving, that allowed to allowed me to the work of self-exploration. Leaving the comfort of my first job, getting a disease, allowed me to expand my world beyond the hospital, beyond medical treatment, to travel the world, to get mentored by extraordinary teachers, to meet the love of my life. I now have a bonus daughter, as well as a daughter on the way. And truly the lesson is to trust your instincts as they will always guide you to your higher path. We may not be able to see while we are in the challenges that life hands us, but it is on the other side of these challenges and struggles that we find the best versions of ourselves.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
My advice is not to emulate my success, but to define what success is for them. You know, I had lived my life pursuing other people’s definition of success and other people’s plan of what my life should look like. In the pursuit of those things, I created a very stressful life of inauthenticity that ultimately led me to get a chronic disease.
There’s an interesting story about the Dalai Lama. When he was asked what he found most interesting about humanity, he says,
Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money.
Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health.”
What I would say to somebody who aspires for success is that success is not some external achievement. Success is a feeling that is within us, and it’s available for us to tap into that feeling at any time, depending on how we define it. My definition of success used to be attaining these external benchmarks like a number in my bank account, or a car, or a house. And that was never enough. And as I’ve done the deep work on myself, I’ve redefined what success means to me now. And my new definition of success is growth. My new definition is progress. My new definition is the ability to access feelings of love, joy gratitude at any moment, no matter what life throws at you. In short, I would tell that person, follow your bliss, and define your own success.
Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Four years ago, when I was struggling with health issues, somebody had given me the book, The Code of the Extraordinary Mind, written by the founder of Mindvalley, Vishen Lakhiani.
In the book, Vishen talks about BS rules or what he calls “Brules”. And these are the conditions that society or our parents or other influences might have on our life that might not really apply to us. I had lived life by other people’s rules unconsciously. And through this book, I learned to be conscious of my unconsciousness and started to make choices that were more incongruent with how I wanted to live life and who the authentic me really was. And in making those new choices, I was able to not only reverse my disease, but I walso became fitter and healthier than I ever was before, and I found the love of my life.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
It’s a quote from Byron Katie, “Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens exactly the right moment, neither too soon, nor too late. You don’t have to like it. It’s just easier if you do.”
I just love this quote because it allows me to recognize and be grateful for every single moment. It reminds me that I don’t need to stress over things that I can’t control. And then when I think that something bad has happened to me, I can remind myself that it is a gift given to me so that I can grow and become a better version of myself. And if I can start to recognize that everything is happening for me, in my favor, I can start to show up with more joy, more love, and more gratitude moment by moment.
For example, I felt like a fraud having diabetes and hypertension as a doctor treating disease. I couldn’t see that as a blessing initially. But it allowed me to be conscious about the choices I made in life that was contributing to disease, which gave me the power to be able to make new choices and now share a message of health and empowerment I wouldn’t have been able to share had I not overcome chronic disease myself.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I’m really excited about the release of my book, THRIVE STATE. In it, I share the tools, mindset, and blueprint for anyone to be able to access the healthiest and best versions of themselves. The content of the book is here to not just prevent and reverse certain health conditions, but rather this is a formula to achieve optimal health, longevity, and peak performance.
I’m also excited to launch my podcast next year. I’m very fortunate to be able to work with high-level clients one-on-one or in a group setting to transform their minds and body and to help elevate their mental, physical, and sexual performance. But I really want to start sharing these tools to more people, and I feel like both the book and the podcast can really allow me to share this message of health empowerment. The podcast also aligns with my vision to use the power of media and entertainment to shift health consciousness and to reverse the chronic disease epidemic we have.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority about Emotional Intelligence?
As a physician leader in big hospitals and large health systems, emotional intelligence training was required curriculum. These institutions brought in the best emotional intelligence program and teachers from across the country. As physician leaders, we have to interact with patients and family members in different capacities. We have to interact with hospital staff and administration, and clear communication is vital to every touchpoint of care for our patients. As physician leaders, we have to be able to manage the potential of infinite stresses we encounter daily, to be able to make good decisions, and work collaboratively with other people.
In addition, I received additional training and board certification in anti-aging medicine from the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, Platinum Training from Robbins Research International, as well as Multi-Dimensional Healing Training with a Shaman. Through those experiences, I’ve learned about the biology of our emotions and the relationship between our thoughts and beliefs to our emotional states. I’ve also learned how our past traumas contribute to our thoughts, beliefs, and emotional triggers. I also studied how emotional states affect our physiology, our ability to make good decisions, and how our emotional states can be transferred to other humans in either a positive or negative way.
For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?
Emotional intelligence is also known by some people as our emotional quotient or EQ, and that is the ability to understand, use, and manage emotions in constructive ways. Having high EQ allows us to be able to communicate more effectively, to relieve stress, to be able to empathize with others, and to be able to deal with conflict and challenges with other people.
How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?
Well, what we normally refer to as intelligence is called cognitive intelligence, and that’s our ability to learn, remember,reason, solve problems, and to make sound judgments.
Can you help explain a few reasons why Emotional Intelligence is such an important characteristic? Can you share a story or give some examples?
Emotions have biological correlates that actually affect our physiology. For example, emotions like fear, anger, hate, or resentment raise stress hormones, such as cortisol and epinephrine which lowers our immune system and increases inflammation. Whereas emotions like love, joy, and gratitude actually do the exact opposite. In fact, they are healing emotions, and many of them are considered anti-aging. In addition, emotions also dictate how we think and act. If we are in the emotion of fear or anger, we may say or do things we may regret. A negative emotional state is never a space we want to operate from when we want to create meaningful collaboration with others.
Would you feel comfortable sharing a story or anecdote about how Emotional Intelligence has helped you in your life? We would love to hear about it.
My fiancé, Tiffany, and I have gotten into our share of arguments. A lot of times these arguments would be very heated. And in those heated emotional states, we would say and do things that have hurt each other.
Now we’ve done a lot of relationship and emotional intelligence work and we’ve learned that a lot of the negative emotions that come up are from past traumas that weren’t resolved.
For me, it was feelings of not being worthy or respected. And for her, it was not feeling safe or loved. We saw that these negative emotions were just defenses triggered from unhealed wounds. And as we began to become aware of this, we no longer saw each other as enemies flinging negative energy at each other. We started to see the innocence of the other person being triggered by an old wound.
Now, it’s not easy to be in the emotional firing range of our partner, but as we began to see the innocent human in the other person, and as we committed to being generous loving partners, we began to show up for each other differently. We were really able to give the love each other needed to be healed. This work has been transformational for us.
Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?
Emotional intelligence is crucial to the business world. Business is all about giving and receiving value from others, and businesses that grow are businesses that care about their customers and human connection. People with low emotional IQ tend to refuse to work as a team, have passive-aggressive communication styles, play the role of a victim, or avoid taking responsibility for their errors. They may also be overly critical of others or dismissive of other’s opinions. People with a high level of emotional intelligence make better decisions. They solve problems better. They’re able to stay cool under pressure. They’re able to resolve conflicts well. They have greater empathy for others, and they listen, reflect, and respond to constructive criticism. All these traits are crucial in the business world.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?
As I’ve mentioned earlier, emotional intelligence has been transformational in my own romantic relationship, but really it’s the key in any relationship. It allows us to be able to act from love rather than fear. And when we’re able to act from love, we act in the state of our highest vibration and intention.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?
As I mentioned before, emotions like fear, anger, hate, and resentment cause biological changes in our body that reduce our immune system and our increases inflammation. Whereas emotions of joy, gratitude, love, and connection create biochemical signals that improve healing and our cellular response. As we can become aware of our emotions, we’re better able to manage them so that we do not get into negative mental loops. Our emotions and thoughts are energetically tied together so that when we’re in emotions of fear, anger, or hate, we tend to have more negative thoughts. These negative thoughts could potentially bring up more feelings of sadness or anxiety; which you can see how this can create a negative loop.
As we can begin to be aware of our emotions, we can break these negative thought loops, and we start taking actions that will center us and allow us to not only think better but allow us to have access to more positive emotional states.
Okay, wonderful. Here’s the main question of our interview. Can you recommend five things that anyone can do to develop a greater degree of emotional intelligence?
- “Create space then A.C.T.” This is a technique I share in my book Thrive State. When we experienced a negative emotional state, what we can do is take 10 slow deep breaths in through our nose, and out through our mouth, like we are breathing through a straw. As we are doing this, we tap into our parasympathetic nervous system and calm these emotions down. We’ve basically created space from what triggered us in the first place. In that space, we then A.C.T. (Awareness, Choice, and Take Action). In that space, we can just have awareness of why we’re having these emotions and where they might be coming from. We can then start to choose to create a new intention of how we want to think or how we want to feel. And then finally, we can start taking action towards that new intention.
- Journal. Write down your triggers and write down what you’re grateful for. Writing you’re your triggers gets them out of your head and allows you to have awareness of them. Writing down what you are grateful for trains your mind and body to cultivate access to positive emotional states.
- Be mindful of the words we use. Focusing on becoming a stronger communicator in our relationships and in the workplace is an invaluable skill. Our tone and language convey our intent and how others may react emotionally. Being able to manage our own and other’s emotions will lead to more constructive communication.
- Recognize our negative stressors. It’s important to recognize the triggers that put us in stressful or negative emotional states and create practices to be able to help either relieve or manage those emotions such as breathwork, meditation, yoga, chi-gong and journaling.
- Reframing. Reframing is the ability to take a circumstance that might have a negative emotional charge and create a new empowering frame of reference and context to shift our emotional state. For example, reframing is what we do when we switch from a glass half empty to a glass half full perspective. A really great example of reframing is Byron Katie’s quote I mentioned earlier — remembering that life is always happening for us and not to us. So if we are experiencing a circumstance in our life that we deem negative, is there a way we can look at that situation and ask ourselves, how is that situation happening for us? The more we can see that every single situation in our life is happening for us, we create the ability to cultivate the emotions of gratitude, success, growth, and progress in every moment.
Do you think our educational system can do a better job at cultivating Emotional Intelligence? What specific recommendations would you make for schools to help students cultivate Emotional Intelligence?
Definitely. First, we have to understand there are four levels of emotional intelligence. There is perceiving emotions, understanding emotions, reasoning with emotions, and then managing our emotions. For our students to learn best, they need good role models. Just like physician leaders, I believe it’s very important for teachers and administrators to receive emotional intelligence training. I also feel it is important to develop a curriculum to discuss what emotions are and where they come from. It’s important for students to be able to understand the biology of emotions. I would suggest exercises such as encouraging eye contact or being able to notice facial gestures and posture so that students can be trained in what emotions look like on a physical body. Exercises such as naming emotions could be very useful. Finally, teaching students how to listen for understanding. People listen with the intention of responding, but very few people actually are taught to listen with the intention of understanding. And it’s so important to teach students how to respond with empathy.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I’d love to remind people that…. They are their best medicine. When we can become completely conscious of our thoughts, emotions, and actions, we can choose a life of abundant health and fuel our vitality and energy to best serve our gifts to the world.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson. I just love his story. I love his energy, his work ethic, and his humor. I think he is a true epitome of what a positive mindset, positive emotional intelligence, and a positive work ethic can achieve. I think he’d be super fun to chat with. In my vision to use media and entertainment to help shift health consciousness and reverse the chronic disease epidemic, I think he would be the perfect person to partner with. Plus I think he likes hanging out with shorter guys. At a towering five feet six inches, I think I can give Kevin Hart a run for his money.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
People can find me on my website at kienvuu.com , connect with me on Instagram, Facebook, or Youtube @kienvuumd , and discover their blueprint for optimal health, longevity, and peak performance through my book Thrive State at thrivestatebook.com or wherever books are sold.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.