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“See the world in a much more positive light”, Phung Tran and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

See the world in a much more positive light: With increased gratitude comes the feeling of having a support system. When you learn to feel thankful for the little things, you learn the power to look at the world with a more optimistic focus. You believe that you are wanted, and there is something out […]

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See the world in a much more positive light: With increased gratitude comes the feeling of having a support system. When you learn to feel thankful for the little things, you learn the power to look at the world with a more optimistic focus. You believe that you are wanted, and there is something out there waiting.


As we all know, times are tough right now. In addition to the acute medical crisis caused by the Pandemic, in our post COVID world, we are also experiencing what some have called a “mental health pandemic”.

What can each of us do to get out of this “Pandemic Induced Mental and Emotional Funk”?

One tool that each of us has access to is the simple power of daily gratitude. As a part of our series about the “How Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness ” I had the pleasure of interviewing Phung Tran.

Excited to achieve your ideal body with healthy habits that last forever? Then Phung Tran is your new fitness bestie.

As an ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist, Phung has helped young women of color like you to implement science-backed methods to lose weight, with personalized exercise routines and the joy of eating. Her fitness strategy has prompted her clients to be more health-conscious while enjoying life as it should be.

When she’s not busy breaking a sweat, you can find Phung cuddling with her black cat on the bed and crocheting her latest amigurumi project.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about you and about what brought you to your specific career path?

It all started during high school when I moved to the US from Vietnam. Besides trying to assimilate to a new culture, I struggled to get used to the fact that I could no longer work out as much. You see, in Vietnam, I had a bicycle to ride around the city and was into semi-competitive judo. In short, I was very active for 10 to 12 hours a week. That is quite a lot when you consider that the recommended duration is only 1 hour and 30 minutes per week.

In 11th grade, 2 years after I moved to the US, a pivotal moment really changed how I viewed my health and fitness. You see, I broke down crying like a mess because my mother asked me to take a walk with her… But there was no particular reason for me to cry because of a simple walk. However, what I knew was that I was not doing well. I stopped working out while still eating the same amount, so I ballooned up. It did not feel great. I did not like how I looked. That motivated me to major in Exercise Science when I started college. From then on, I spent 4 years learning about human anatomy and physiology. My studies also included how exercise affects the body and minds and how to help other people improve their lives by being more active. I made lots of friends who did not judge me and kept me accountable for my fitness progress. I had knowledgeable professors who did not mind setting aside time to explain to me every little thing about my learning. Now, I am here to help other people with a similar mindset and situation before discovering the easy way to enjoy life while still being healthy.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Helping ordinary people, especially women of color, find joy in themselves and exercising has been incredible during this time. Working with everyone virtually has been a new experience! Being healthy is super simple. Two of my clients were very stressed about going to school and balancing a job with fitness while on lockdown. We worked together to make healthy decisions more naturally and fun, like working out at any time and limiting “less” healthy food. Instead of having a ginger ale every night, my clients can split it with their parents so both can enjoy the drinks and consume less sugar. My clients’ mindset changed, and so did mine. I did not realize that many people may yet to get the answers I did in my education years. It is the little things that count. By helping my clients, I also empowered myself to tackle running a business during the pandemic.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why do you think that resonates with you? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“Comparing yourself to anyone destroys joy” — Phung Tran, ACSM EP-C.

I use this phrase to remind myself when I see other people becoming more successful than I am. It can be selfish and egotistical, but it is a natural feeling. You cannot know the gratitude you have in life if you are continually feeling inferior or unlucky. When I was going to college, I used to be jealous of friends who were getting opportunities to work on research projects like splitting brains, studying viruses, or traveling overseas to collect data. I then realized that I was doing well in my classes and did not reach out to many professors for opportunities. By re-orienting my point of view, I was able to see my weaknesses. Instead of lamenting my “lack” of abilities, I went out there and showed my professors what I was willing to help. By the end of my years in college, I was able to conduct 2 research projects and traveled to different conferences to present my findings. The first project was about encouraging the university faculty and staff to be more active past the new year hype. My second project focused on the accuracy of different fitness trackers. Both projects provided me with much-needed experience and knowledge that are hard to find. When I stopped comparing myself to my peers, I was able to overachieve my wildest dream.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story about why that resonated with you?

During the incredible year 2020, I read The Art of Inventing Hope, written by Howard Reich, based on his interviews with Elie Wiesel, a famous Holocaust survivor. Although I do not want to compare apples to oranges because our situations are different, this book reminded me of the importance of maintaining hope. In this book, Mr. Reich shared how his mother still looked out the window and experienced terrors done by the Nazis until the end of her life in the US. Mr. Wiesel took over two decades after his liberation to put what he experienced on paper. Terrors and baseless discrimination can do a number of the human psyche. But how we recover from trauma can be different, and there is no right or wrong answer.

I recently graduated as part of the very first group of students who get the honor of entering the workforce in the middle of a deadly pandemic AND a stagnated economy. The anxiety of being a new graduate was compounded. What was I going to do? Should I go back to school during the economic recession? Would my field be available to survive after all of this? How would people treat me just because I’m Asian? Unlike the Holocaust, my fears were more abstract. I maintained hope throughout the spring and summer. Instead of sitting down, I stood up and helped 7+ friends to be more active during lockdowns. We had fun chatting over Zoom and experimenting with new ways we can adapt to this new normal. The crisis still is not over, but I have made some progress.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am launching a 2-month one-on-one program called Polish Your Possibilities. The program serves primarily new exercisers who want to build on science-backed information and clear out pathways to change their health for the better. As somebody who was once overweight and lost all of the extra weight with science, I can work with any woman of color who wishes to achieve similar goals. We’ll go over your existing habits and map out the revisions you need to create a sustainable health system that lasts forever. Worry not about trying to fit yourself into anybody’s shoes. Your system is personalized to your tastes and preferences. At the end of our time together, you will be able to do healthy things while still enjoying life as it should be.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

This is a tough question. I cannot attribute my success so far to just one person. Everyone I have had a chance to speak to has helped me one way or the other. I cannot thank my high school counselor enough for believing in me when applying to colleges. My professors and mentors at college were amazing people who opened a new door of opportunities and perspective for me. The Asian & Pacific Islander Americans (APIA) Scholar was great for connecting me to peers who look similar to me who live all around the country.

I have to thank 2 people for my current business, my professor Mr. Rohleder, from university, and Ms. Lee from the APIA Scholar Mentorship Program. Mr. Rohleder helped me revive and run our small student organization for Exercise Science students. We worked with each other for over 4 years, and he inspired me to start a business with just small business ideas. He did not even talk to me at the time, but I happened to be in the room. Seeing how one can help people have fun with exercise while making money was very intriguing. And Ms. Lee spent time with me once every month. We have fun sharing our stories, and she keeps up with my business progress. She makes sure that I have to move forward and dispels any self-doubt I have about myself.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now that we are on the topic of gratitude, let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. We would like to explore together how every one of us can use gratitude to improve our mental wellness. Let’s start with a basic definition of terms. How do you define the concept of Gratitude? Can you explain what you mean?

Gratitude for me is the concept of feeling thankful for the help and guidance that other people have decided to share with me. Not only should I feel grateful, but I will also have to express my gratitude to the intended recipients. So they know their efforts did not go to waste.

Why do you think so many people do not feel gratitude? How would you articulate why a simple emotion can be so elusive?

It is partly because of our culture’s hyper-focusing on individualism. Everybody is all about “reinventing the wheels” or “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.” The way of thinking isolates us from the rest of our communities. How can you see the good deeds people give you when you believe you can accomplish everything by yourself?

Another thing is about how you look at the world. It is hard to feel grateful when you experience hardships while others are succeeding. You feel like the whole world is against you. Therefore, you would withdraw from even more relationships. The cycle repeats itself. You see people flourish and get jealous. You are blinded to the other fortunes you have. In the end, you quit having gratitude and instead become bitter.

This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be constructive to help spell it out. Can you share with us a few ways that increased gratitude can benefit and enhance our life?

Here are the 3 benefits that immediately come to my mind when you asked me this question.

1) See the world in a much more positive light:

With increased gratitude comes the feeling of having a support system. When you learn to feel thankful for the little things, you learn the power to look at the world with a more optimistic focus. You believe that you are wanted, and there is something out there waiting.

2) Improve self-esteem:

People can feel your intentions toward them. When you express sincere gratitude, they can tell that you appreciate them and their opinions. They will go out of their way to help you. When you know other people have your back, you are confident. Because you know you can depend on them for honest feedback. They are not the kinds you have to be afraid of stabbing you in the back. You know that you are doing well, regardless of what the people outside of your circle are screaming.

3) Increase motivation to exercise:

I experienced this part myself. You can feel grateful to the people who can be frank with you and continue to push you moving forward from my experience. This does not mean you are comparing your figure to other people’s. In fact, they force you to keep accountable for your exercise routines and healthy decisions. When you build meaningful connections with people, they will reciprocate good intentions. In this case, by not demeaning anyone, you all lift each other up to the next level.

Let’s talk about mental wellness in particular. Can you share with us a few examples of how gratitude can help improve mental wellness?

Like I said at the beginning of our talk, I once broke down crying because my mother asked me to go on a stroll with her around the neighborhood. Although I didn’t realize it at first, I later learned that I felt grateful to her for showing me why I was not feeling well. If we did not have that bizarre interaction, I would not be thinking about pursuing this career and might keep going down the wrong path. Thanks to gratitude, I now have confidence in myself and what I do while keeping up with exercise!

Mr. Rohleder also helped me navigate the paperwork and hardship of running a student non-profit organization. It was a lot of work on my end, but we could not become successful without his help. Thanks to his guidance, I grew into an ambitious person who is very good with bookkeeping, a handy skill to run a small business. When reflecting on my gratitude, I can see how I have grown as a person and feel hopeful about my future.

My business would not survive until today had I not received guidance from Ms. Dethra Giles. She is an international consultant and a three-time TEDx speaker. Over the summer of 2020, she worked with me and a group of people to pivot our businesses online. I am so grateful to her for clarifying and answering questions about starting my own business during the pandemic. Her kindness builds a strong foundation for my business. My mind is assured that my business is on track and imposter syndrome goes away with my gratitude.

Ok wonderful. Now here is the main question of our discussion. From your experience or research, what are “Five Ways That Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness”. Can you please share a story or example for each?

Why would an exercise physiologist be talking about mental health? It is funny you asked. Gratitude and mental health go hand in hand with creating better lifestyle habits. Doing the right things for yourself is much easier when you have the support and cheering from your close group of people.

Here are 5 steps I wish someone told me about leveraging the power of gratitude to improve mental health wellness, which elevates my life.

1) Pause when you feel upset:

Life does not always go the way you plan. It is very easy to feel defeated when you see other people becoming more successful at the expense of yourself. It is a natural reaction. The point is how you bounce back from this nagging feeling.

The first step is to actually take a pause. Resting is more important than you think, both physically and mentally. In this case, a break can help with re-orienting your point of view and see what you already have.

2) Acknowledge your weaknesses:

Be honest with yourself. To paraphrase Sun Tzu, “You cannot defeat the enemy if you do not know yourself.” Reflect on what is holding you back. Only when you acknowledge your weaknesses you can see how much gratitude you are receiving.

With the American culture of individualism, it is not too complicated to think you can do everything yourself. At the same time, you tend to forget all the good deeds you have in life; maybe it is a loving family. Perhaps you have a fantastic mentor who helps us see new doors or just a colleague who makes the day much better. Instead of lamenting nobody helps us, you can look inside yourself and find the people who deserve your gratitude.

3) Take note of the little things:

Look at the brighter side. The fact that you are alive and breathing is a blessing. If upon reflecting, you still cannot see the good deeds people have done for you. Then let us start taking notes today!

Start keeping a journal, either digitally or on paper, to jot down little fun things that happen to you throughout the day. You will be surprised to see how connected your life is to the rest of the world. Despite the pandemic forcing us to stay at home, we now find camaraderie from the people in the online world, such as Instagram, Facebook, or even Reddit. People are always out there to comfort each other. For that, we need to be grateful.

4) Write thank-you notes/say thank you to people:

Act on your gratitude. Nobody knows what you think if you keep your thoughts bottled up inside. This is one way you can give back to the people who have treated you well. And it does not need to take much effort.

You can send each other surprise presents. Leaving funny GIFs to people for their important dates. Now, not only do you feel grateful for these recipients, they, in turn, feel thankful for the detailed attention you give them. It is a win-win situation! The both of you can have that feeling of genuine human connections.

5) Help out others when you can:

Sharing is caring. You will feel much better when you continue the good deeds other people have done to you and spread them out to even more people. You never know what they will give you back. It is the fun of living.

By getting to know more people, you will see what they can do for you in return. It does not need to be an equivalent exchange. Feelings do not work that way. It is about the beautiful little trinkets you find along the way as you continue to live and make the journey of your life.

Being healthy is not just about how you feed yourself. It is also about how you feed your soul. By leveraging gratitude and feeling needed, you and I can improve our overall mental wellness. Creating meaningful bonds with the people you love keeps you accountable for living up to your fullest potential. Take advantage of gratitude as your strength and spring into life to achieve that healthy body you love.

Taking care of your mental health is a crucial part of staying healthy, and many people neglect this. It is often the easiest and takes the least amount of effort to do. I hope more people can realize this simple trick to better health.

Is there a particular practice that can be used during a time when one is feeling really down, really vulnerable, or really sensitive?

I write down everything happening to me in a journal. It is a practice I do every day to keep track of my feelings throughout the day. It is much easier to feel grateful when you see evidence for some. Maybe it was just a small gesture from my colleagues. Perhaps it was an amusing interaction I had with a stranger. Everything comes together nicely when there is proof of me feeling great every single day.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that you would recommend to our readers to help them to live with gratitude?

I always love to read “I am Beto” whenever I am feeling down. It is a children’s book written by Nguyen Nhat Anh, a famed writer from Vietnam. The book is written from a puppy’s perspective of its surrounding environment. The puppy sees how its owner got disheartened after her great-grandmother’s death, her pride to show to any friends who visit. Life is too short. Let us enjoy our time together and focus on creating the best memories with each other.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I want more women of color like myself to get access to adequate healthcare and science-backed knowledge when taking ownership of their health and fitness. As it stands, plenty of us falls prey to hacks like multi-level marketing schemes, insane workout challenges, and especially distorted body image.

That reality must change. Women of color have been neglected for too long in the health & wellness industry. Self-esteem and body image issues are prevalent in the community. Take a quick look at Instagram, and you can see all these supposedly perfect influencers with smooth skins, curvy figures, or great hair. But when you zoom in on the background, the ideal pictures fall apart. Not many realized that they have been deceived and continue to compare themselves to these impossible standards.

Before trying to achieve a healthy body you love, you must learn to love your current body. Yes, you are working to improve yourself, but you have confidence in what you need to do and the outcomes. By arming more women of color with the appropriate care, we can see more bloom and achievement in all other areas.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

I am most active on Instagram @beactiveiseasy, and you can check out my blog and what I do atwww.beactiveiseasy.com. Anyone interested in setting up a sustainable health system can get my free checklist to begin laying down the stepping stones.

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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