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Behavior Designs, Chasing After Dreams: Inspiration, Pursuit of Happiness

First in 6 years at Stanford: How to Get Your Proposal Approved Part 1.5

Key Success Principle: Staircase Your Successes

The After Story:

I have four professors who signed on to become my advisors.  Three tenured-faculty members were required to get my individually designed major in Behavior Design approved.

They are:

  1. BJ Fogg, Computer Science
  2. Jeremy Bailenson,  Communication
  3. Clifford Nass, Communication
  4. Carol Dweck, Psychology

The Before Story:

Rejected 7 times from 7 different professor, including the behavior design expert and current mentor Dr. BJ Fogg.  I sent emails, left sticky notes, stalked office hours, and reached out prematurely.  Jumped the gun way too early.

For example, before ever meeting BJ or taking his class, I sent this email. Based on his 2011 class syllabus — Behavior Design: Using Calming Technology to Create Calming Habits  I sent the following email:


I almost never say sir, but I think this occasion may merit me doing so.  Out of chance, my friend sent me a link to your course on facebook a couple of days ago.  I told my friends about it immediately.  Because I looked at the course, and I knew I wanted to take it.  It wasn’t simply “intuitive” but it aligns with my values and logic as well. 

To my point:  I love psych–especially the realms of positive psychology–flow, productivity, motivation, learning, and memory.  Simply—I love it because I believe these concepts are key to living life to the fullest.  I believe you understand where I’m coming from.  I also know and understand that CS and technology are KEY.  The ability to program is KEY.  Bridging these gaps are KEY.  I’m a sophomore and found Symbolic Systems as an outlet for my interest, but it doesn’t quite fit 100%.  

Dr. Fogg, would you be willing to help guide me so that we can design a potential revolutionizing / unconventional major that bridges CS and Positive Psych specifically?  You are the first faculty member that I have stumbled upon that, I think, really shares/understands my interest and values.  

Nevertheless, I look forward to taking your class:). 

16 minutes later…(Go Google timestamps!)


I’m not a full-time faculty member. That makes it difficult at times to do things like this.

Let’s let class run a few weeks and then have this discussion.  We’ll know each other better at that point. You may find I’m not a good fit!


Well…I knew he’d be a good fit :).  But after that email, I realized my tendency to jump the gun when I’m excited.  I am willing to act, but not prep.  I came in with no research of this “major,” the specifics of how he could help, what his needs were, and the list goes on.  I’m surprised he actually answered.

(I was going to write about Staircase Successes, but I diverge.  I’m enjoying this path much more, so I’ll save that for next time.)  The key lessons in this post is:

Action trumps preparation.  But preparation with action is lethal.  

After I realized my ineffective approach, I spent the next 24 days scouring Stanford courses, accumulating about 14 hours.  Only at that point, did I reach out to Dr. Fogg again.

This was his response:

This looks great. David.

Can I enroll in these classes too? Just reading the list gets me amped up. 

What help do you need from me?


Best possible answer ever.  Made my day, and opened the door of changing my life.  I’ll share what I sent in my next post… and yes…next post will be…

NEXT POST! Key Success Principle: Staircase Your Successes (I promise)

Thank you BJ, hope you’re having fun changing behavior in Europe!


About David Ngo

Rising entrepreneur and behavior designer at Stanford University. Life is short--just trying to live the most fulfilling life, and get those around me to do so as well. Stanford's 1st & only Behavior Design Major: slidesha.re/behaviordesignmajor More about.me/dngo


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