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Second-year student publishes her first book on self-help techniques

Second-year psychobiology student Nicolette Khalifian published her first book in February, which originally started as notes she took on her phone in high school. The book explores how to overcome mental blocks and offers exercises to facilitate the process. (Courtesy of Nicolette Khalifian)

By Alyson Kong

March 31, 2020 1:42 p.m.

Nicolette Khalifian said her senior year of high school was spent grappling with self-doubt – her healing process began on the notes app of her phone.

For her, what started out as a coping mechanism soon transformed into a larger project. The second-year psychobiology student’s book, “Control Mindset: An Interactive Guide to Freeing Your Mind, Taking Control, and Unlocking the Extraordinary,” which was published in February, is meant to serve as a practical guide to overcoming similar mental blocks. Khalifian said the book combines both personal narratives and interactive exercises to help guide the reader toward a mindset filled not with fear, but with hope.

“Fear is the common denominator in all the cases that people are saying ‘no’ to themselves or sitting back or not chasing after their dreams,” Khalifian said.

[Related: Student self-publishes children’s book to broaden Asian American representation]

Her own personal journey began with a toxic cycle of self-sabotage, Khalifian said, in which she defined her self-worth purely on grades and was constantly afraid of failure and opportunities. Writing became an outlet to notice the negative trends in her thoughts, she said. The frequent introspection drove her to action and prompted her to start learning how to transform her outlook, she said.

Khalifian said the underlying logic behind the book is guided by the idea that the individual must see themselves as capable and deserving of both change and growth. The book offers a three-step approach to reach that stage of acceptance. The first is to discover one’s haves and have nots. The second is to take control of everything within one’s limits, from the internal to the external, with the last step being to recognize and rise above what one cannot control in order to move forward. Ultimately, Khalifian said the end goal is to find contentment in one’s life and welcome change when it comes.

(Courtesy of Nicolette Khalifian)
Nicolette Khalifian was inspired by her own struggle with self-doubt to write a book that could help others overcome the same issue. (Courtesy of Nicolette Khalifian)

Khalifian said she collaborated with Eric Koester, known as the “book professor” at Georgetown University, who began a book-publishing program in 2016 geared toward undergraduate and graduate students. Khalifian, who lives outside the District of Columbia, reached out to Koester after hearing about the class from a mutual acquaintance at Georgetown. It is largely thanks to the internet that such a setup is possible – virtual platforms like Zoom are some of the primary channels in which he meets and conducts seminars with authors from different time zones, Koester said.

The professor said he pushed Khalifian to transform her personal experience into a solid framework by seeking out others with similar stories. Following his advice, she gradually constructed the book’s philosophy by reaching out and interviewing people young and old, often through Instagram. Khalifian said she focused on doctors to demonstrate the internal struggles they have to grapple with, despite being successful according to societal standards.

“They’re still trying to figure X, Y and Z out and part of the understanding is that nothing is ever finished,” she said. “You are doing the best that you could do. And putting one foot in front of the next is really what lets people ride the wave without feeling like they’re stuck in it.”

Khalifian’s publisher, Brian Bies from New Degree Press, said the confluence of her age, experience and compassion produces a valuable perspective amid the majority of middle-aged veteran authors in the self-help genre. He said she brings a youthful optimism to the table, which helps the book resonate with younger audiences.

[Related: Student publishes book exploring influence of law clerks on US judicial system]

Another core feature of her book lies in the carefully crafted exercises, Bies said. The book contains a mixture of simple straightforward questions meant to induce thoughtful introspections, Khalifian said, as well as writing exercises to help cultivate the desired mindset.

For example, readers are prompted after each section to write out their feelings and habits in first-person present tense. Khalifian said the particular syntactic structure is meant to help the person consciously affirm their worth, enabling them to start taking control of their situation.

(Courtesy of Nicolette Khalifian)
"Control Mindset" is meant to help guide the reader toward a mindset filled not with fear, but with hope.(Courtesy of Nicolette Khalifian)

There are also open-ended exercises such as dissecting bad habits and their roots, which provides a practical element for readers to engage in. The first step is recognizing a bad habit the reader wants to improve, such as phone addiction. The second is pinpointing the resource that fuels this habit, such as the phone and notifications that constantly provide stimulation. The third is to find alternative ways of attaining stimulation, such as by reading a book, which can vary from person to person, she said.

“I think if you gave people the opportunity to act on what they’re reading then they’re really able to put to work what they’re learning,” Khalifian said.

Khalifian said the aforementioned exercises and lessons can be particularly beneficial to people around her age who may be struggling with their academics or are afraid of pursuing their passions. However, she said anyone with similar sentiments of self-doubt and uncertainty can relate to the book. There is no definitive learning curve in life, Khalifian said, as some adults make the same mistakes that teenagers make. The book, in her view, is meant for anyone who wants to face the world in a fearless and limitless way, she said.

“I just really hope readers feel encouraged to push harder, to understand their true potential, to know they’re capable and that no one is stuck,” Khalifian said. “Take away these key lessons that your mind is what you can do with it, and there’s truly nothing holding you back unless you view it as an obstacle.”

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Alyson Kong | Alumna
Kong served as the Theater | Film | Television editor for the Daily Bruin from 2020-2021. She was previously an A&E reporter from 2019-2020.
Kong served as the Theater | Film | Television editor for the Daily Bruin from 2020-2021. She was previously an A&E reporter from 2019-2020.
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