Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Keep Your New Year's Resolutions

Most people are ready for change, few are ready to change. As the saying goes: "If you fail to plan, plan to fail." And when you're planning here are some principles to keep in mind


Don't confuse reasonable expectations with realistic expectations. Reasonable means "makes sense." Realistic means "likely to happen." It may be reasonable to stop smoking, start a new diet and begin exercising, but it may not be realistic to change all of them at once.

2. SET SPECIFIC GOALS. Most people have a clearer idea of how they want to feel (as in happier, healthier, richer) than they have a clear picture of what things need to be done to get there. You know the saying, "Where there's a will, there's a way." The reverse is more often true, i.e. "Where there's a way, there's a will." Have a step-by-step plan for how to achieve your goals.

3. WRITE IT DOWN. You wouldn't build a house without a blueprint, would you? Write down what you need to stop doing and what you need to start doing to reach your goals. Writing down your goals and plans increases your commitment.

4. TELL OTHER PEOPLE. Telling other people you're going to do something increases your commitment. Select people that you respect and admire, and whose respect you would like to receive.

5. USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM. Partner with someone who is also trying to keep their New Year's resolutions to increase your dedication. Stopping negative habits and replacing them with positive behavior is easier when you have a buddy system with a good friend or co-worker. Doing New Year's Resolutions with another person reduces the pain of doing without that unhealthy habit you're trying to break.

6. ELIMINATE ENERGY VAMPIRES. One reason you fall off diets and exercise programs is that you need a quick fix every time you deal with negative people or no-win situations. These can be so exhausting that you say "the heck with" your diet or exercise and grab a candy bar or bail on exercising. Find a way to reduce contact with these people and situations and you'll dramatically increase your energy and be able to stay on track.

7. STICK WITH IT. Realize that it takes 30 days for a change in behavior to become a habit (this may explain why they give out 30 day chips for maintaining sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous) and six months for a habit to become a natural part of your personality.

(c) 2006 Mark Goulston

See Soledad O'Brien "buy in" to Mark's New Year's Resolution tips.

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If you enjoy Mark Goulston's signature, "Usable Insights" and "Action Steps," share his new book Get Out of Your Own Way at Work...and Help Others Do the Same, with your friends and colleagues. Enquire about special quantity discounts for bulk purchases for sales promotions, giveaways, premiums or educational use from Penguin Group (USA) Inc, Telephone: 212/ 366-2612; Fax: 212/ 366-2679; or visit www.penguin.com/corporatesales. Quantity discounts are also often available from your local bookseller or from www.800CEORead.com.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Best Gifts in Life are Free

Phone call home (calling card), 75 cents
Xmas card (Hallmark), $2.50
Airfare home (roundtrip), $350
Unsolicited thanks (from a grown child), priceless*

Up until I was 35 years old I considered myself a coward, because I stayed too much in my comfort zone, took too few risks and gave into my fears. Then my first child was born. One day when she was three months old and I was holding her in my lap, she looked up into my eyes with total love and total trust. I realized that if she looked into my eyes that way when she was twenty and saw in me, what I saw in me, she would be disappointed. And I couldn’t do that to her.

What I was most afraid of and thus avoided was being on the spot, humiliating myself or being ridiculed. That is why I rarely asked questions— either at home or in the world (except in my capacity as a psychiatrist/psychotherapist)– up until that time in my life. On that day I started to say, “Yes” to all the things I had previously said, “No” to from fear.

Now on nearly a daily basis I go out of my way to put myself on the spot. That is why I give talks, grant interviews, write articles and books. When it goes well, it gives me confidence; when it goes poorly, all the better, because that makes me stronger and innoculates me against cowardom.

You might wonder how things turned out since my daughter is now 24. Six months ago I received the best gift I have ever received. It was an email from her:

“Hi dad, last night my friends ----- and ----- and I were out walking in Manhattan discussing how lost and confused we felt (BTW they all have jobs), when I interrupted as I often do to say, ‘My dad said -----.’ And just as often, it stops the conversation and makes it considerably better. I’m not so sure my friends could say the same about their dads. I’m lucky to have a dad who is so wise, even if he is far away. I love you. See you soon, Lauren.”

Don’t wait until it’s too late to give that kind of thank you to the people you’re grateful to.

* with appreciation to Mastercard

© 2006 Mark Goulston

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Paper train your problem relatives for Xmas

An ounce of flattery
will get you an evening of table manners.

Do you have any relatives or friends that ruin everyone’s time at Christmas dinner and you can’t un-invite them? Do you feel guilty at wishing they’ll either have other plans or be too sick to come? Do you wish there was a way to paper train them so they don’t mess on everyone else’s good time?

Here is how using a little applied emotional intelligence can save the day. One thing most of these high-maintenance (easy to upset, difficult to please) people have in common is that they feel as if the world is not treating them well enough. In essence they don’t feel important or special enough in the world (usually because their awful personality has gotten in the way of success which they are bitter about).

This is where thinking ahead and using the “i” (as in "important") word can do wonders.

Have the male of the house that is doing dinner call these problem people 5 to 7 days ahead of time and say to them: “I’m calling to ask you a favor because you’re a very important part of our holiday dinners (i.e. “because we haven’t figured out how to keep you from coming or shut you up”). Many of us don’t see or even talk to each other except for the holidays and you never know who’s really having a bad time with a terrible illness, a recent death, or some big financial problems. So these dinners can be very awkward and since you are such a consistent and important guest I was hoping you might be able to greet people when they come in, and help pull them out of their shell by asking them how they and their family are doing and about anything new that’s been going on with them.”

Having the male of the house do something so forward thinking and so gracious (it’s not that often that a man asks for help or directions) and also giving these people who feel so cheated by life the chance to feel important is not only quite flattering, it is disarming. The problem person is going to have trouble responding with his/her real modas operandi, i.e. “No thanks. I was planning on coming and ruining everyone’s time like I do every year.”

Then when the night of dinner occurs, this same male should greet that person at the door, touch them on the arm and say: “I hope I can count on you to help make people feel comfortable after they arrive.” Then add before they can respond, “Oh, excuse me. I have to go take care of some things.”

This may not stop a dyed in the wool jerk from spoiling Christmas, but it may serve as a deterrent.

In the mean time, Happy Holidays to you all.

© 2006 Mark Goulston

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

How to Succeed at Anything

I have recently become a partner at Ferrazzi Greenlight, where we believe that "business is human." Catch Keith's latest effort in Reader's Digest: "How to Succeed at Anything" (you'll also see some of my work in the "Get Out of Your Own Way" tool).

Check the new Reader's Digest (January 2007 issue, blue cover with Hilary Swank top-left, page 107) for Keith's article "Got a Dream? Here's how to make it happen." Or click here to read it at RD.com.


Why we laugh at Borat...and funerals

If you laugh at Borat, you’re not sick;
you’re just repressed.

Watching the new movie Borat is like fighting a losing battle to resist laughing at a funeral. Being someone who is guilty of that as well as laughing with oncology doctors on cancer wards and occasionally acting as the wrong ‘sic’ humored role model to my kids, Sasha Baron Cohen’s movie caused me to pause—as a specialist in emotional intelligence and neuroscience—and contemplate why.

Fortunately I have never been someone who was driven to tickling those who can’t stand to be tickled, nor have I ever attacked, ridiculed or humiliated the relatively decent, but ignorant people in the world (that Borat overflows with) who just don’t know any better and who would probably not learn to know better by such treatment. But I have had the fantasy of doing so.

For me and others that this battle to maintain self-control speaks to, too often many of us slide into a black and white mind set of thinking and believing that we are either in control or out of control. It seems to require more integrated and internalized wisdom than I can muster to accept into my DNA that most of life occurs in the “not in control” zone. The final score in a football contest result from each team reaching the end zone or kicking over the crossbars of the goal post, yet the entire game is played in the not in control 100 yard field in between. It’s the game, not that score that makes it worth watching.

For much of every day, most of us are besieged by responsibilities, obligations, risks that can turn into set backs if not disasters, and opportunities that can be missed whereupon we proceed to beat up on ourselves . All of these conspire to push us from a state of stress where we can hold onto our goals and develop inner fortitude past our internal tipping point into a state of distress, where our goal becomes finding relief. It is the seeking of that relief that drives us to go off diets, stop exercising, buy something we don’t need, procrastinate on something we should get done now, explode at a boss, friend or loved one or find some other means to get in our own way. It’s what pushes us to go postal and I don’t mean to go to the post office and wait in a long line for stamps.

It is also what causes us to not just go to see Borat (and before that “Old School” or the Austin Powers movies), but to read about going to see them (as I’m hoping you’ll do with this piece). Movies, television and fiction offer ways to deal with distress that are less destructive than going postal. By going to Borat and identifying with the main character as someone who gives into and even celebrates the impulses we merely imagine acting upon we experience something psychologists refer to as “mediated catharsis.” This is where someone who seems to be in control, bares their neck and reveals something that we quickly and deeply resonate with, but something that causes us to feel potentially out of control.

As they act out our fantasies and as they go either too far or even over the edge (as in both farcically funny or at the other extreme violent revenge movies), we feel relief and it sets the meter back so that we can go out and face the world and allow it to re-stress us for another day.

What this also says about us is that we are frequently caught up in a battle to stay in control, be functional, responsible, stressed and then distressed vs. letting go of control, feeling a release and relief, but then risking doing something destructive to our lives at large or at the very least our credibility.

A resolution to this is to realize and accept that at any given time, we are not single minded, but are made up of at least two minds and we need to give them both a place to live and breathe. That is why in matters of the world I try to stay in control, but in matters of the heart—and funny bone—I give it up. And that is also why I go to movies like Borat and laugh my head off.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Have Yourself a "Valuable" Little Christmas

You can teach people skills,
but you can’t teach them values.
Values are not what you think,
not what you believe,
not what you say;
they are what you do consistently over time
and resist changing.
Value is as value does.

- Billy Pittard, inventor and program director, www.zoooos.com

Terminating people is never a pleasant task, be it an employee or an underperforming director. After doing hundreds of performance reviews at all levels of his prior company, Pittard realized that the people who were successful at his company and helped the success of his company shared the same core values. That company provided full service marketing so their core values were: 1) excellence in quality of services; 2) customer delight (by consistently exceeding their expectations); 3) work well independently; 4) work well as a team member; 5) commitment to the best results rather than to being right.

Over time he learned that when the most talented individuals did not share these values they did more harm than good.

Pittard’s current venture is inventing and developing the early child educational interactive toy/device, ZOOOOS. He brought along his above values and added three more since the market for this product are 3 – 7 year olds: 1) make it educational; 2) make it interactive; 3) make it easy and fun to use.

I’ve personally seen the reaction of children to ZOOOOS and happily all three of these values are present and accounted for. BTW for friends and families (which subscribers to Usable Insights are), there is a special promotion going on that you can take advantage of at: ZOOOOS special promotion until inventory runs out.

(c) 2006 Mark Goulston

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'Tis the Season to Be Realistic

Reasonable makes sense,
Realistic is what’s likely to happen.

The Holidays are the season for many things, especially great expectations. If you’re like me, every time I have high expectations and they don’t pan out, the disappointment can at times feel devastating. On the other hand to have no expectations seems like going too much to the other extreme. So here is the formula I have found that works best:


Good Planning
High Hopes
Realistic Expectations
But Don’t count on anything

Happy Holidays to all!

© 2006 Mark Goulston

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