My last living mentor, Warren Bennis died on 7/31 after a valiant battle against a tough and long illness. Warren was not just admired and respected; he was beloved. I think it was because within two minutes of meeting him you could trust him to never hurt you. That's a rare quality in this world.

I first met him in 2008 when I was attending one of his classes at USC in a course entitled, "The Art and Adventure or Leadership," that he co-led with then college President, Steven Sample. I was a guest of the guest presenter, Christopher Gergen, CEO of Forward Impact and Co-Author of "Life Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives."

During the class I asked a few evocative questions that Warren appeared to approve of. Towards the end of the class he looked at everyone and said, "This was our best meeting so far." He then looked over at me and invited me to join the students and him for pizza and further discussion. That was the beginning of my intellectual and emotional love affair with him.

Warren has been described as a "deep listener" by David Gergen, another of the people he mentored. He was indeed a very good listener and I wrote about one of the most important things he taught me in the dedication of my book, Just Listen, namely: "When you deeply listen and get where people are really coming from, and then care about them when you're there, they're more likely to let you take them to where you want them to go." One of Warren's many sayings that stays with me was, "Boredom occurs when I fail to make the other person interesting."

A few years ago I was having breakfast with Warren and as always he pressed for me to talk and for him to listen. I told him, "Warren you are the one that is much more worth listening to, so you're going to talk." He looked at me a little miffed and then began to open up about things he felt deeply and personally passionate about. In fact he became so enthused that he inadvertently spit into my food.

When that happened, he saw it and he saw that I saw it and he said, "Mark, I think I just sprayed your food." I told him it was okay and not a problem.

When I returned to my office I sent him an email saying, "Warren, when people find out that you are my mentor, they ask me what that is like. I tell them that every time I am with you, I try to absorb you into my DNA and I think that your spraying my food today helped."

In recent years I have gotten into the habit of spontaneously crying when I am with Warren for at least 25% of the time I would visit him. We would keep our conversations going without missing a beat, although he clearly noticed.

Then on one occasion I said to him, "Warren, I have a confession to make. I've been using you." Like many highly influential people, being used was something Warren disliked and he looked at me irked, but then knew I was going to say something odd to follow up.

I told him: "Every time I'm with you I realize and appreciate not only how much you mean to me (and that he was getting older and increasingly more affected by illness), but I feel that you are healing feelings of unworthiness, uninterestingness, less-than-ness in me and when I feel that healing, I cry with relief at feeling more whole."

Warren then looked at me, put his hand on his chin and delivered his verdict: "That's not a bad way to "use" me Mark."

Some years ago I was having lunch with Warren and Peter Whybrow, Chairman of the UCLA Department of Psychiatry. Towards the end of the meal Warren looked up with a pained expression on his face. He said, "I've been in the field of leadership for more than fifty years. Some will even say that I started it and yet, leaders are worse than ever. Maybe I didn't do such a great job."

That greatly bothered me. After I returned to my office I emailed Warren, "You have more control over trying and quitting than you do over the results. Because you never gave up, I know that the world is much better for your having been in it. I know that because I am much better for your being in my life."

We will carry on your mission to identify and develop the best leaders possible.

Warren, thank you for causing me and so many others to feel interesting AND for making the world a better place.

Rest in peace my dear, dear friend.

Know that you were beloved by many and how much they and I will miss you.



 Does caring as shown by understanding and empathizing with another person's feelings have any place in the analytic world which shows caring more often by analyzing, assessing, evaluating and solving problems?

One woman I knew years ago made the statement, "just because someone is emotional doesn't mean they are irrational and just because someone is logical doesn't mean they are rational."

What do you think?

Richard Owen writes: 

I was trying to place your name — then I realized you're the author of Real Influence — I've randomly been recommended it as a modern Dale Carnegie!

I would say that the experiences I have had that cost me the most were where I was analytically right but naive about how I communicated it. If "rational" is acting in your own interests, sometimes the full brunt of logic will only do you disfavour. Socrates was respected for his dispassion and logic. However, he was also ultimately made to take his own life. Principally for getting on everyone's nerves.

Leveraged loan bankers in their gut in 2005/6/7 knew they were underwriting spicy stuff. And by '07 were feeling queasy. But the cold analysis they had disproved it, so they carried on. You can argue that the "emotional" feeling was more rational than the analytics.



 Two things we can learn from kids are how to:

1) stay happy, for no reason in particular.

2) keep busy, doing something or the other.

What else would you suggest we could do to keep the child in each of us active, so as to be better adults?

Alan Millhone writes: 

3) Young children are very honest and seldom tell falsehoods.

Jeff Watson suggests: 

To stay a kid at heart, one should spend at least an hour a day engaged in exercise and another hour playing some kind of childish game, it doesn't matter what. It also helps to hang around with kids as they will keep you young. 

Mark Goulston writes: 

4) Every morning think of someone you are grateful to: a) what they did; b) the effort it took for them to do it; c) what it personally meant to you.

5) Make an effort to reach those people (or next of kin) and thank them for those three things



 This article is something I don't understand. I can understand that rewards should reflect the risk that people are willing to take. What risks do financial advisors personally take to justify the rewards they reap? It seems to me that if you take a much bigger reward than the risk you personally take, then that reward is undeserved and a pure expression of greed vs. what you're truly entitled to. Am I missing something?

Gary Rogan writes:

Clearly the flexionic millionaires don't deserve their rewards, especially after their companies should be long bankrupt if left to the vagaries of the free market. Is the remuneration of a financial adviser, who without any governmental or otherwise illegal/unethical tricks, derives good income from seemingly simple work, "justified"? I suggest that this is another "angels on the head of a pin" questions that cannot be answered, because it's "ill posed". In a free market, anything you get from a voluntary exchange is "justified" by it's existence. If you want what he's got, try it on your own and see if you can do as well or better. I personally don't believe in the services of a "financial advisor" so I've never been to one. I have the same attitude towards them as I do toward well-paid athlete in a sport I don't care about: if somebody is willing to voluntarily pay them their salary, it's not my problem or concern.

The article, in a true populist fashion, confuses ill-gotten gains with the rewards of the free market. This "trick" is a favorite of revolutionaries, who use the existence of scoundrels to destroy any semblance of order and replace it with a dictatorship led by even worse scoundrels.

Mark Goulston replies:

Thank you Gary. It is aimed at the true "flexionic millionaires," and I am in favor of the free market and oof people who are willing to put themselves and finances at risk to reap the rewards when they pay off. I'm just not sure I agree with "flexionic" people reaping the rewards as a result of their risking other people's money.

Gary, Hit me with your best shot about: The Obsfuscation Conspiracy.

Gary Rogan responds:

Mark, I think that most of the "flexionic millionaires" are probably CEOs of large, mostly (but not exclusively) financial companies and to a lesser extent, some hedge and other fund managers. It seems from the context that you were referring to the latter group rather than some down-home financial advisors who take on a few clients personally. To the extent that they derive their gains from their flexionic connection they are just thieves. The problem is it's often hard to separate what percentage of their gains comes from their honest skills and what percentage comes from exploiting the illegal/unethical schemes.

The real truth is that in complex societies those who learn to exploit complicated "angles", legally or illegally do well. We should try to clamp down on the illegality because otherwise everything else becomes corrupt, as corruption cannot be contained to one sector. The quest however to link compensation to the social value of one's work by anything other than enforcing anti-corruption laws and encouraging such attitudes is likely to become a fight with windmills or worse, a populist revolutionary crusade with disastrous consequences. Freedom trumps unfairness, but unfairness due to corruption should fought by good people.

Fast Anonymous writes:

While the flexonic millionaire are an issue. The cause of this issue is those millionaires that made their money by skimming a small sliver of risks and put it on the unsuspecting. No body has gone to jail, for this willful blindness. Not only have they not gone to jail those very workers are the new untouchable, too big too fail, in with the government: flexons. Of course they can put together a new system built on trust (wink, wink, nod, nod). We have all heard of perhaps the urban legend "penny skimming" millionaire. The con where you simply take a few pennies from every account, and 99.9% never notice but simply adjusted their books each month it happens . Those that did notice, did not take the time to complain. those that complained never sued etc.

Many in Wall Street simply skimmed the risks, added more and more risks, to those that thought they were buying safety, got sold garbage. The truth got stretched further an further out. One in 1 in million soon became 1/1000, then 1/100 then 1/10 and thereafter bound to happen sooner or latter. Allstate has done a statistical study that proves without a reasonable doubt many of these mortgage pools were outright frauds. The audacity of the lies were staggering to me. AIG sold over $500 billion of insurance on such securitized products, that they could not cover. They eagerly took the premium thinking they were the ones selling worthless promises.

Craig Mee writes:

Give people an inch and they take a mile. How long is a piece of string… if you do something, your kids will follow. At times no doubt its to do with re-educating people. For example, when countries move to a greater minority group within their populace, initially sometimes, those then deem to capitalise on looseness within the system. The locals then realise they're paying higher premiums because of this and get in on the act. And then the snowball begins. (A mate recently in court with a bad neck from car crash…usd7000 was the going rate. Turns out 8 people were sitting beside him with their hand out, all from the same family two car accident, usd 56000, a nice down payment on small business.)

As banks have been shown to "take liberty" so has the public. On a recent problem with a bank in Australia, atm's started punching out cash regardless of balance… from an official : "we have some people innocently trying to get sums of money out and being given more, through to people pushing security guards out of the way to go and get to it."*

We breed it and deliver 4 year political terms for those to give our cash away at will to secure votes in a socialist environment, and pay the consequences.what the answer. Work Harder!

The old laborer had to stand together, from such risks skimmers, to make a safe work place.

Wall Street must stand up to these skimmers of risks also.

Mr. Krisrock writes:

I appreciate that you posted this because it exposes that you are a supporter of Obama's strategy to VILIFY 500,000 people working in financial services and millions more who work in service industries that support them and the capitalist methods of allocating capital.

VERY VERY VERY few of these people were responsible for the financial crisis and in fact, some of us saw the fact that these same people never chose to attack the PUBLIC PRIVATE SYNDICATE called Fannie Mae.

Craig Mee writes:

Mr Krisrock, you may want to set your scope on a more deserving recipient. How my idea that "banks have taken liberty" has anything to do with a slam dunk and vilification of 500,000 financial service workers I don't quite understand.

I am a supporter of less taxes, that's what I'm a supporter of, and a fair go, for those who are having a crack.

Kim Zussman comments:

The meme gains momentum.

Ralph Vince writes: 

It's ALL about money. Nothing else. In ALL walks of life, medicine, teachers, cops, politicians, waitresses, hookers, traders and traitors. Pretending to be "Above it all," is alway, bankably, a phoney act. All the little people's greed is always at the fore of their consciousness (excepting in young men, where that greed is surrogated by something else).

And who says the compensation should be consistent with the risks one takes? Or the good one does? Or their intellect?

I love that expression "…what you are entitled to." It rather rings of the other one those kind of thinkers lob out there, "…fair share."

It's enough to make you think we don't really live in a jungle. My experience, is that these are expressions of the largest predators among us, their weaponry consisting of the very specious argument that we are not in a jungle.

Let's not believe that for one second.

Gary Rogan writes:

The way the world really works is that if you unleash the government to take from those who have to cure sick patients and to house homeless children, you will have more patients unable to pay and more homeless children. Not immediately though. The liberal argument is always about here and now: "If we take the money today, we can spend more of it on worthy causes immediately. How can you not see that those in pain deserve it more than the rich who have more than enough?". Michael Moore who inserted himself into the Wisconsin crisis the other day went further. His claim was that we don't have ANY financial crisis and no government is broke because there is this untapped resource which really belongs to "the people", the wealth of the rich, that is simply not being tapped.

The real argument in Wisconsin is actually more about power than money. In this case the money, more specifically the forcefully extracted union dues of the public employee union members, is what has kept the Democrats in power in a self-sustaining feedback loop: we give you more secure and better paying jobs, you keep getting us elected with your contributions. The left is having the proverbial cow that the election process has somehow gone so wrong as to break this loop. Their reaction is bewilderment and blind rage.



Hello Vic,

Happy New Year.

My blog, "How America Messed Up Its Kids and What We Can Do to Fix Them" was the 5th most viewed blog of all blogs from the Huff Post for two days last week and has had over 120,000 views. Thought you and the readers of your site might find it interesting.

All the best,




Here are some links of stuff online that might be helpful to do with your children:

Take Time to Teach Your Children Well

Divorce Therapy (the chart is good thing to bring up with your spouse and then ask them what you and they are doing to raise your kids to be Child A)

Also here is something you could try for Thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!



 Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History by Penny LeCouteur, Jay Burreson is a fascinating book. Isoeugenol is a single molecule that fits with certain human receptors. This molecule from the nutmeg gave rise to the Age of Discovery, discovery of the new world, the East India Trading Company and the development of stocks. Glucose drove the slave trade, and built capital that gave rise to the industrial revolution. The difference between molecules is often a small difference in the bonds or the location of the hydrogen bond to carbon atom and can have huge practical differences. The title derives from the property of tin to dissolve in the cold resulting in Napoleon's army falling to pieces when their tin buttons dissolved in the Russian winter. They could not fight when they needed both hands to hold their clothes on in the cold. The lines of that conflict remain today between East and West.

Of particular note to speculators was the discussion about the diagramming notation of chemical compounds. The diagrams contain many layers of information that are informative and aid analysis and understanding about the structure of the molecules. Chair asked why there is no table of elements for the market. The key to this would be a notation system for market patterns similar to a chemical notation which not only conveys information about the relationships of prices to each other as in your typical chart, but also the nature of the underlying structures and their composition. My soon to be Phd. daughter advises me that there are stereo notations that go beyond the 3 or 4 dimensions in standard notation. The fact that right hand, or left hand iterations of molecule react differently is a concept useful to speculators following this idea. For example, up markets differ markedly from down markets displaying a 'handedness" Standard chart notation like "W" or "M" lack this information and thus lack the tools for proper understanding and analysis. The visualization of information as Tufte demonstrated has benefits to analysis beyond charts, and formulas. Seeing the location of turns, tops, bottoms and the way those were created helps in quantification and testing. The nature of the bonds (I don't mean debt instruments, but refer to intermarket and intramarket relationships) in market relationships make a big difference in future price action. A visual notation of this could reveal important but previously hidden relationships. Many Nobel prizes in chemistry were awarded for discovery of some of these important relationships.

Stefan Jovanovich elaborates:

Napoleon's army did not freeze to death; they starved. So did many of the Russians and Prussians who fought against them. The French buttons may have failed; but no one with half a brain was using clothing as a shield against the cold in that campaign. They wrapped themselves– and their horses - in blankets (the officers used furs). As for "the lines of that conflict remain(ing) today between East and West", James has a point, but it is not the "lesson" he draws from this campaign. The old lines are being erased: the Germans seem on the verge of reaching a fundamental alliance with the Russians similar to the one that existed between Prussia and Russia in 1812. Napoleon's great error was to be foolish enough to insult the Austrians so badly that they decided - for once - to ignore their standing hostility towards the Prussians. The line of conflict between East and West that Europe lived with for the past hundred years came not from the divisions present in Napoleon's invasion of Russia but from their abandonment: Bismarck's stupid successors overthrew his sensible Prussian foreign policy of alliance with Russia (the Balkans are not worth the life of one grenadier) and chose to take the Austro-Hungarian and Turkish side of the argument. As for all other inferences about how molecules changed history, I offer no opinion.

Jim Sogi adds:

Another interesting factoid is that the Dutch and English fought bitterly over the spice island Banda where nutmeg was grown. It was valuable at the time. To settle the dispute, the Dutch signed over a small useless island known as New Amsterdam. The English renamed it New York. The Native American tribes called it Manhattan, "the place where we all got drunk". Still appropriate after many years. The spice turned out not to prevent the plague, and the monopoly was later broken when starts were smuggled out to be grown elsewhere. Banda is relatively abandoned except for rare tourists.

Marion Dreyfus comments:


I have been to Banda Island, where the king ("King," he said he was) offered me his throne if i married him–he gave me nutmeg! I brought it back to the States and of course it was confiscated as suspect importation, despite my protests that "the king of Banda gave me this as a earnest of his love!" and gave me other things, too. His wife had died some time earlier, I add. There are many lovely parrots there, but the dancing girls and the twittering photogenic fowl do not make up for lack of A/C, I am afraid. His home was spectacular, marble floors and walls, thatch covering more modern materials under the thatch; long, graceful rooms, not many rugs, but solid furnishings with luxe sewn into their DNA, and power-connotative. But I was not partial to the heat nor his particular nonmetrosexual demeanor. He gave me other gifts I cherish that were not taken from me by the immigration men. But small-island life as a way of life is not alluring to the overeducated big City female, I think it safe to say.

More's the pity!

Would my life have been far more glam and amazing? I would surely have saved a great deal of minutes and hours from huge gusts of email I would not have gotten, but one is forced to wonder what he could have given me that I don't have more of, and better of, right here in costly midtown Manhattan, with or without air conditioning. Gratitude for one's life, especially when arrayed against a might-have-been.




Tiger wood's apologyI'd like to hear from readers of this site on the subject of apologies. We seem to be inundated by them from the sporting world to Wall Street and beyond.

Here's my question. If you're the one who has felt injured, then the other person simply saying, "I'm sorry" does not seem to ease your pain as much as, "I'm sorry, I was wrong." However, many attorneys will advise their clients to perhaps say you're sorry, but never admit wrongdoing, because that only invites the other party to seek damages from you.

Maybe the distinction is between disappointing people in your behavior who believed in your character where admitting you were wrong will not set you up for legal or other retaliation, whereas in instances where you actually did harm to or cheated others, admitting you did wrong might not be a good idea.

Here's my question. If you committed wrong either intentionally or unintentionally, when should and shouldn't you admit it?

My initial answer is that if you committed something intentionally and/or with malfeasance you really do owe it to the other person to admit you were wrong. If however you didn't do it intentionally or with harm in mind you can say, it was wrong (as Clinton admitted during the Monica Lewinsky situation).

in matters of the heart a formula I have discovered that works concerns the 4 H's and the 4 R's. What do you think?



Maybe I'm being a tad negative, but I have been listening and am hearing from a number of sectors that when the actual (vs. artificially enhanced numbered) job market does improve many baby boomers will not be rehired and find themselves jobless for the remainder of their lives. That may induce many of them to try starting a business on their own, consulting (not that the Gen Xers of Gen Yers will be eager to hire them) or just hunker down so they can make it to the finish line of life without being impoverished.

What are any of you hearing?



At 3:15 PM PST today, Friday, May 15, 2009 my long time mentor and beloved friend, Edwin Shneidman, pioneer in the study, prevention and intervention of suicide and suicidal behavior died at age 91 as he would have wished, peacefully at home. To appreciate the magnitude of his being able to do that you need to read: Waiting for the End, Alone and Unafraid and if you want to read the story behind that story, you will want to read the Neiman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard interview with Tom Curwen.

Ed was the founder of The American Association of Suicidology and Professor of Thanatology at UCLA. He authored, co-authored or edited nineteen books on the topic.

I had the occasion to visit him - not as often as I should have -over the past several physically painful years of his life. I believe one of his greatest accomplishments is that he managed to meet all the ten "Criteria for a Good Death" that he set forth in an article with that title published in June, 2007 in Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior published by The American Association of Suicidology.

1. Natural. There are four modes of death–natural, accident, suicide and homicide (NASH). Any survivor would prefer a loved one's death to be natural. No Suicide is a good death.
2. Mature. After age 70. Near the pinnacle of mental functioning but old enough to have experienced and savored life.
3. Expected. Neither sudden nor unexpected. Survivors-to-be do not like to be surprised. A good death should have about a weeks lead time.
4. Honorable. Filled with honorifics but not dwelling on past failures. Death begins an ongoing obituary, a memory in the minds of the survivors. The Latin phrase is: De mortuis nil nisi bonum (Of the dead [speak] nothing but good).
5. Prepared. A living trust, prepaid funeral arrangements. That the decedent had given thought and made arrangements for the necessary legalities surrounding death.
6. Accepted. "Willing the obligatory," that is, accepting the immutables of chance and nature and fate; not raging into the night; acceding to nature's unnegotiable demands.
7. Civilized. To have some of your loved ones physically present. That the dying scene be enlivened by fresh flowers, beautiful pictures, and cherished music.
8. Generative. To pass down the wisdom of the tribe to younger generations; to write; to have shared memories and histories; to act like a beneficent sage.
9. Rueful. To cherish the emotional state which is a bittersweet admixture of sadness, yearning, nostalgia, regret, appreciation, and thoughtfulness. To avoid depression, surrender, or collapse; to die with some projects left to be done; by example, to teach the paradigm that no life is completely complete.
10. Peaceable. That the dying scene be filled with amicability and love, that physical pain be controlled as much as competent medical care can provide. Each death an ennobling icon of the human race.

Ever the articulate humorous iconoclast, I think Ed would have eschewed the pomp and circumstance I ellaborated above and prefer that I had just said that he hoped he had simply followed the dictum of his mentor, Henry A. Murray: "A good death is dying so as to be as little a pain in the ass to your family as possible."

I will be forever grateful to Ed who early in my career had enough confidence in me to entrust some of the most suicidal patients from the UCLA in patient wards when they needed to be discharged, but were still suicidal. He did it with a simple phone call: "Hello Mark, this is Ed. I am sitting with a lovely young woman. She's in a lot of pain. You can help her. SEE her."

I also owe Ed a singular skill to help such people when he told me: "Mark, if you listen for hurt, fear and pain, it is always there. And when the other person feels you listening and feeling them, they will lower their guard, open their minds and hearts to you, allow you to enter and comfort them and if you're fortunate, will let you walk them out of hell."

And Ed, regarding being "as little a pain in the ass to your family possible"… I think you actually pulled that off.

Now it's time to thank you for how many millions of people your life work has helped to face death and to bid farewell to you Ed, using the same words you would use when I would leave your home during recent visits: "Goodbye, dear man."

Be at peace, I will miss you.

From the huffingtonpost



 We have almost every Shakespeare play and Greek tragedy on Wall Street rolled into one tale with a little Tom Wolfe for good measure. Some days King Lear, some days Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Tom Marks writes: 

In a perfect theatrical world the whole thing would be a colossal performance art piece with Bernie having not only had the original 50 billion safely secured in an escrow account, but having turned it into 100 billion by having been short crude all the way down. So Bernie, accompanied by a gaggle of his doctors, comes out one fine morning to face the pack of media wolves camped outside his princely co-op and announces that the whole confession thing was just a misunderstanding, citing an adverse reaction to medication for Lyme disease by way of plausible deniability. He walks away scott free, the Carnegie Deli names a sandwich after him (bologna on wry), his investors flusher than ever, and the audience (meaning us) left with their jaws agape in classic WTF fashion. It would be theatre of the absurd's finest hour, while at the same time being the only rationale explanation how 50 billion dollars could somehow evaporate. 



 What has happened to us? Why this plaintive (and almost universal) hope for "new" leadership? Press for an explanation from almost anyone who shares this hope and you'll discover he wants something from the government… a job, a tax break, an artificially low loan rate, or an ongoing handout. I don't believe America's problem is leadership… our problem is "followership." This country grew rapidly and successfully because Americans have traditionally been lousy followers. We crossed the Alleghenies, the Mississippi, the Plains, and the Rockies, not at the behest of Washington, but more times than not, because of its constitutionally mandated indifference to economic setbacks, income disparities, and low wages. Hard times meant it was time to acquire a new trade, start a new business, move to a new territory, or plant a different crop. For the most part, Americans weren't specialists but jacks of all trades — the times demanded it and those who refused to recognize it, were destined to spend their lives just scraping by working for others.

The American of late 20th and early 21st centuries is (generally speaking) content with working for others. Through an incredible series of remarkable developments (thanks almost entirely to the remnant who maintained the pioneer spirit) those of us born in this very narrow slice of time receive (or received) very generous wages…enough so that we are content in our niches. Our contentment has been reinforced by an ever-expanding series of programs which shelter us (to varying degrees) from true, honest-to-God grinding poverty.

However, there now exists a real threat, if the intelligentsia of the 6 o'clock news is to be believed (and, for once, they may be on to something) of a major economic downturn. But instead of carefully surveying the situation, weighing the probabilities, and adjusting our saving and spending accordingly, we cry out to Washington: "Save us…give us the leadership we need!"

Well, folks, this isn't Exodus and no one, including Obama, is going to perform Moses-like feats. It's time to look within ourselves, discover our own leadership abilities and guide our families as best as possible. There are plenty of promises coming from the many politicians out there but, as we are discovering with remarkable clarity, every promise has a very, very steep price tag. Also becoming equally clear is that all those comforting shelter programs are not only very expensive, but work only when a limited number of families (or pensioners, or savers, or banks) are affected.

In a general slowdown, we shall discover the emptiness of the promises. Like it or not, the present economic downturn, regardless of its severity or duration, is going to introduce a strange but age-old concept to many of the unsuspecting: self-reliance. It's time to lead, not follow.

P.S.: And pay little attention to the world's view of us. As Nock pointed out as far back as 1937, most of our "allies" merely want us to come in, clean up the mess, and get out as quickly and quietly as possible.

Mark Goulston comments:

I agree heartily with you. It's a big challenge to see if American can show some and take personal responsibility. We have become a country of blamers, excuse makers and self-pitiers and it's amazing that we've gotten away with it as long as we have.



 As a psychiatrist and medical doctor it would be improper to diagnose Bernard Madoff without interviewing him directly and having him take various psychological tests.

However what is not off limits and just as relevant is not what his behavior says about him, but what it says about us. What is there about human nature that makes some of the smartest and supposedly shrewdest financial minds ignore red flags and abandon judgment?

"How" Madoff was able to do it is can be explained by social psychology and "why" he was able to do it can be explained by neuropsychology.

Social psychology is the study of how people and groups interact. Robert B. Cialdini is a social psychologist, Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University and author of Influence: Science and Practice. He is one of the leading researchers in the field of influence and persuasion. His work is compelling, convincing and so powerful that he vigorously decries its use in any exchange that lacks integrity and ethics. Unfortunately too often, people with impure motives have learned to apply this effective approach to their impure ends. I don't know if Madoff was a student of this approach, but his behavior indicates that he followed all of Cialdini's principles.

Cialdini's six "weapons of influence":

Reciprocation - People tend to return a favor. Thus, Madoff's offer to clients to be part of an exclusive list of wealthy clients and institutions, caused clients to be grateful for this special invitation and return the favor by investing more money than common sense would dictate.

Commitment and Consistency– Also referred to as "confirmation bias," if people commit, orally or in writing, to an idea or goal, they are more likely to honor that commitment and be inclined to keep saying, "Yes" to reinforce their believing they have made the best judgment call to begin. With Madoff, the more that people originally invested, the more they continued to invest and the more they invited their friend to invest. This all served to reinforce their believing they had made the best decision to begin with. Finally, this also caused people to overlook or negate any facts to the contrary and made them all too willing to take a "don't ask (Madoff), (Madoff) don't tell" position.

Social Proof- People will do things that they see other people are doing. So when people discovered that others who they thought were smart and wise were investing, that increased their confidence that it was safe for them to do so.

Authority- People will tend to obey authority figures, even if they are asked to perform suspicions or even objectionable acts. Madoff was a former Chairman of the NASDAQ and philanthropist. So it was assumed that if anyone could understand the potential opportunities and risks of younger growth companies, it would be he.

Liking -People are easily persuaded by and buy from other people that they like. It was easy to confuse Madoff's sly smile as a shrewd one. Also we tend to like people who demonstrate swagger and exude confidence. They trigger swagger and confidence envy in others who would also like to possess those qualities.

Scarcity- Perceived scarcity will generate demand. Madoff's reserving his offering for elite investors and by invitation only, made more people want to be part of his exclusive club.

Neuropsychology is the applied scientific discipline that studies the structure and function of the brain related to specific psychological processes and overt behaviors and may explain why Madoff was able to trick us. One area of neuroscience that has generated a great deal of interest and study in the past two decades is the discovery of an area in the premotor and parietal cortices referred to as the mirror neuron system.

In the late 1980s this region of neurons was discovered in Macaque monkeys. These neurons which were first referred to as "monkey see, monkey do" neurons were activated when a monkey watched another monkey perform a behavior and when the first monkey performed the behavior that it saw. When the discovery was also applied to humans, the region also fired when a person imagined doing that activity in his mind's eye. So when a golfer imagines the flight of a ball before he hits it, this part of the brain actually thinks it's hitting the ball.

Further research including fMRI scans (which show what is happening to the brain as it is thinking or doing an activity) have indicated this site might be the prime location for where imitation, learning and empathy develop and when dysfunctional, a possible site that might lead to autism.

The significance of this discovery is that people not only have a reaction when they respond/react to the people around them; they also have a very positive and satisfying reaction when people are mirroring them or "getting where they're coming from." That is why many people cry and feel disarmed when someone is kind to and understands them without it being solicited.

This neurological region may be the underpinning for why Cialdini's "weapons of influence" are so powerful, i.e. applying them causes the other person to feel empathized with and understood. When people feel that way, they lower their guard and lean into the relationship and trust it more. In essence when people really feel that you get where they're coming from, they're much more likely to trust you to take them where you'd like them to go.

Just as guns do not kill people, people kill people empathically mediated persuasion techniques do not manipulate people for evil, people do that. Hitler and Osama bin Laden were both extremely empathic in that they both knew all too well how terrorizing people can almost paralyze them with fear or at least completely disrupt their ability to function.

What it comes down to is a person's values. It's their values that determine whether they will use persuasion and empathy in the best interest of their clients (as medical doctors who are sworn to "first do no harm" do with their patients) to do good or to greedily exploit their fears, insecurities and yes, their clients' own greed to violate ethics and morality.

How can all of us use these findings from social psychology and neuropsychology to be more fortified against the charming manipulators and psychopaths in life? First, go into any meeting with any person who is pitching you, knowing explicitly what you want and need from them. When you don't know these, the charm of these people can cause you to be vulnerable to their persuading you to need and want what they are offering. Second, make certain that whatever they are offering makes sense, feels right and seems actually doable. Third, realize that whatever they're offering is a good deal for them, so push them to tell you why it's a good deal for them.

Finally, be prepared to walk away, no matter what they say. If they say, "Take it or leave it," leave it. If it feels too good to be true, it is.



Normally we try to stick to education and not commerce on this site, but one of our members has insights and asked us to post this for him . As Horatio Bump said of Davey Crockett "I believe that Dr. Goulston is a man of integrity and insight". Vic.

Mark Goulston announces:

Sadly there is much more brightness (how to turn nothing into something) and smartness (how to turn something into everything) in this world than wisdom (knowing what is important and worth fighting for and what's not). If you want to bathe yourself in the wisdom of one of the wisest people you will ever listen to, you and your teams should attend the live webinar:

Move from Managing to Leading, with Warren Bennis

Warren Bennis, the foremost authority on leadership in the world, will be interviewed by Dr. Mark Goulston, one of our Daily Speculations contributors on Oct. 28 from 9:30-11 AM PST/11:30-2 PM EST. The forementioned link will enable you to receive a discount on this [$] event.



A request to DailySpec readers, if you are willing to assist me. I just started to blog at Harvard Business Online. The number of comments my blogs generate will determine whether or not I will get my own blog. So if you're willing to check out my first post: "How to Deal With Anxious People" and to add a comment (good, bad or otherwise), I would appreciate it. Thanks!



Mark GoulstonSpeak your words with overspin and be authoritative — or speak your words flush and be authoritarian.

As I watched the debate between Obama and Clinton in Austin, Texas, I thought of tennis.

I never progressed very far in tennis, because I never mastered the skill of hitting the ball with overspin. Try as a I might, I would hit balls flush and invariably they would overshoot the baseline of my opponent and I would lose. The combination of my hitting the ball flush and my opponent hitting it with overspin where it would deftly land in my court, pick up speed made it nearly impossible for me to return or win. As I listened to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in their recent debate, it became clear to me how the mildly evangelical inflection of Obama's voice kept hitting deftly the right chords in the audience and with me with overspin, which triggered well aimed and positioned traction within much of the audience. On the other hand, Clinton kept hitting the words flush which both missed their mark and certainly missed having the traction that she was hoping for. Speaking with over spin sounds more authoritative; speaking words flush sounds more authoritarian.

The main traction she appeared to gain was in her closing comments about the greatest tests she has had to face, where she quickly switched the focus from hinting at her well known challenges to those of soldiers returning from war. However, the traction that this caused was not from overspin. It was caused by the audience wondering how she would handle/dodge such a question, when the challenges she faced as"first lady" were very embarrassing and very public. As all of us "rubber necked" and were poised to watch her crash and burn when trying to dodge that shameful episode in her life, she deftly changed the focus to American soldiers and their pain and suffering, being the more important tests to be focused on. By catching us with our base, shame-on-us, "voyeuristic" pants down and switching to the compassion we should all be feeling toward our hurt and wounded warriors, Clinton deftly won that set.

Whether it was enough to win the match and tournament, remains to be seen.



Mark GoulstonIf you raise your children to be happy, they won't be happy; but if you raise your children well, they will be happy… and so will you.

I believe your most important responsibility as a parent is teaching your children self-reliance and preparing them to be effective in all aspects of their life. To do this keep in mind the principle that it is less important what you tell your children, than what they are able to tell you and then to instill in them the Three P's of preparation: perspective, perseverance, and patience do the following:

Perspective: The real bedtime story. If you still read a story to your children at night, add this exercise: Ask them: "What was the best and worst thing that happened to you today?" Listen to what they say, and respond with "Wow, that's great" to the good stuff, and "Gee, really, I'm so sorry you felt upset by that" to the bad stuff. Don't give advice unless they ask for it. Then ask them: "What are you most looking forward to tomorrow and what are you most nervous about? Hear them out the same way as with the first question. Follow up this exercise by telling your story. This exercise helps your child develop perspective to see that both good and bad things happen every day.

Perseverance: When your children tell you about a situation that has clearly upset, scared, angered, or hurt them, resist the temptation to quickly reassure them. Instead, give them a word for what they seem to be feeling by saying: "That must have scared/angered/hurt you, didn't it?" If they agree, then calmly ask them: "How scared/angry/upset, etc. did you feel?" They may only say, "Really bad" or "Very" but in that moment of saying it to you, they will feel safe, less alone, and relieved, and they may even cry. This is a great way of establishing a sense of comfort and calmness in your children after which they will be more open to suggestions and advice. The formula is: Comfort first, Coach second. This exercise will help your children develop the ability to comfort and calm themselves when they are older and enable them to persevere through rough times.

Patience: Do this exercise once a week with your entire family when you're having dinner together. Ask everyone to talk about something they did in spite of not wanting to do it. You should start the ball rolling. For example, you might say: "I went to this meeting I didn't want to go to, tried to make the best of it and actually met someone that might help me in my job, and I never would have met that person had I not gone to the meeting." Then have your husband and kids share something. This exercise helps your children develop tolerance, cooperation skills, and flexibility. It also will make them accept that people have to do things that they don't always want to do, and because everyone has to do this it's fair and part of life–and having pateince when things don't go your way works better than having a tantrum.

These steps do not excuse you from spending a certain amount of "face time" with your children (perhaps equal to the "face time" you need to spend with investors when a telephone call won't suffice) and even experts are not immune from your dilemma.

I remember years ago when my kids were small. They had a nickname for me: "Hi kids, bye kids, love you kids." I used to laugh when they would teasingly taunt me, but like you, I also realized it wasn't funny.



Mark GoulstonWant to see if you're really committed to keeping a New Year's Resolution?

Step 1: Think of someone in your life who cares about you that you most respect.
Step 2: Go to him, tell him you'd like his assistance and ask him one positive behavior you could start doing and one negative behavior you could stop doing that would increase his and other's respect for you.
Step 3: Repeat back to him those behaviors to make sure you heard him accurately.
Step 4: Ask him if he would be willing to send you an email in two weeks and then a month later to see if you've kept your commitment (after a month's time, there's a good chance it will become internalized and then you ask for another pair of behaviors to improve upon).
Step 5: Thank him and ask him how you can return the favor to him.

The extent to which you will do this is directly related to your true commitment to change. If you hesitate, then you are more ready for change than you are ready to change and you're not going to change.



ParentsI've regularly encountered parents who push their kids too hard. How do I know it's too hard? Because I can see the stress in their game. I stopped coaching one kid many years ago because he got so scared of losing that he kept offering draws. I told his dad that we needed to make the lessons "lower key" so the boy would actually treat them as something more like fun and try to win his games. Instead the father insisted that we double the coaching sessions. So I quit. They got other coaches and then finally the kid stopped playing altogether.

To a greater or lesser extent this is very common in the chess scene. The parents argue that they are doing the kids a good turn by helping develop their skills and besides, little Johnny 'likes' chess. The kid gets parental approval when he does well so he goes along with the process. Everyone is happy. Or are they? Doesn't it depend how one defines happiness?

For some it's achievement. In our culture money is a biggie. People define themselves according to how much of it they have — if they're rich they figure they must be happy, smart, etc. and be more important than those without. This is fine until the cracks begin to show between what they have and who they are. That's when their lives disintegrate, and suddenly all that really matters to them is whether Mum and Dad really loved them. The thought in the back of their minds is that it was really just self-love, with the kids being a shiny reflection of themselves. Amore propre tranferred to parenthood.

What really matters is whether you're patient with your kids, spend time with them and take time to listen. The "education" side may be secondary at best, and, at worst, sow the seeds for the disintegration of their lives.

Mark Goulston adds:

Any parent this applies to might enjoy my essay Grow Your Company Without Shortchanging Your Kids.



Dear Dad,

By your words and more important your actions, you taught, guided, and inspired me to have:

- the wisdom to know the right thing to do
- the integrity to do it
- the character to stand up to those who don't
- the courage to stop those who won't

You not only made me want to be a better son [or daughter], "you made me want to be a better man [or woman]." And that, as the movie says, is As Good as It Gets.  

 I love you and I'm proud to be your son [or daughter].


(your name)

I made this a bonus Usable Insight because I was not wise or articulate enough to say these words to my dad before he died twelve years ago. Having missed out on that, my unconscious nearly prevented me from sharing it with you, because it still hurts that he didn't get to hear these words and that I didn't get to hear me saying them to him. I hope that someday my children will say them to me. But more important, that I will deserve them.

Happy Father's Day



 In my local morning's paper I found six items that carry over into other endeavors. Sometimes a few unexplained sentences are more effective than a detailed analysis because they encourage the reader to do more of the heavy lifting required to learn.

There are some things in life that you can't think about while you do them, and golf is one. Golf isn't played the way it's learned. It's learned by conscious competence on the driving range and played by unconscious competence on the golf course.

There was never a champion who just wandered up to the ball and hit it. So approach the ball as if you mean it. The average player plays with no commitment to the shot. The good player plays with partial commitment to the shot, but the champion plays with total commitment to the shot.

Relax! The time you have to swing the club is not a second and a half but 30 to 45 seconds. It runs from the beginning of your shot routine until the ball is in the air.

The late and great checker world champion Tommie Wiswell admonished, "Move in haste, repent in leisure". With golf, chess, checkers, tennis, stock trading, take your time. Survey the situation. Do your homework. Keep a manuscript full of your notes on whatever you are doing.

"Knowledge is power" in anything!

From Mark Goulston:

Thank you Alan. You might like this article along those lines:

The Success Secrets of Jack Welch and Tiger Woods



 One of the best things that I've done in my own speculative career is to realize that I am a loser in various niches and to exit those forever.

I retired relatively gracefully from squash after losing for only a year or two. I did the same with fixed income, and after a loss with foreign currencies. Vis-à-vis the latter, I concluded that whichever way I traded the market would go the other way — It wasn't so much a matter of running my stops and taking advantage of my fixed decision making, it was more a matter of the banks making say 300 billion a year from the markets. How in the world is there going to be enough money left over for me to make?

I shudder at how active and how good one has to be at something just to try to stay above water. I would urge all who trade the markets to periodically stop and think whether they have an edge. They should decide if they've made money, taking into consideration all their bad luck and the rule of ever-changing cycles.

The market loves to let you make money on small capital (like they did with the trend followers and so many hedge funds) just so you invest humongous amounts on 'the system that can't fail', only to take you for billions later on.

But of course the rate of return is still positive, and the manager still has 50% of the fund that he owns, since he takes out the fees monthly — the customer takes the losses on the big capital.

If only managers and customers were more humble, more willing to admit that they are guaranteed to lose in certain niches, the public would lose so much less than they have to. Moreover, the world of markets would be a much healthier place, and we would have fewer poseurs and flimflam artists in our midst.

Mark Goulston comments:

This post makes a great point. Here are a couple reasons why people don't cut their losses.

If as right as you thought you were is as wrong as you turned out to be, the fear is that you could be wrong about lots of things.

People confuse making a mistake with being a loser. If, however, you see every loss as a mistake and learn the lesson it teaches, you never have to view losses as a failures, just as lessons.

A friend of mine, Jason Calacanis, who has made and lost lots of money in Internet ventures, told me that if you make a decision that turns out to be dead wrong, recognize it when it is obvious, change direction, and never make the same mistake again. Then you'll be better off than 90% of people.

Steve Leslie adds: 

One of the great lessons in poker is that it is a game of imperfect information. Therefore you have only so much to go on. And you have a very limited time to make decisions, never more than a minute or two at the very most. Now in no limit hold-em this can be a decision that can end your tournament hopes or advance you to the championship.

Once you make your decision there is no going back. You can call, raise, or fold. That is it. And all decisions are binding. Just like trading.

After playing serious poker for a decade, I have made many incorrect decisions. I have also made plenty of correct decisions. But I think I have made more correct ones that wrong ones.

My goal every time I sit at a table is to try and play each individual hand as correctly as I can. Once I decide to play a hand I try to conjure up energy in my mind to focus exclusively on this event, to attack with laser like focus, eliminate as many distractions as possible, and to play within myself. That is all anyone can expect in the game of poker. The rest is a result of mathematics, statistics, and luck or variance. Sometimes you win; sometimes you lose. But unlike baseball you never get rained out. And you accept the outcome.

Finally, after these many years, I believe that my first impression of the correct play is the best one. After observing, calculating odds and my bet, I go with my initial decision. I do not try to talk myself into something else. It may not be the one, but it is the clearest one, the one that has the best vision, at least in my view. And this is the one that counts.

There are plenty of coulda, woulda, shoulda's, but after all it is all part of the game. If it were easy, then everybody would do it and they would be good at it and there would be no value left, or exploitation, or need to try to get better.

Just like trading.

From Dylan Distasio: 

I firmly believe that there is a meal for a lifetime in this post. Even with an edge, beating any particular market average over the long term is an incredibly difficult proposition. Without an edge, it becomes impossible.

Besides gauging the dynamics of a particular market, and examining your edge through experience, knowledge, or other empirical means, I think it's also critical to examine whether a particular style or timeframe of trading agrees with your personality and psychology.

As an example, some people are able to thrive in an intra-day environment, whereas others due to psychological makeup alone may not be suited for this pace of trading despite having the informational tools available to make a go at it.

There are a myriad of timeframes, markets, and methods of trading out there. Finding one that suits you from both an empirical edge and a psychological edge is your best chance at finding long-term success.

The psychological edge, I believe, becomes extremely important during the inevitable draw downs, mistakes, and bad luck that accompany all trading.

Alan Millhone writes:

Would there be any fund managers who would honestly admit in public that they are not making money? The Chair makes a well-founded point for a person to leave alone areas where they are not familiar. I try to stay with areas where I have some knowledge and familiarity. In construction we have two major hospital additions going up as I type. This type of commercial work is out of my realm. I don't have the crew, equipment, or bonding capability to ever consider undertaking such projects.

As Clint Eastwood says, "Man's got to know his limitations." This holds true in the market and with about any other undertaking we can envision in life. Years back I did a lot of work for a local oil and gas business. It was interesting to watch them pour over a map of an area and decide where to drill and then go out and find investors. I think I could have pinned the map to a wall and thrown darts at it and been just as accurate. The owner once told me the definition of an oil well. He said it was a hole in the ground with a bunch of liars standing around the hole looking down into it! 



 Charles Darwin once wrote, "Each living creature must be looked at as a microcosm–a little universe formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars in the heaven." (from David Lamb)

I have taken this quote to heart, especially in my trading. Each individual trading program, like my own, is formed "of a host of self-propagating" variables. Although, I must add, that every trading system is nowhere near as complex as that of a cell, let alone a colony of cells. But trying to find parallelisms in biology and trading seems like a good exercise.

For instance, the foundation of one trading system is to quantify and qualify three basic variables: time series, volume, and price. But found in each of these variables are a slew of possible dependents based on the action of the other dependents, hence making them interdependent. What makes one hedge fund buy 10,000 long contracts of the 30-year t-bond, while another fund is willing to sell them? What about spread trading and how does this affect the overall movement, if the often talked about Lobagola is experienced much of the trading days? Is it possible to understand the reasons of such things? Is it even necessary?

In order to understand how the human tongue works it is necessary to delve deep into the inner workings of the tongue. For example, the bumps on the surface of a tongue are called papillae, which control our taste buds. Taste buds provide information about the taste of food being eaten. The human tongue has about 10,000 taste buds, and each of these taste buds is formed of clusters of about fifty cells. Should one want to change, enhance, or get rid of a particular taste bud, the comprehension of the cells that make up the taste bud, and how they interact with each other is probably necessary in order for any manipulation to take place.

Perhaps asking the right questions, as so many on the spec list has stated, is the most important exercise one can do in any field of endeavor. Perhaps I need to start with the absolutes, the unchanging variables, in the field of trading. In a conversation between Albert Einstein and Count Harry Kessler, recorded by the latter, Kessler asked him if relativity applied to atoms.

Here is what was recorded in Kessler's journal:

"Einstein said no: size (the minuteness of the atom) comes into it here. So size, measurement, greatness, and smallness, must be an absolute, indeed almost the sole absolute that remains, I said. Einstein confirmed that size is the ultimate factor, the absolute that cannot be got away from. He was surprised that I should have hit on this idea, for it is the deepest mystery of physics, the inexplicability and absoluteness of size. Every atom of iron has precisely the same magnitude as any other atom of iron, no matter where in the universe it may be. Nature knows only atoms, whether of iron or hydrogen, of equal size, though human intelligence can imagine atoms of varying magnitude."

So, what are the absolutes of trading? In this highly competitive endeavor, due to my lack of knowledge and experience, I have found very few absolutes. If one or two constants can be properly qualified does this provide a sound foundation to entering/exiting positions, while taking into consideration the law of ever-changing cycles?



Mark Goulston writes about how prenups kill romance. An ounce of distrust is worth a pound of romance and a week of sleeping in the den.



Never be:

  1. Too rushed to say "Thank You"
  2. Too proud to say "I'm sorry"
  3. Too angry to say "Goodnight"

If you are too rushed to say "Thank you," your relationship is leaning more towards being an arrangement than a relationship. If you're too proud to say "I'm sorry," and too angry to say "Goodnight," you'd rather be right than make things better and you're dangerously close to becoming the unforgiving person you knew in your childhood — that you swore you wouldn't grow up to be like.



Before George W. there was another George W. . An essay on succession planning, ego and being presidential, by Dr. Mark Goulston



I have been thinking about kids' games. The purpose of these games is to prepare them for a productive and happy life. The game they seem to play first is one where they take something out of a bag and put it back in. I wonder how many market situations are like this in which the game prepares you. The gap to a new level is one. The refusal to go up a certain large amount is another. The inability of a market to be number one is another. Other situations include when the price hasn't been fulfilled, and when the stop hasn't been hit. I will attempt to quantify this and other lessons that we can learn from kids, and would appreciate your help and suggestions.

Mark Goulston comments:

While you're on the subject of kids' games, you might want to check out zoooos here. It's an educational interactive toy/device that three year olds can use to interface with educational DVD's rather than plopping in front of a tv.

J.T. Holley offers:

I have been thinking about kids' games. The purpose of these games is to prepare them for a productive and happy life.

When my three kids were each around one or two, my favorite activity was to play the interaction/game Peekaboo. That purpose, it seems, is to spawn and draw out those beautiful smiles and giggles in that specific stage of development. But it also could very well be the initial training of anticipation for earnings announcements, IPO's, government figures, AP headlines, CNBC guests talking, and spin offs. We all know what's coming within a half a deviation most of the time, but we so easily giggle and get all bent out of shape with enthusiasm and expectation. It's as if the Mistress places her hands over her face knowing that she can make us all giddy and put a smile on our faces. She controls our giggles.

Jeff Sasmor comments:

My younger daughter learned to read whilst playing Role Playing Games (RPGs) where there's a lot of dialogue popped up for everyone to read aloud. Many games are also good for hand/eye control improvement. That said, Grand Theft Auto is NG and other M-rated games are not for kids. Excessive use of games and videos as babysitters is also bad. It's also no good for kids to be so booked up with sports, tutoring, music, et al after school that they don't have any free time and can't have a social life!

But not everyone can afford a nanny and parents need some rest once in a while. What parent hasn't envied the DVD player in the minivan? What parent hasn't plunked down their child in front of the TV to watch Lion King so they could rest? A kid with a Gameboy in the back seat of the car lets you concentrate on the road rather than having to concentrate on the child's needs while driving. A kid reading a book in a car may throw up. And checkers in a car? Well, maybe magnetic checkers …

Many video games teach logic and thought in the same way that chess or checkers do. For example, strategy games where you battle various players against the AI in the game. You move around players and pieces which have various move types and capabilities - and the game tries to knock your players out. These games are very much like chess in spirit.

Both my kids have had an unrestricted diet (but a well selected choice!) of video games and computer use (but no games on school nights so I get a chance to play) and they're intelligent children & excellent students.

Parents have to modulate choices for children, but it's too easy for Grups to blanket-condemn a whole lifestyle and genre because some parents are too lazy to monitor what their kids do. Guidance and monitoring is what's important. Kids deserve to have some fun of a type that they choose. We don't need to control everything down to the last molecule.

Alan Millhone adds:

On our ACF website I always say: Checkers — the mental sport alternative to video games. Children of today are too addicted to video games and TV as babysitters. Children's minds have to be challenged in any way we as parents and grandparents can.

J.T. Holley adds: 

On our ACF website I always say: Checkers — the mental sport alternative to video games. Children of today are too addicted to video games and TV as babysitters. Children's minds have to be challenged in any way we as parents and grandparents can.

OK I'll speak up on this one. Now guys, really, I'm not a spring chicken and I grew up with a Stretch Armstrong, Green Machine, Red Rider, various board games, Cable TV, microwaves, and yes Atari. I also had a Commodore 64 that I won in a raffle from a minor league baseball fund raiser, and I also had my favorite 64 in one electronics kit from Radio Shack. That was only to establish background.

My point is "the ole gray mare ain't what she used to be." I do not, repeat, do not allow my children carte blanche the ability to watch hours and hours of tv, but have ya'll watched what is out there for children these days? I mean in the 70's when I watched tv it was Captain Kangaroo, Electric Company and Sesame Street and all those lingering cartoons from the 50's and the 60's that had smoking, gun shootin', Popeye's tatto's, and fist fights. These days it's Dora teachin' Spanish, Wonderpets dishing out principles, Little Einsteins introducing Classical Music to three year olds, Bear in the Big Blue house teaching four year olds to "Clean up the house," and my favorite on Discovery Kids Prehistoric Planet educating my children about dinosaurs that we were never told about! The bottom line is that it's good stuff and educational in content and delivery as long as you stay away from old man Turners Cartoon Network (junk) and be selective with duration and channel.

Now having said that, tv is no substitute for reading, flipping index cards with numbers and letters, and interacting with your children in the traditional sense. Heck, my little Addie loves reading Dick and Jane.

On the topic of boardgames, I'm an addict and I will say that we've advanced to higher levels as well, as far as education and skills. To once again show my lineage, I grew up with Risk, Stratego, Checkers w/ Grand Daddy Holley, Connect Four, Monopoly, Chutes & Ladders, Pay Day, Perfection, Simon, and Axis and Allies, my favorite game around 16 years old. These board games today made by Cranium are out of this world. If you want to see your children ages three to eight stimulated and become a ball of laughs while learning competition and creativity, then go buy Cranium's Hullabaloo either on DVD or with the Simon-esque plastic voice box. The other that I highly recommend is a newer game called Zingo! It is a mix of Memory and Bingo. Once again, the bottom line is that kids these days have far greater choices and boardgames to play than the classics that we had. If you play enough of these newer boardgames, you'll see that children at an earlier age are picking them up than it seemed before.

I won't even go into Leapad, Leapster, and the other computer stuff that exists out there in the electronics world today. It ain't all Doom, Drive-by Shoot 'em up either!

Yes, myself and my children spend countless hours walking paths identifying trees, birds, rocks and such. We run, bike, hike, and swim too! We also do Tae Kwan Do, Soccer, Golf, Bocce, Badmitton, Croquet, and Kick the Can.

James Sogi offers:

A favorite kid's game is "drop it." My kids would say, Dad pick it up … drop it, Dad pick it up, drop it etc. It's lots of fun.

A favorite market game is market drops. Dad picks it up … market drops, Dad picks it up … lots of fun. It's profitable too.

Nigel Davies adds:

I'd like to put in a word for computer games for kids, which don't necessarily include shooting aliens or others with laser guns etc. You not only get strategy and problem solving in quite realistic scenarios (well kind of realistic!), but also the development of computer and motor skills. The characters can also talk in context. The 'Thomas the Tank Engine' series are especially good, especially 'Thomas Saves the Day.'

Even with board games I think they can be made much more fun if they're on a computer with nice graphic presentations, warnings about illegal moves, ready made opponents etc. You and your child can take the same side against computer generated play, much better than having you beat them or letting them win I think.

My son's a bit young for chess right now but when I do start him off, it will be with Chessmaster, not a strong program but with nice graphics and teaching facilities.



I think Asperger's is a potential plus for traders. It is hypothesized that Bill Gates and Albert Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton may have or had high functioning Asperger's. To me, people with high functioning Asperger's (which is hypothesized to be more of a disorder of "mirror neurons" than the amgdala, read about it here). To me, people with high functioning Aspergers are "goal minded" to a fault. They can accomplish great things because of this singular patriot missile focus, but often have trouble with close motional relationships because of their difficulty empathizing with others. One of the frustrating things for them and the people who love them is that they do not intend to hurt, anger or frustrate others and are often at a loss for why others feel that way. A good book to address this is: Aspergers in Love by Maxine Aston.

Vincent Andres comments: 

About the biology of phobia and fear:

Read Snakes and Spiders Grab Our Attention and Grab It Even Faster If We're Phobic, A Sign That Perception Evolved To Help Us Spot Environmental Threats … Swedish Studies Show That We Can Spot Snakes In The Grass Faster Than Harmless Objects

Read Emotion Drives Attention: Detecting the Snake in the Grass by Arne Ohman, Anders Flykt, and Francisco Esteves

La biologie des phobies - Arne Ohman is a didactic nine page article in French with many clear sketches, and with biblio. and quantitative experiments about fear reaction delays. In short:

1. fear reactions are faster than others,

2. this is due to non-conscious short cuts

Nigel Davies adds:

I've seen an alternative hypothesis that mother nature is doing away with archaic social elements of the mind that were more useful for tribal groupings and shared panic in the face of sabre-tooth tiger attacks (or stock market falls). Asperger's seems to be on the increase worldwide, regardless of culture and with no two sufferers showing identical symptoms. These seem to be more characteristic of genetics and evolution rather than a 'disease.'

Might not the current research and attitudes be flawed through its view of 'normality' being assessed on the basis of what the majority is like? What if Asperger's represented the next step of human evolution, with the supposedly flawed neurology being perfect for the more specialist roles the world demands, and the diminishment of social instincts, thereby breaking down destructive national and ethnic barriers (not to mention the evening out of emotional swings in markets)?

Naturally those who are paid up members of the current status quo would not like the above argument. I suggest they would be likely to bend any evidence to show that they are in fact the perfect humanoids, incapable of improvement …



In considering support systems in markets, one would certainly not wish to overlook Thigmomorphogenesis ( which I believe formed the basis of the modern boy wonder's systems) which are height and thickness responses to strong winds to make the tree more stable.

One often finds that after a big move in an individual stock or market, there is much backing and filling, reversals, and gravitational moves to the close of the big move, before further growth or decline ensues. The question is whether such phenomena are predictive and how to test. Perhaps in the spirit of David Brooks, who better to ask then the specs. We have foresters and technicians among us.

Vic further adds:

Many trees are supported by roots attached to the trunk as seen here. I am wondering if this natural phenomenon, used widely in architecture and engineering, has its counterpart in markets, and whether this can be quantified and whether it creates for more stability. I wonder what other support systems exist, their prevalence and function.

J.T. Holley comments: 

As mentioned before on the List, while I was in Wilmington, NC a few years back, the Bald Cypress trees have a wonderful support system and are a great metaphor for the markets. Not only do they have the buttressing effect with their bottom trunk, but they also possess "knees" that serve both to get oxygen to the roots and to further support the tree in the silt laden waters. 

Mentally, picture the bids and asks around the market price of a stock. They too are the "knees" that feed oxygen to the price. I will try to type a rudimentary picture:

b = bid      a = ask      x = price

       X     a
 b     X     a
b b b b X a a a a

As the bids and asks move together in compromise they feed the price, adjusting upwards and also downwards. The bids and asks can form the "knees" by having a larger size than that on either side of it, bringing either strength or weakness towards the price inwards. The key in attempting to quantify might be to see how "fat" the price attributing to the buttressing effect is. Do round numbers have more of a buttressing effect and stability? Do low beta stocks have fat buttressing? 

For what it's worth, the Bald Cypress lives along the water's edge. I've been told that trees that have large and big leaves act as "sails on a boat" when hurricanes blow through and they get easily knocked down. The Bald Cypress seems to be well adjusted in the South in combating Mother Nature's breath by having well adapted leaves for this theory and the buttressing is the kicker. They are the most amazing trees next to the Sequoia's that I've witnessed in my life.

Scott Brooks adds:

Based on the link Vic provided, we've learned that trees don't collapse on their weight. This is incongruent with trading as stocks collapse all the time from their own weight (i.e. tulip mania, .com bubble, etc.)

What I found interesting in the wikipedia search is that the more a tree limb is rubbed, the more their growth pattern is altered and as a result the limb gets thicker (and stronger I assume). This may be analogous to a stock building a base before moving up (growing). There seems to be a disconnect here as a stock that is heavily traded (rubbed) would likely move strongly in one direction. Stocks seem to build bases when there is a lack of excess interest in one direction or another (interest in buying is equal to interest in selling). It's not until there are more buyers lined up to buy than there are sellers willing to sell that the base is broken to the top side. The inverse is true for breaking to the downside.

Thigmomorphogenesis is the response by plants to mechanical sensation (touch) by altering their growth patterns. In the wild, these patterns can be evinced by wind, raindrops, and rubbing by passing animals.

M.J. Jaffe discovered in the 1970s that regular rubbing of bending of stems inhibits their elongation and stimulates their radial expansion, resulting in shorter, stockier plants.

Growth responses are caused by changes in gene expression. This is likely related to the calcium-binding protein calmodulin, suggesting Ca2+ involvement in mediating growth responses.

Mark Goulston offers:

Here is another interpretation of thigmomorphogenesis. “The more a tree or plant is rubbed, the more its radial vs. elongated growth increases” is a metaphor for "the more hits that life smacks you with, the wider your stance better be to endure subsequent ones." This is not unlike cowboys circling the wagons when under attack, or animals hunkering down to diminish their exposed area to repeated attacks. The question is how much this is a reaction to attacks vs. an anticipation of future attacks where the most Darwinian evolved to withstand future attacks (that actually occur vs. merely a bubbameister) will out survive peers. On the other hand, if there are no future attacks, such an increased girth or widened stance will limit your movement and flexibility.

The interpersonal equivalent is that when nobody is attacking you and you act defensively, you are perceived by the other as being on the offensive.

No wonder the world will always needs shrinks and lawyers.

John Kuhn comments:

There is a giddy feeling when one of one's holdings experiences the "long bar" lurch. One is almost helpless to push the sell button. Yet as with those vomitous feelings engendered by unimpeded collapse, so with the inebriating joys of rapid equity advance … many an optimal moment for action is signaled in the emotion. As a counting incompetent, many of my best moves are in fading the long bar, and more of my worst, by failing to do so.

Jack Tierney adds:

What I found interesting in the wikipedia search is that the more a tree limb is rubbed, the more their growth pattern is altered and as a result the limb gets thicker (and stronger I assume).

I wasn't aware of this (or of much else), but this comment triggered a memory that goes back to a high school literature class. One day one of my fellow students popped up with the following rhyme: 

A woman, a dog and a walnut tree, the more you beat them, the better they be. 

As I recall, Mrs. Rigsby wasn't terribly amused and even less so when the offender couldn't name the source. The rest of us didn't much concern ourselves with that - instead we pondered how such treatment could benefit a tree (it was an accepted truism for the other two). 

Scott's remark moved me to Google the line which remained buried in the recesses of my mind. It's attributed to Thomas Fuller, a "British Clergyman and Writer, one of the most prolific authors of the 17th century. 1608-1661." 

So it only took 50 years or so to find a possible answer; I'm not sure that there's any market applicability involved.



Try to start each morning thinking of something and someone you're grateful to in your personal and professional lives, and think specifically what you are grateful about. You will discover that you can't be earnestly and sincerely grateful in a heartfelt way and at the same moment in time feel that anything is wrong or missing in your life. It is from that position that one can often make the best decisions that will stand the test of time.

Every time you make decisions from scarcity, fear, jealousy, etc. they are often as flawed as those mindsets are poisonous to your mind.

By the way, try to find the people involved in what you are grateful about and express it to them. It will not only make their day, it will make you a little bit more deserving of success and happiness because you were temporarily able to leave your self-absorption that can very easily become a black hole.

Nigel Davies comments: 

In chess, to coin a phrase, it depends on the position. Sometimes there's a second chance, sometimes there isn't. Schlechter and Bronstein came very close to winning the World Championship and the point at which they missed their opportunities has been traced to single moves. In Schlechter's case the outcome was particularly tragic as he subsequently died of starvation. A Bronstein win probably would have improved his situation also, no matter what he said in retrospect.

Of course most of the moves we make in life are not usually so critical. If we miss one, we go on living even if it was some kind of key moment, and things then take a different course. They may be better or worse depending on which variation we find ourselves in. And probably we should not dwell on 'what might have been' for it distracts the attention from the game we're actually playing.

But the thought that haunts me is that our choices may be more limited than we think; it is difficult to be anything other than ourselves and most of the outcomes will be an extension of this. Perhaps we can learn to make better decisions and I believe that my struggle with the chessboard (and now markets) has been largely about this. As I like to tell my students, a genius is a man who only makes the same mistake five or six times, most of us do it for our entire lives. 



Does anyone have any comments or suggestions on breaking through psychological barriers? I have been stuck at a particular equity level now for an extended period and each time I start to break through I get sucked back down. So everyone can thank me for yesterday’s volatility, as I came in long the NASDAQ ran up to my wall, so I then sold at the peak, only to buy back too soon or else too heavily into the decline. I have tried sneaking through this wall with small trades. I have tried jumping through with larger trades. I have tried not even looking at my equity for a while.

I am beginning to feel as I did when I was a little kid and my brother (who is five years my senior) used to play goal line defense against me. I would try to make it over the couch while he pushed me back, but I never could.

Dr. Mark Goulston adds:

I think one of the keys to overcoming psychological barriers is to have a clear and specific a vision (vs. merely the desire) of where you want to get to, that is both compelling and convincing to you over a prolonged period of time. That is usually necessary to generate the requisite commitment (i.e. focus, concentration, persistence and perseverance when you hit walls). Then have a step by step plan for getting there with back up plans for any and every setback you can imagine. Then re-evaluate periodically whether you’re staying with that plan and don’t change it without good reason (especially true for plans you have checked with trusted advisors whose input you listen to).

My personal vision is to develop deep, sustained and mutually rewarding relationship with some of the most respected and powerful people and then influence them in a way to make the world better. Maybe a little idealistic, but I’ve become friends with Warren Bennis from USC and am working on relationships with Jim Sinegal from Costco, Bob Eckert from Mattel, Frances Hesselbein from the leader to leader institute (formerly Peter Drucker Foundation), and Marshall Goldsmith the internationally renowned executive coach, so I think I’m off to a pretty good start. A big help has been my partnering with Keith Ferrazzi, author of best selling book, Never Eat Alone which I urge all of you to buy and read.

Grandmaster Nigel Davies Comments:

I believe the key to psychological barriers in most fields is down to our expectations of ourselves. Kids and adolescents haven’t learned ‘their limits’ so they tend to improve very rapidly. Older folks (20+) have a problem in that they ‘learn their place’. So typically you see acts of self-sabotage by players who are outperforming (see Icarus) whilst those having a bad tournament will fight like tigers to reach their norm.

The feedback one gets from one’s peers can tend to reinforce these feelings. So to improve it’s useful to acquire an excellent peer group for whom success is normal. For this reason I always tried to hang out with the Russians rather than the weak Westerners, and they normally tolerated me because of wanting to improve their English. And I posit that we are in the right place for similar reasons.

But what you may be experiencing may not be this kind of psychological barrier. The problem I’ve found with markets is adjusting to the ‘phase shifts’ when it starts to behave quite differently. A model which suggests that individual striving is the key may be too one dimensional, and perhaps what is required is to dance.

Jim Sogi offers:

The New Year kicked off a new phase shift, or a return to the old. Anecdotally, regular people are starting to get interested again in the new market highs and small cap techs after having stayed away during the steady but slow gains of the last 4 years of worry. Even the hoodoo who lost all his money is getting people at the beach to trade on hot tips. Things that make you go Hmmm.

Different tactics may need to be considered and tested. The issue may not be psychological.

Steve Ellison adds:

In “Secrets of Professional Turf Betting,” Bacon proposed varying tactics through the year based on the improvements of 3-year-olds, variances in weight allowances, effects of mating season, etc. For phase shifts such as the shift from winter to summer tracks, Bacon proposed general methods that could be used at any time, but were particularly useful at times when data was insufficient to evaluate the new regime. One such method was to pick the horse with the highest percentage of races won in the past year. Another was to note which horses had begun working out earliest at a new venue and study their workout times.



To keep your New Year’s Resolution and maintain your new diet, don’t cut out the fat and sugar, but rather cut out the high-maintenance people in your life.

Are you hoping to keep your New Year’s Resolution and stay on a new diet or exercise regimen? If so, don’t spend too much time and effort on a list of what you should and shouldn’t eat or do.

Instead, do take out a sheet of paper and draw a vertical line down the middle. On the left side list, you should write down all the people that drain the life and energy out of you. Those are the people who are very difficult to please and easy to upset(a.k.a. high maintenance). On the right side of the list, write down the people who give you energy and are easy to please and difficult to upset (a.k.a. low maintenance).

Make a 30 day commitment to minimize your contact with people who drain you, and increase your contact with those who energize you. You should do this because most people fall off new diets or exercise routines (or for that matter light up a cigarette) after they have had contact with people who frustrate or exasperate them. When that happens, you’ll reach for a quick fix like carbohydrates or a thick piece of meat and the last thing you’ll want to do is go exercise.

Then make a commitment to continue this indefinitely.



Divergences. To what extent do divergent bond and stock moves in a month, especially the last month of the year, predict the future?

Relativity. I once saw a proof of the theory of relativity that was based on a standard rate problem with two boats going up and down a stream with the current going against them. I wonder if a similar proof could be based on the relation of options of varying distant months and strikes, taking account of the predicted increase in futures prices between consecutive quarters. The problem is similar to the relation of yield curves to each other expected in the future. Speaking of options, no better real life example of the influence of an outward movement in the supply curve and its impact on price and volume has ever occurred than the recent reduction in margins on stock futures and the associated reductions in stock option margins and what it did to the supply curve and price.

Frustration. I am constantly amazed at how many things the frustration aggression hypothesis explains. The idea, popularized by Dollard and Miller in my day, is that when there is stimulus that has a normal response and that response is blocked, then aggressive behavior occurs, sometimes displaced. I recently used it to explain how the kids from a family… I don’t think I’ll finish that sentence. But I wonder how often it explains why a market isn’t finished its move until it sets a true 50 day high or low. This must be tested based on nearness and distance in duration and speed. Such variables as distance and velocity and how they appeared subjectively used to appear prominently in the psych literature.

Three Sheets. I wonder how often the main thing that the Palindrome taught me, i.e. to use two new cans of tennis balls in practice, is a general principle based on physics. I find that I am much warmer and less encumbered by three sheets than by one sheet and a blanket. Presumably the air caught between the layers gives warmth by convection and diffusion. It happens so often in markets that if you only have two or three escape routes on a trade, you are much more likely to lose than if you have many. This used to be my favorite proverb in mergers, “the mouse with one hole is quickly taken.” It meant that if you were a seller, you needed many competing buyers to assure a good price. I often use this to explain to women why it’s so important that they keep their options open in their 20s, rather than hooking up with a lad who’s heading down a dead-end career or academic path, or living with a boyfriend without marriage being confirmed. Invariably I see the breakup when the girl is in her 30s and without likelihood of children for the future. I saw it come across in the Louis L’Amour adventure stories where the stowed away captain was hiding in a store room, and he was suspected of stowing away so the bad boys smoked him out with formaldehyde. They locked three escape doors, but they didn’t know he had a fourth escape drilled into a hidden passage, just for this eventuality. The market will go against you if it knows that you have one escape route like the open or close, or the first day up, but if you have five or six, then you’re too difficult to trap.

Pivots. What are the expectations after one-year pivots as a function of how close you are to the previous high? The S&P set a one-year pivot in 1999, and hasn’t broken it in seven years, especially when using adjusted prices. It’s close again. Is that the time that it really breaks through as those with low self-esteem finally say uncle? How close does it have to be before the gravitational pull of such moves becomes likely? The subject calls for a general answer and I hope the depleted Eastern European mathematico statistics departments might not have changed the cycles in any regularities that might arise from such tendencies.

Economics. The best way to get a good background as a trader is to read some of the best economics books on price theory and industrial organization. They ask questions concerning pricing strategy, market share, choice, substitutes, and incentives that crop up in practice in individual stocks every day. I like Pashigian and Landsburg and Heyne as the three best, but would appreciate insights into current books in those fields that others have found useful.

Exorcism. They say that you can never exorcize a curse until you have revisited the source. And perhaps this is related to the frustration aggression hypothesis. I am so happy when certain countries drop 15% in a day and I’m not long, that it is apparent no such exorcism has occured. Perhaps a visit to the beaches there will enable me to become a better trader.

Bunds. I notice bunds have not gone up in 15 days or so, and wonder to what extent this is non-random. Of course that’s just an academic question similar to the results that value boys use to show that buying low P/E stocks has a great advantage when they use retrospective files over the last 50 thousand company-years encompassing 10 years. I always figure they have only five independent observations in such studies and always I try to figure out if prices are so far out of line based on the simple-minded acceptance of such randomness that a trading opportunity exists.

Dr. Mark Goulston replies:

A corollary of the Frustration Aggression Hypothesis is the syndrome of Fearful Aggression. It is something that trainers of thoroughbreds and show dogs know all too well (and was comically shown in the movie “Best in Show”). One of the explanations of this is that fearful aggression results from a previous experience of trauma that violated the security of the animal and when confronted with a similar danger in the present, there is a flashback of vulnerability from the prior incident and a knee jerk reaction to defend itself from retraumatization. Humans have this also. I used to have a habit when I would appear on a television show of saying something to offend the entire audience in the first few comments I made and then spending the rest of the show winning them back. The main problem of this is that people in your present aren’t aware of the fear motivating your aggression and being blind sided or overreacted to will trigger fear in them which will start a vicious cycle of their reacting aggressively. Colin Powell would agree that this is what happened in the Iraq war.



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 inoculates me against cowardice.

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.



I’ll bet there are some for whom the following training might come in handy. If you are the one the tip is talking about dealing with, give the people you love a great gift for Xmas (or Chanukah)… lighten up and accentuate the positive.

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 modus 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.



What is the limit between a sane passion for something, let’s say trading, and some form of obsession, not to say dependence. How do we discern the scientific quest for markets’ inefficiencies, conducted with determination, and the dream of a Don Quixote fighting the windmills without either skill or knowledge? It is difficult to say.

You do not reach significant results if you do not have significant objectives. You do not have significant objectives if you are not a dreamer.

Success might be a way to measure and define the difference between passion and determination. If you are successful you can say that your passion and determination brought you to understand the one market inefficiency sufficient enough to make a living.

After several years of frustrating tests and losses the same determination might be defined as obsession and dependence — the dream of a better life searched for without method and skill.

Dr. Mark Goulston adds:

GM Nigel Davies comments:

I think that people become passionate about what brings them success, appreciation by others and therefore self-respect. The ‘winner’ concerned will most likely become dependent on that feeling and the activity that produces it, working passionately to maintain or increase it.

Of course you will hear many other reasons for the pursuit of excellence in something, but probably these are more carriage than horse. And the glorification of the field concerned is usually just more fuel for the ego, whatever they say.

This might explain why trading success is so elusive. The drive to succeed is ego based whilst the ego itself must be subverted to logic and method. Not an easy trick to pull off.

Russel Sears mentions:

Often the line between insanity and passion is when the effort and work becomes the goal instead of the outcome.

For runners they often become obsessed with “mileage” and have to run so much per day or week regardless of physical condition. Ron Hill, was the prime example of this. He was a British marathoner who never really achieved his best, and his obsession to mileage cause a very up and down career. Now rather than his performances, he is best known for having the longest documented running streak for consecutive days. Running through sickness, car accidents, even knee surgery, hobbled on crutches for 2 miles.

Again the obvious connection to overtraining and over trading. Learn to rest and recover.

The other line is being objective enough about your talents that your passion does not blind you to opportunities.



You cannot be grateful and feel like anything is wrong or missing at the same moment in time.

Before the Thanksgiving spirit wanes, I for one, am going to try to hold onto gratitude, because in the Jack Nicholson line from the movie, As Good As It Gets, “It makes me want to be a better man.”

Try it. Think of three people that you are grateful to. Who were those people? What did they specifically do that you feel grateful for? Remember those people and what they did in detail and then try to feel angry, embittered and/or cynical. You will find it difficult to do so (unless by nature you take more pleasure out of being unforgiving).

There are a number of explanations for this, but my favorite involves neuroscience. When you feel angry, embittered and/or cynical, deprived, that something is missing or that something has been taken away from you, you react to that hole in your happiness — and neurophysiology — with resentment and may even feel the impulse to seek revenge.

When however you imagine in your minds eye the people you feel grateful to and envision clearly what they did to cause you to feel that way, the hole in your happiness–and in your brain and mind–spontaneously goes away, and is replaced by satisfaction and gratitude. In most people it even leads to the impulse to express that gratitude or even give back to the world.

If you want even more of an explanation for this, the entire process of remembering these wonderful people and feeling grateful to them is mediated by mirror neurons. These are cells that read minds and enable us to understand and empathize with others. And when in reverse we feel understood and empathized with by others, these are the cells that cause us to feel grateful and to borrow and recast a line from a famous old Beatles song, that is “what fixes a hole where the pain gets in.”



“You’re not a bad daughter,” I told my patient, a grown woman with children of her own. Her body shook as she sobbed. Her 92-year-old mother was in failing health, living in an upscale assisted-living facility. Although she did not require a walker, wheelchair, feeding tube or oxygen as did many of the other residents, she complained incessantly — about the food, uncaring family members, the brusqueness of the staff. Julia tried to be an advocate for her mother but found it increasingly difficult in the face of her nastiness. Then there was her mother’s constant criticism of Julia’s children, who never called or visited. Julia thought that they were merely doing what she would have liked to do — but couldn’t. As a result, my patient found herself wishing that her mother would die.The more she wished this, the more guilty she felt. The more guilty she felt, the more she called and visited. If some animals attack when they smell fear, maybe the same is true with difficult parents who attack when they smell guilt. Whatever the case, the more Julia tried to appease her guilt, the more negative her mother became. The vicious cycle was pushing her into a clinical depression. I clarified what I was trying to say. Many elderly parents would be appalled, but not surprised, to learn that their adult children want them to die, I said. And equally as many adult children would be relieved to know they are not alone in feeling that way. These adult children, often in their 50s and 60s, live under a cloud that will not leave until their parents pass away. For them, there is no such thing as good news — not when their mother or father is chronically ailing or, worse, in good health but with a bitter or negative disposition. A sudden physical decline may trigger sadness or possibly a fear of the child’s own death, but a turn for the better can seem to delay the inevitable for a person already in physical, psychological or emotional decline. “Why feel glad to get six more months, just to have to go through the same process again?” they may ask themselves.

I told Julia that these thoughts are normal. Watching a parent become weaker, sicker or more enfeebled is stressful, of course, but most adult children can bear that. It’s when that parent becomes vicious, hostile and resistant to help that stress crosses over into distress. Then, the goal of assisting the parent to have the best life possible is replaced by the goal of relieving one’s own distress. If a parent’s attitude and behavior don’t improve, the child wants an end to the suffering. That can only come when the parent dies. The desire for a parent to die sooner rather than later can escalate to a point of obsession. At that point, it can take all of an adult child’s energy to keep such a death wish from wreaking havoc — making the child truly wish that a parent takes a turn for the worse and is closer to death. That was the threshold Julia found herself facing when she came to see me. She spoke at length of the frustration and exhaustion caused by overseeing her mother’s care. How, she asked, could a good daughter think such awful thoughts — especially after the many things her mother had done for her and her family over the years? I stressed that her feelings didn’t mean she didn’t love her mother. Nor did they mean she really wanted her to die. They simply meant that she wanted resolution — to put this chapter behind her. Furthermore, I told Julia that I thought she loved her mother deeply and that those feelings, not guilt, was what caused her to visit so frequently. What she didn’t love or like was how her mother’s negativity had so completely taken over her personality and reduced her to a bitter, angry shell of a person. Julia continued to visit with the hope of seeing the positive sides of her mother somehow show through.

When Julia realized not just intellectually, but emotionally, that she did love her mother but resented her behavior, she felt emboldened to stand up to her mother in a way in which she had been unable to in the past. On her next visit she confronted her: You’re my mother and I’m always going to love you, for as long as you live and beyond, but if you continue to act as negatively as you are, I’m not going to like you. And if I don’t like you, I’m going to visit you less often and shorten the amount of time I spend with you at each visit. What I will not do is let myself become so angry and so dislike you that I stop visiting all together. Before I do that I will shorten contact to minutes per week and check in more with the staff about you than visit with you. I am asking for your help in making the best of the situation — being respectful and kindly toward others and showing the dignity that I know you are capable of. Julia’s mom heard the resolve in her words and did what bullies often do when called on their behavior in a firm, no-nonsense way. She listened. What’s more, she changed for the better, and Julia was able to replace the “death wish” she had been harboring with the true desire to visit her mom. Like others who are exhausted by caring for a physically or emotionally ill parent, she eventually found solace in realizing that the thought is not the deed, that she was not alone in such feelings and that she was not a bad, or even, unloving child. She simply wanted to love her mother as she had been, not resent her as she did.

Mark Goulston is an author, speaker and psychiatrist in Santa Monica. He can be reached via Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times



A super star does not a super apology make, but you don't have to be a superstar to make one.

Tom Cruise recently went over to Brooke Shields' home and apologized face to face for putting her down about taking meds for her post-partum depression. She not only accepted his apology, she had him join she and her family for breakfast. You don't have to be a "superstar" to give an apology and you can do something that even they don't do. You can give a "super apology."

Here are the five steps to making one, all done while looking the other person in the eye (to demonstrate sincere remorse which is the cornerstone of the process):

1. Say what you did wrong

2. Acknowledge how it hurt, disappointed, frightened or upset the other person

3. Admit you were wrong to do it and then apologize

4. Say what you are going to do to correct it and make sure it doesn't happen again

5. Ask those people you upset how you can make it up to them and then do it.

Michael Olds comments:

Dr. Goulston's response is well said from his point of view.

In the system of ethics taught by Gotama Saccyamuni [aka The Buddha] the manner of handling the situation where one has perceived that one has made an error in ethics is different than this. Gotama's manner of handling error might be found to be instructive here in your forum where there is clearly an effort being made to see things as they really are. In Gotama's system the process would better be called 'making conscious', and goes as follows:

1. Approach the individual transgressed against stating words similar to these: "Friend, I have committed a blameworthy, unsuitable act that ought to be admitted. I admit it."

2. Say what you did that you perceive needs to be admitted by describing your understanding of how what you did is wrong according to your system of ethics. Here, in Gotama's system, in highly simplified form: A) What was said was said knowing it was an untruth, B) What was done was done with intent to injure either mentally or physically, C) What was done was done with intent to take the un-given possession of another.

3. Ask that your admission be acknowledged as heard by the injured party with the intent that by having admitted it, brought it to consciousness face-to-face with the injured party where it cannot be easily forgotten, and where it will be easily remembered, future restraint will have been facilitated.

It will be seen that in this system there is no assumption that one understands what was experienced by the other person as a consequence of one's actions or to correct the situation.

This is because in this system there is the understanding that however much one may practice empathy there is known to be variation in beings which is largely beyond the scope of understanding of the ordinary person and which results in individuals being altered by events in various ways. We do not assume to know all.

With regard to correcting the situation it is understood that what is done is done and cannot be corrected. On the other hand there is no problem with expressing empathy ["I can imagine how I would feel…"] and doing a good turn for someone one has injured [compensating a person for losses incurred as a consequence of trusting in one's word, returning something stolen…perhaps manyfold, paying for medical care, and so forth].

In the case where one is unable to find and face the injured person this making conscious can be done face-to-face with some highly respected individual.

There is no expectation of 'forgiveness'; that is a thing that the injured party does for their own good. Should the injured person refuse to acknowledge having heard one's admission, that is considered their problem.


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