Mark Goulston
Executive Insight
by Mark Goulston


Never be:

  • too rushed to say, "Thank You
  • too proud to say, "I'm sorry"
  • or 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'd never grow up to be like.

The Secret of "The Secret"

Forgiveness + Gratitude + Generosity = Attraction = The Secret

My partner, Keith Ferrazzi, has been recommending The Secret and I recently watched it on DVD and saw the show about it on Oprah and had some resistance to its message until I practiced what it preached, especially forgiveness. I realized that as long as I was not forgiving (others, myself, past situations, etc.), I was chasing after something that was impossible to fix, i.e. trying to rewrite some past disappointment or hurt that was not going to change, and diverting energy from my present and future. Being unforgving is an emotional "black hole" that sucks from everything else.

As soon as I decided to forgive and let it go, my unforgiving state of mind lost its power over me. After I recentered since I no longer needed to chase the impossible, I was able to recenter on gratitude.

Gratitude is wonderful. It is the gift that keeps on giving. When you're in a state of gratitude, nothing is missing in your mind, your life or the world. You can't be truly grateful and angry, hurt, disappointed or frustrated at the same time. When you are truly grateful, your cup runneth over and you want to give back, i.e. be generous towards the world.

Generosity is what fuels the law of attraction. If you give to others and the world, without keeping score, you will discover another universal principle, i.e. reciprocity. Give to the world and it will want to give back. That is what the law of attraction is about.

A great example of this is the movie, Groundhog Day. In it Bill Murray starts out very self-centered and attracts very little towards himself (and even repulsed Andie MacDowall, the object of his lust). As he keeps dying and reliving each day, he starts to discover what Andie MacDowall truly wants and needs and when he becomes those things, he so attracts her that she bids for him in an auction at the end of the movie.

Too girlie an example, for you guys? Then think of the movie, Field of Dreams. In it, Kevin Costner sacrifices everything to build a baseball field and keeps building it without knowing why. All through the movie his "generosity" is tested by his asking why he is doing it. In the end, he builds a field that helps baseball players (including his dad) to fulfill the dreams they never got to live in life. And the lesson of the story? Build something that fulfills the dreams of people and "people will come."

So think of the people who are most important to you. Figure out what they most want and need and help them get those and you, too, will attract more than you can imagine.

Let me close by saying to you the words of Kevin Costner's character, Ray Kinsella, to his dad near the end of the movie, "Do you want to have a catch?"

For Valentine's Day

Happy couples know that the real relationship begins when the honeymoon is over. Unless you maintain a garden of love, it will grow weeds and its beauty will wither and die. So let's explore the 10 habits* of highly happy couples (with all due respect and appreciation to Stephen Covey):

  1. Go to bed at the same time. Remember the beginning of your relationship, when you couldn't wait to go to bed with each other to make love? Happy couples resist the temptation to go to bed at different times. They go to bed at the same time, even if one partner wakes up later to do things while their partner sleeps.

  2. Cultivate common interests. After the passion settles down, it's common to realize that you have few interests in common. But don't minimize the importance of activities you can do together that you both enjoy. If common interests are not present, happy couples develop them. At the same time, be sure to cultivate interests of your own; this will make you more interesting to your mate and prevent you from appearing too dependent.

  3. Walk hand in hand or side by side. Rather than one partner lagging or dragging behind the other, happy couples walk comfortably hand in hand or side by side. They know it's more important to be with their partner than to see the sights along the way.

  4. Make trust and forgiveness your default mode. If and when they have a disagreement or argument, and if they can't resolve it, happy couples default to trusting and forgiving rather than distrusting and begrudging.

  5. Focus more on what your partner does right than what he or she does wrong. If you look for things your partner does wrong, you can always find something. If you look for what he or she does right, you can always find something, too. It all depends on what you want to look for. Happy couples accentuate the positive.

  6. Hug each other as soon as you see each other after work. Our skin has a memory of "good touch" (loved), "bad touch" (abused) and "no touch" (neglected). Couples who say hello with a hug keep their skin bathed in the "good touch," which can inoculate your spirit against anonymity in the world.

  7. Say "I love you" and "Have a good day" every morning. This is a great way to buy some patience and tolerance as each partner sets out each day to battle traffic jams, long lines and other annoyances.

  8. Say "Good night" every night, regardless of how you feel. This tells your partner that, regardless of how upset you are with him or her, you still want to be in the relationship. It says that what you and your partner have is bigger than any single upsetting incident.

  9. Do a "weather" check during the day. Call your partner at home or at work to see how his or her day is going. This is a great way to adjust expectations so that you're more in sync when you connect after work. For instance, if your partner is having an awful day, it might be unreasonable to expect him or her to be enthusiastic about something good that happened to you.

  10. Be proud to be seen with your partner. Happy couples are pleased to be seen together and are often in some kind of affectionate contact -- hand on hand or hand on shoulder or knee or back of neck. They are not showing off but rather just saying that they belong with each other.

Even if these actions don't come naturally, happy couples stick with them until they do become a part of their relationship. They know that it takes 30 days for a change in behavior to become a habit, and a minimum of six months for a habit to become a way of life and love.

(* According to Dan Sullivan, founder of The Strategic Coach: "Self-discipline is an ugly word. People mainly use it to beat up on themselves or others for not having enough of it. What it comes down to is habits. Happy and successful people have different habits than unhappy and unsuccessful people. And habits are specific behaviors that you do on a consistent basis until you internalize them into your personality.")


ALWAYS ... work on improving your written and verbal communication skills, because if and when you ever come up with that "bet the farm" idea and you can't communicate it clearly to others, it will die on the vine.

A "No Lose" Proposition

Winning is one of the best opportunities to demonstrate graciousness and generosity; Losing is one of the best opportunities to show poise, humility and take responsibility ; Graciousness, generosity, poise, humility and taking responsibility are five of your best opportunities to earn and gain respect and esteem from others and yourself.

Keep Your New Year's Resolutions

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Best Gifts in Life are Free

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Tis the Season to Be Realistic

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

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


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

Happy Holidays to all!

Gratitude: Prequel to The Power Thank You

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

In the spirit of Casino Royale and Batman Begins, which were both prequels to the successful James Bond and Batman series, think of “Gratitude” as a prequel to my Usable Insight: A Power Thank You for Thanksgiving.”

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 mind’s 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 Beatle’s song, that is what “fixes a hole where the pain gets in."


We procrastinate not because we’re lazy, but because we’re overwhelmed.

When your mind becomes overloaded—either from demands from the outside or from anxiety/depression from inside you—you lose the ability to concentrate, focus, prioritize, take in new information, hold it or act on it. As a result you lose confidence in your decisions and rather than make a wrong one and take a wrong action, you do nothing.

All the while the demands on your mind space increase rather than decrease and a vicious cycle develops resulting in more procrastination.

What to do (as described and explained in Get Out of Your Own Way at Work…and Help Others Do the Same)—

  1. You need to create breathing room in your mind so it can start to think again and so you can begin to regain confidence in your ability to make solid decisions.

  2. To do this, enlist a partner or buddy and tell them you would like to complain, vent, blame, make excuses and/or feel sorry for yourself and they don’t have to make it better, solve it or do anything other than listen and say, “I understand.”

  3. When they do that, you will start to feel less alone (which is mediated by “mirror neurons” in your brain that when activated by your feeling mirrored or understood release calming neurotransmitters that cause you to relax).

  4. When you feel less alone, you will exhale, start to relax; most importantly your brain will unlock and your mind will begin to open up and you will begin to be able to listen and take in new information including suggestions from others or from reading.

  5. As you start to listen and learn, your confidence in being able to make a sound decision will return and you will be more likely to take action instead of continuing to procrastinate.

In the absence of someone to do this with, visualize in your mind’s eye a loving, caring mentor or role model who supported you through difficult times in your life listening and understanding you now.

The more discerning a customer or client, the more they resist and resent being sold.

I feel fortunate and honored to be developing relationships with some of the most respected and admired leaders and CEO’s in this country. I’m not sure why they would want to spend their ultra precious time with me, but I think it may be due to the fact that I am an “awarophiliac.” That means that I love being and stimulating awareness in both myself in others that by itself is valuable and satisfying to me and seems to be the same to these leaders. At any rate, more than a few of these CEO’s have gone over their allotted time with me, waved away their assistants who were trying to remind them about their next meeting and walked me to the entrance of their building. I don’t think it was to get rid of me, but to spend more time with me.

A number of my helpful peers in the service professions, who are much more monetarily successful than me, have asked me: “Yeah, yeah, we know you’re bright Mark, but how are you going to make money at this? When are you going to ask for the sale? Don’t you have to make a living?”

I do have to make a living and after so much pressure to “convert” these conversations I finally asked one of these “new” CEO relationships: “Tell me about some of the challenges and opportunities you are facing.” Maybe my transition was not subtle enough, but I could feel the electrons on the other side of phone shift as if this CEO were thinking: “Son of a gun, you did a ‘bait and switch’ and now you’re trying to sell me just like all the other ‘vendors’ who try to hit on me. I thought you were different.” The telephone call ended awkwardly and shortly thereafter.

Fortunately, the overriding view this CEO had of me was that of truly enjoying the pleasure of his/her company and the mutual satisfaction that it was bringing to both of us. I have never made the same mistake again, nor do I speak much about my budding relationships with these esteemed leaders with my colleagues and associates who are trying to help me become a better closer

Why Tiger Woods doesn't cheat

Q: Why doesn’t Tiger Woods cheat?
A: Because he doesn’t have to…

And he doesn’t have to, because he has a huge competitive advantage. What’s that? As one PGA professional told me.

“When you’re playing against Tiger, there are always three things going on:

  1. Tiger knows he can beat you;
  2. You know Tiger can beat you;
  3. Tiger knows that you know that he can beat you.”

That is a competitive advantage. You don’t have to be Tiger Woods to have a competitive advantage over your competition. All you need is a service or product that your target market has gotta’ have (vs. merely needs or wants) that has quality, service and price (a.k.a. value) that consistently exceeds their expectations.

How to Get "Buy In"

To get people to open their minds to you, get them to uncross their arms. Forget about “the shin bone’s connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone, etc.” Just remember: “the arms are connected to the mind.”

One my main specialties is helping people to gain “buy in” from others. I’ve worked with CEO’s, directors, senior executives and FBI and police hostage negotiators to do so. Unless people “buy in” first, it’s unlikely that they are going to buy—or believe—whatever you tell or sell them. “Buy in” is the foreplay of negotiation, persuasion and selling. In hostage negotiation it is what causes a person holding a gun to ease off the trigger.

One of the most effective ways to gain “buy in” from others is to get them to uncross the arms on their body and uncross the arms in their mind. You can’t force people to uncross both. Even if you order or direct them to uncross their actual arms, you can’t make them uncross the ones in their minds.

What you can do however is cause them to uncross their arms in both places of their own free will. To do this, ask them a question that they feel tremendous emotion or passion about. Using words will be insufficient to communicate what they feel and they will need to use their arms to emphasize what they say. This is why you will often see people using their arms and hands to make a point even when they are talking on a telephone.

When people uncross their arms and use them to communicate, a door opens into their minds. The problem is that when that door first opens, there is no room (yet) to get through it, because they are caught up in the barrage of what’s coming out of it at you.


  1. Give the person plenty of time to express whatever they’re saying.
  2. Don’t take issue with it, become defensive or get into a debate.
  3. Know that after they have vented, they will become exhausted vs. relaxed and then anxious or even paranoid. (That’s because they unconsciously realize that they have dumped on you and will now be expecting for you to retaliate, tell them they’re wrong, get angry, put them down or at the very least become defensive.)
  4. Rather than doing any of these, pause after they have unloaded on you and say: “Tell me more” and they will breathe a sigh of relief and exhale.
  5. They will be grateful to you for not reacting the way everyone else would.
  6. And they will show their gratitude by opening their mind to you.

"You are not alone" - Part 1: Men

"Do you know the definition of a shower? A shower is the place where grown (and good) men go to cry, when they don’t think they’ll be able to keep the promise to their wives and children, that they will take care of them and make them proud and they don’t want their families to know how scared and ashamed they are."

During the .com bust in 1999 and 2000 I was speaking at a convention to a group of senior managers and their spouses. I told the audience of a male client who asked me: “Do you know the definition of a shower?” When I responded that other than something you find in a bathroom, I didn’t know, he offered the above definition.

When I said this to the assembled group of 150 couples, the men stared straight ahead at me like deers in the headlights of a car as if to say two things: “How did you know that about me?” and “I hope nobody sitting around or next to me knows that you know that about me”

Even more poignantly, a great number of the assembled spouses responded by looking down at the floor as if I was telling them something they already knew, but that was never talked about in their homes.

What was on many of these women’s minds was not worrying that their husbands would disappointment them, but that their husbands would drop dead.

"You are not alone" - Part 2: Women

"Do you know the definition of a ceiling? A ceiling is the place where women stare blankly into the darkness, when they try to help the men and children they love and everybody fights them."

Not do be outdone by my story about men and showers at a convention, a woman in the audience fired back the definition of a ceiling above.

Hitting the nail on the head is hitting the nail on the head whether you’re on the stage where I was or speaking from the audience where this woman was. But in this case, she received the opposite response from me. This time the women stared at her, wondering how she knew what they were feeling and it was the men’s turn to look down at the floor in embarrassment, acknowledging their culpability in driving their wives to distraction.

The Power Thank You

Why settle for giving a "thank you" when you can give a Power Thank You?

If you want to make the people who are special to you, feel special, try a Power Thank You. It has 3 parts:

Part 1:
Thank them for something specific that they did for you (it can also be something they refrained from doing that would have hurt you).

Part 2:
Acknowledge to them the effort it took for them to do it (by saying something like: "I know you didn't have to do ----" or "I know you went out of your way to do ----").

Part 3:
Tell them the difference it personally made to you.

It is something you can’t give too frequently if you sincerely mean it.

Example 1: From me to Keith Ferrazzi, author of the best selling book, Never Eat Alone (a must read for anyone who accepts the fact that success is built on a foundation of solid, mutually helpful relationships):

  1. You plugged me and my ideas yet again on your email broadcast, which within 24 hours added 50 subcribers to my “Usable Insight” list.
  2. Recommending me to others directly affects your credibility and the trust people have in you. So you not only took a chance on me, but you also have taken a chance with your relationships by recommending me.
  3. Although I have been working with the business world for more than ten years, I am still more a “dyed in the wool” shrink/psychiatrist than a pedigreed MBA. Your trust and confidence in me helps me get through those moments where I doubt myself and/or feel stuck in helping my business clients.

Example 2: From a CEO to me that still chokes me up. He told me:

  1. I think you might have saved my life.
  2. I can be very tough and hard headed but you took me on. You told me very firmly and in no uncertain terms about the incredible pain my 15 year old, underachieving son was in by having a high IQ and not being able to use it because he couldn't focus. I just kept treating him like he was lazy.
  3. And what did it mean to me? I remember when I asked him (as you suggested), how bad it got for him (that he couldn't concentrate), and he broke and started crying and let me in instead of blowing me off like he usually did. And then I'll never forget when I asked him, why he hadn't told me it was so bad and he looked right back at and through me and said (correctly), ‘Dad, you didn't want to know!'

    I told my son I was sorry for not knowing and for not caring enough to find out. He looked back at me at said, 'I'm sorry for all the self-destructive things I did, when I didn't give a damn because you didn't either.' That's when I knew I had to go from hurting my boy to helping (the guy was choked up as he said this) him.

This CEO started keeping his son company every night as the boy struggled through his homework, because as his dad said to him: "I can't allow you to be alone feeling so awful." This change in attitude turned everything around at home. That CEO then realized how he was doing the same thing at his company to his board and management team and turned those situations around as well.

Mark Goulston is the best selling author of three books and writes regular columns for Fast Company, the National Association of Corporate Directors, Knight Ridder Tribune, Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He is frequently called upon to share his expertise with regard to contemporary business, national and world news by television, radio and print media including: Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Fortune, Newsweek, Time, Los Angeles Times, ABC / NBC / CBS / Fox / CNN / BBC News, Oprah, and Today. His latest book is Get Out of Your Own Way at Work. Visit for additional information.

Many more articles in Executive Performance in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2006 - 2007 by Mark Goulston. All rights reserved.

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