Sunday, July 31, 2011

Grandpa's Faith Healing - A True Story

As you know, the brain is complex and powerful, and scientists have only begun to understand its mysteries. Some mental feats seem miraculous. I've posted the amazing story of a man who can "will" his body temperature to rise.

Refocusing your mind on music can relieve pain and reduce the need for anesthetic. The effect is well-known and many doctors have used it successfully with patients.

In a study, Fabrizio Benedetti, a researcher of the University of Turin in Italy, injected patients with a simple saline solution that patients believed was morphine, and the pain went away. This is known as "the placebo effect." His explanation: "The relationship between expectation and therapeutic outcome is a wonderful model to understand mind-body interaction,"

My grandfather was a devout Mormon who spent the last 20 years of his life performing services in the St. George temple in Utah. He once told me that when he was a young man raising a family in Nevada, he wasn't so righteous. He often went into town to drink with his friends. One night he was walking home in a blinding snow storm, and he got disoriented. He wandered for hours, and he feared he wouldn't survive. He prayed to God that if He would guide him home he would rededicate his life to the Lord. Obviously, he found his way home, because decades later he was telling me the story. And he did, indeed, became a man of great faith.

Years before I heard this story, my mother told me that Grandpa's doctors had found a brain tumor and he would have to have it surgically removed. But before he would allow the surgery, he insisted that a group of Mormon elders be allowed to perform a "laying on of hands" prayer ceremony to heal him. After being administered to by the elders, the doctors did x-rays to determine the precise location of the tumor. But they couldn't find it. Miraculously, it was gone. This incident became a legendary story of Christian faith in our family.

My mother also told me about my grandfather's "patriarchal blessing," a one-time revelation that can be given to a person of faith that foretells his or her spiritual journey. In his ceremony, the patriarch said that before grandfather died, he would participate in the second coming of Jesus and play a part in the administration of a new era. This prophecy added to the aura of holiness that surrounded my grandfather, and it helped bolster the faith of other family members.

In the end, grandfather died the way everyone else does. Jesus did not come again, and there was no new era - although this fact has never come up in conversation in my family.

Still, the incident of the brain tumor was pretty amazing. The explanation my mother gave: "The Lord works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform."

Another possibility: It was another example of the amazing things the brain is capable of doing to the body, "the relationship between expectation and therapeutic outcome," as Dr. Benedetti elegantly put it.

The latter explanation works best for me, but I'm thrilled if anyone wants to see this as evidence of the power of prayer and how the Lord can intervene to bless the faithful.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength .

Saturday, July 30, 2011

If You Want the Best for Your Teen, Teach the Importance of Hard Work

Parents instinctively want the best for their kids. During the past several decades, this has translated into spending a lot of money on them, as if parents aren't sure about how else to go about it. If money is no object, this kind of indulgence can lead to a horrible outcome I've called "the silver spoon syndrome."

I came across a terrific online article by Blaire Briody on The Fiscal Times website: "Rich Baby, Poor Baby: Overspending on Kids Is a Waste." If you're still raising a child, it's definitely worth a read.

An excerpt:
Simply teaching kids the importance of hard work trumps even innate intelligence in predicting their success, according to Carol S. Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford and author of The Secrets to Raising Smart Children. Children who live in homes filled with books, regardless of the parents’ educational background or occupation, do much better in school, according to a 2010 study by researchers from the University of Nevada.

Did you catch that? No? Well, it's important. I'll repeat it for you:

Simply teaching kids the importance of hard work trumps even innate intelligence in predicting their success.

Think about how you could teach your teen the importance of hard work. Whatever you come up with, it will be the opposite of buying them expensive things.

There's a lot that teens should be told, but very few of them are. That's the reason I wrote these books...

Conversations with the Wise Aunt (for girls)

Conversations with the Wise Uncle (for boys)

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to use photo purchased from

Friday, July 29, 2011

She Didn't Graduate High School. She Graduated FROM High School.

When people make grammatical mistakes when interacting with me, it doesn't bother me at all. It happens all the time in conversation. Even I, with my high-and-mighty Ph.D. in English from Duke University, feel free to add salt and pepper to my conversation. No big deal.

But when the whole culture, the whole nation starts making a certain mistake, that's serious business. it really gets on my nerves, and I want to take the gloves off.

A couple years ago I started hearing this phrase, "He graduated high school." Or "She graduated college."


Where the hell did this grammatically incorrect usage come from? Television?

But also, why did people pick up on it? Why suddenly go with an incorrect usage that makes no sense and doesn't sound right? Is it really because people are lazy - they don't have to say "from"? Or maybe they're insecure - they think that if others are saying it, they must be smarter.

It's grammatically incorrect to say, "She graduated high school."

A teenager can't graduate a high school. When "graduate" is used as a verb, it means
  1. To be granted an academic degree or diploma. "He graduated in 2002."
  2. To change gradually or by degrees. To advance to a new level of skill, achievement, or activity. "After a summer of diving instruction, they had all graduated to back flips."
  3. To grant an academic degree or diploma to: "The teachers hope to graduate her this spring."
  4. To arrange or divide into categories, steps, or grades. To divide into marked intervals, especially for use in measurement.
A student can't graduate an institution, such as a high school or college. A student can't grant a degree to a high school. A student can't divide a high school into smaller segments. A high school can graduate its students, however.

A student CAN graduate FROM a high school. And this is how 100% of English-speaking people used to say it until a few years ago.

If you've used the phrase, "graduate high school," I understand. Everyone is saying it, so why question it.

But now that I've explained it, you understand that it's grammatically incorrect. I've clarified the issue. You know the difference. You know better. So stop saying it incorrectly. I don't expect you to correct other people, as I'm doing here, though that would be commendable.

But if you choose to persist in saying it incorrectly...well, you're illiterate.

My other grammatical hot-button...

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to us image purchased from

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Three Most Important Areas of Youth Development Are Not Taught in Schools

It's amazing what you see when you step outside the box. I've been focusing on the topic of parenting teenagers for over a year now, and I've been outside the box the whole time.

Inside the box, you understand that you need to sacrifice and save money for your child's college education, urge the child to study and get good grades, get the child tutoring for how to take the SAT, and help your child get admitted to a great school. And there's nothing wrong with any of this, even if getting admitted to a great school is no guarantee at all of success in life and work.

But outside the box I've seen something else...

1. The most important thing a kid can learn when he or she is a teenager is how to think - critical thinking skills, which are handled by the pre-frontal cortex. This area of the brain is "under construction" the entire period of adolescence, which lasts 10 or 12 years. It's a time-sensitive window of brain development, during which a person's foundation for critical thinking (understanding, evaluating, analyzing, relating, reasoning, problem solving, decision making, planning and managing) is established once and for all. At the end of the period, the window closes. Following the metaphor: construct a small foundation and you are limited to building a small house on it. The key is to construct an ample foundation. This makes a huge difference in your ability to gain "brain power" as an adult.

2. The second most important thing a teenager can acquire is personal strengths. These are behavior patterns that enable a person to do the hard things to deal with the challenges of life and work. In my work, I've identified more than 40 personal strengths, such as optimism, awareness, passion, focus, courage, composure, integrity, tolerance, and many more. You can see why personal strengths are so important.

3. Finally, there are people skills - interacting with people effectively. There are dozens and dozens of people skills, although in my work I focus mainly on a couple dozen of the more high-impact ones, such as listening, resolving conflict, dialog, guiding learning, stimulating thinking, and giving feedback. Nearly everything we do in relationships and work requires interaction with people; and when these are handled badly, there are adverse consequences. 

These are the game-changers. Imagine how hard it would be to succeed in the world if a person was inept in all three areas!

By the time adolescence is over, most young people have left home and have started to make their way in the world. So prime time to start developing these areas is during the teen years.

But here's the amazing part. None of these areas of ability are taught directly in our education system. Not taught in high school. Not taught at the college level, either. No courses in critical thinking, no courses in people skills, no courses in personal strength. So how are people supposed to learn this stuff?

You don't learn it by reading about it. You learn it by doing it. All three areas - critical thinking, personal strengths and people skills - get stronger simply by exercising them repeatedly.

It's possible to pick up some of these patterns indirectly and by chance. For example, one of my colleagues told me that the most important person in her youth was her economics teacher. When I asked her why, she said, "He taught me how to think." Lucky her.

Team sports are fine opportunities to build some of the personal strengths, even though that's not high on the agenda of most coaches, who have their hands full teaching athletic skills, conditioning and winning. And a kid can get some experience with interacting with people by socializing and participating in extracurricular activities.

But these developmental opportunities are unstructured, random, spotty, and depend on luck. It's kind of like "street knowledge." Kids pick up things hit-or-miss - the good, the bad and the ugly - hanging out with their friends. It's no wonder that most people become adults with a lot of unlearning and catching up to do. Which most people never do - they just get by within the boundaries of their limitations.

Isn't it amazing that something so important is unrecognized by parents and the education system?

There's so much young teens should be told, but it almost never happens. That why I wrote these books...

Conversations with the Wise Aunt - for girls

Conversations with the Wise Uncle - for boys

Can you think of a better way to give a kid an edge in life?

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to use photo purchased form

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Funny Tale about Adam and Eve's Parents...

I've logged quite a few hours writing about teens and their parents. Rather than address every conceivable topic, I've focused mostly on the issue of teen brain development.

What can a parent do to stimulate maximum growth of the pre-frontal cortex - the seat of understanding, analyzing, problem solving, decision making, foreseeing consequences, imagining, planning, managing, and controlling emotions? Pretty heavy-duty thinking!

And the window for developing the foundation of this critical thinking area opens at puberty and closes 10 or 12 years later. The consequences are huge. At the end of adolescence, the boundaries of this foundation are permanent. If an adolescent constructs a tiny foundation, later as an adult he or she will only be able to build a tiny house on it.

During the writing process, I frequently had to recharge my batteries to fire myself up for the next round of revisions and polishing. Along the way, I found this piece, which boosted my spirits. It came from the UC Berkeley Parents Network.

Whenever your kids are out of control, you can take comfort from the thought that even God's omnipotence did not extend to his kids. After creating heaven and earth, God created Adam and Eve.

And the first thing God said to them was: "Don't."

"Don't what?" Adam asked.

"Don't eat the forbidden fruit," said God.

"Forbidden fruit? Really? Where is it?" Adam and Eve asked, jumping up and down excitedly.

"It's over there," said God, wondering why he hadn't stopped after making the elephants.

A few minutes later, God saw the kids having an apple break and He was very angry.

"Didn't I tell you not to eat that fruit?" the First Parent asked.

"Uh-huh," replied Adam.

"Then why did you do it?", God asked exasperatedly.

"I dunno," Adam answered.

God's punishment was that Adam and Eve should have children of their own.

Thus the pattern was set and it has never changed. But there is a reassurance in this story. IF you have persistently and lovingly tried to give your children wisdom and they haven't taken it, don't be so hard on yourself.

If God had trouble handling His children, what makes you think it should be a piece of cake for you?

As parents prepare their teens for adult life, there's a lot to pass on. When you think about everything that caring parents should want their kids to learn, you realize that kids have a full plate. And yes, so do the parents. Somewhere on that plate is wisdom.

But as this story points out, it can be hard to get your kids to eat their vegetables.

To help parents make their teenagers aware of what's important, I wrote these books...

Conversations with the Wise Aunt - for girls

Conversations with the Wise Uncle - for boys 

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to use image purchased from

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Is It Love? Watch and Judge for Yourself

Have you ever had a relationship with a cat? If so, then you know they have unique personalities. They think, feel, make relationships, communicate, and remember. You experience real love for this non-human person. If they die before you do, you grieve them for the rest of your life. Dog lovers will tell you the same thing about dogs.

Yes, we humans have that huge, magnificent pre-frontal cortex, much more ample than that of cats or dogs. And we have the ability to create and use language. This gives us a more sophisticated intelligence, an amazing advantage. Although most humans don't do much with it.

So species arrogance is as misguided and inappropriate as any other kind of arrogance. If you want to see the world as it really is, then acknowledge the complexity and intelligence of many of our non-human mammal brothers and sisters.

Watch this brief, moving video and you'll see what I mean...

We can form complex, mutually caring relationships with non-human species.

And I love the other message: Reconnect with someone you care about.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength .

Saturday, July 23, 2011

He Redefined Excellence - Remembering Larry Bird

As I write, the NBA season is still on hold while owners and players are talking to work out a collective bargaining agreement. The owners want more of the money. The players want more of the money.

Meanwhile, I sometimes allow myself to remember some of the great players who made the game so great. And it wasn't because of the money, because that kind of money wasn't part of the game back then.

1985 photo - Steve Lipofsky
I came across this brief video clip about Larry Bird. It reminded me that there is NO ONE, not Lebron James, not Dwayne Wade, not Derrick Rose, not Kobe Bryant, not Dirk Nowitski - NO ONE who can do the kinds of things Larry Bird used to do on the basketball court.

He made it look easy. But of course that's because he practiced so much. Whether there was a game or not, he was in the gym shooting baskets all day. He even had a basketball court in his house for this purpose. He put in his 10,000 hours, probably two or three times over. He was the Shakespeare of basketball. The Beethoven of basketball. The Leonardo Da Vinci of basketball.

And now there are players who get 20 times the salary that he got who aren't one-twentieth as talented. I miss him.

Check it out...

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength . (Used by permission of Wikimedia Creative Commons License)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Last Shuttle Mission Is Safely Home! - Now Some Recommendations

On July 8, 2011, when the space shuttle Atlantis launched safely for the last time, I reflected on "What next?" and complained about the impracticality of manned space exploration. I said: "I'd like NASA to refocus on priorities that are killing us here on Earth right now, not this crazy romantic garbage about travel to the stars, funded by - YOU GUESSED IT - you and me."

I'm not talking about "trickle-down technologies." I hate hearing the argument that we should spend a trillion dollars sending humans to the stars, because building the requisite technologies will create unexpected spin-off technologies that will benefit humankind on Earth. That's an awfully expensive and unpredictable way to create beneficial technologies, don't you think?

Personally, I don't think people will support heavy taxes for manned space ventures. There has to be a well-understood, practical reason for using funds that could be spent on infrastructure and education. Remember the lunar missions? There was all this "destiny" crap about being the first to send humans to the moon. They brought back rocks and we learned some things. But after that, it was just one more expensive, pointless mission to the moon after another. It was theater. And the sequels didn't fill the seats. People withdrew their interest and support and the program was terminated.

Now Atlantis has safely returned to Earth, and that program is over, too.

But NASA has shown that its ability to put satellites into orbit can be used for great benefit. Think about navigation, communication, entertainment, weather forecasting, earth science, and defense. We'd be in the dark ages without all those satellites. And I wouldn't be able to stream Netflix videos.

Well, while the Atlantis crew was in orbit restocking the space station, I had time to think about some valid Earth-centered challenges for NASA. I'm not a scientist. I'm not even a nerd. But even my rocket-challenged brain came up with a few ideas for using space technology with the sole purpose of directly benefiting humankind on Earth.

How about NASA programs for...
  • Detecting and protecting against rogue asteroids that could collide with Earth? Mass extinctions may be cool for the evolution of strange new species, but they're never going to be cool for the human beings who are already here.
  • Detecting and protecting the planet from solar mass ejections. I'm tired of the cosmos squinting at me and saying, "Well punk, do you feel lucky today?"
  • Discovering ways to preserve our atmosphere. You know...that thin, fragile layer of air we breathe and can't survive even seven minutes without?
  • Creating a way to collect and direct to Earth some of the intense energy of the solar wind. That's a tough one, but hooo! what a benefit, and a 100 times easier than traveling to the stars.
  • Figuring out a way to remove all the "space junk" in orbit around the Earth. If one of those pieces slams into my Netflix satellite, I'm going to be so miffed....
So hey NASA, are you tracking me on this? You really do have the most talented scientists and engineers in the world. You guys should be able to come up with a list ten times longer and ten times better than mine.

And I'll tell you a secret. If you'd knock off all this "destiny" nonsense and propose programs that will benefit taxpayers in a direct, practical way - look to the future to solve some real serious problems - I guarantee you that your funding problems would be over.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to use photo purchased from

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Nick Vujicic - Life Without Limits

There are an infinite number of bad things that can happen to you. Or, ordinary everyday life can happen to you and you can get in the dumps about it, feeling discouraged and sorry for yourself. And of course this is totally inappropriate and unnecessarily disabling.

Teenagers are especially susceptible to this blunder, because with their pre-frontal cortex under construction, it's hard for them to be rational, have perspective or understand what's really going on.

When you see how bad one person's circumstances can get, you appreciate how lucky you are. You would never want to be challenged the way Nick Vujicic has been challenged. His "Life Without Limits" message is TRULY INSPIRATIONAL

Over 20 million people have viewed this clip, so maybe you have, too. But just in case you haven't...


So can you.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength .

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - One of the Great Novels from 1974

Zen and the Art of Mototcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, by Robert M. Pirsig, is what is known as a "philosophical novel," which means that the story and the dialog are there as a device to discuss philosophical issues.

Zen was a hugely popular book in 1974, and it continues to earn new dedicated fans. It was one of my top five favorites published that year - a great time for novels! The other four:
  • Tales of Power - Carlos Casaneda
  • Something Happened - Joseph Heller
  • Pilgrim at Tinker Creek - Annie Dillard
  • My Life as a Man - Philip Roth
Five more great ones from 1974:
  • Sula - Tony Morrison
  • The Hair of Harold Roux - Thomas Williams
  • Dog Soldiers - Robert Stone
  • Fear of Flying - Erica Jong
  • The Killer Angels - Michael Shaara
In the story, the narrator takes a cross-country motorcycle trip with his son. Along the way, the repairs they make together are used to illustrate how to unify the objective, rational realm of technology with the subjective, imaginative realm of artistry. He encourages his son to become one with whatever activity he's involved in, to engage in it fully, to see and appreciate all its details, whether it's hiking in the woods, writing an article, or adjusting the chain on a motorcycle.

The following passage expresses one of the central, non-philosophical points:
"In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame...On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming."

A lot of what the narrator says algns with the personal strengths I often write about:

ACCEPTANCE - "The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth," and so it goes away."

AWARENESS - "To live only for some future goal is shallow. It's the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top."

AWARENESS - "We’re in such a hurry most of the time we never get much chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it’s all gone."

ATTITUDE - "Physical discomfort is important only when the mood is wrong. Then you fasten on to whatever thing is uncomfortable and call that the cause. But if the mood is right, then physical discomfort doesn't mean much."

EXCELLENCE - "Absence of Quality is the essence of squareness."

EXCELLENCE - "We want to make good time, but for us now this is measured with the emphasis on "good" rather than on 'time'...."

FOCUS - "This inner peace of mind occurs on three levels of understanding. Physical quietness seems the easiest to achieve, although there are levels and levels of this too, as attested by the ability of Hindu mystics to live buried alive for many days. Mental quietness, in which one has no wandering thoughts at all, seems more difficult, but can be achieved. But value quietness, in which one has no wandering desires at all but simply performs the acts of his life without desire, that seems the hardest."

GRATITUDE - "The test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn't any other test. If the machine produces tranquility it's right. If it disturbs you it's wrong until either the machine or your mind is changed."

INTEGRITY - "Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the center of it all."

RATIONALITY - "If you get careless or go romanticizing scientific information, giving it a flourish here and there, Nature will soon make a complete fool out of you."

RESPONSIBILITY - "The only Zen you find on tops of mountains is the Zen you bring there."

SELF-DEVELOPMENT - "If your mind is truly, profoundly stuck, then it might be much better off than when it was loaded with ideas....Stuckness shouldn't be avoided. It's the physic predecessor of all real understanding."

SERVICE - "The place to improve the world is first in one's own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there."

SPIRITUALITY - "When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called a Religion."

This quote does a good job of summing up the novel:
"The real cycle you're working on is a cycle called yourself."

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength .

Monday, July 18, 2011

Why the U.S. Women's Soccer Team Blew the World Cup Final

Yesterday I wrote about why Phil Mickelson blew his chance to win the British Open. The U.S. women's loss in the World Cup final game was my second huge disappointment.

In her AP summary of the World Cup title game, Nancy Armour said that "the Americans lost this game as much as Japan won it."

She's right about that. But not because the Japanese players made three of four penalty kicks, while the U.S. players made only one of four.

Like a lot of Americans who don't usually watch soccer on TV, I was caught up in the drama of what our women had achieved. They had won some close games to earn their way to the finals. I wanted them to win. I was glued to my TV set.

I'm not an expert soccer fan. I played intramural soccer in college, but that doesn't count for much. I just haven't followed it over the years. But I could tell that while the Japanese women were fast and athletic and played with a lot of heart, the U.S. team was bigger, stronger and more talented. They played precise, in-your-face soccer, and when Alex Morgan scored at minute 69, I shouted a loud "Yeah!" I couldn't help myself.

But then something weird happened. With quite a few minutes to go in regulation, the U.S. women stopped trying to score. It was as if they all they cared about was trying to keep the ball away from the Japanese players. It was the soccer equivalent of "stall-ball."

I'm an over-the-top Duke basketball fan. I got my M.A. and Ph.D. at Duke in the early 70s. Mike Kerzyzewski and I were cadets at West Point at the same time. I remember watching him play under Bobby Knight. Back then, the under-sized West Point team went to the NIT equivalent of the "Final Four" two years in a row. Today, all my personal activities, including family events, are planned to accommodate the Duke basketball schedule.

Quite a few years ago, one of the better Duke teams surged to a 35-point lead against Virginia. With about 15 minutes left to play, Coach K ordered the team to hold the ball and milk the clock. I won't bore you with the details, but here's what happened. Duke would hold the ball until there was about 10 seconds left on the shot clock, and then they would make their move to the basket. But that's only time enough for one play, and Virginia's defense would see it coming. They disrupted the shot, got the rebound and charged down the court and scored. Too easy. Imagine my chagrin when this pattern repeated itself until Virginia erased the advantage and won the game. It was an abomination - a totally misguided strategy.

This wasn't the last time Duke would blow big leads playing stall-ball. It gives the opponent a tremendous advantage. You can't make baskets when you aren't trying to make baskets. It's hard to make a basket when you make only one time-pressured attempt. The other team continues to play aggressively, so they score. Besides, Duke always has talented players on the bench who need playing time experience. If you have a big lead, why not put them in and tell them to show their best stuff?

I know that as soon as the 2011 season starts, Coach K will have won more games than any coach in the history of Division I basketball. But in my opinion, he could have won more. This has always been his greatest weakness as a coach. He's a smart guy, so I always wondered why he continued to do this. Even the announcers and commentators would talk about it, so I know the opposing coaches knew and were waiting for their opportunity.

Actually, I believe Coach K has improved in this regard. He doesn't use the stall-ball strategy as often, and he doesn't initiate it as soon as he used to. Watching his end game is a lot more fun.

So when the U.S. women started playing stall-ball, I got worried. A one-point lead is no lead at all. There was quite a bit of time left. What if the Japanese team scores? Then the lead is gone. You can't score goals if you aren't trying to score goals.

Well, the Japanese team did score on a late possession, forcing the game into extra time. The U.S. team scored again at minute 104. Alex Morgan kicked a perfect set-up pass to Abby Wambach, who headed the ball into the goal. The U.S. took a 2-1 lead. If they had scored again, they would have iced the game and there never would have been any penalty-kick finish. But they didn't try. They immediately shifted to stall-ball again, trying to keep the ball away from the Japanese players.

When the Japanese team got the ball, the pace picked up. Sure enough, they scored again.  And when tiime ran out, the game was decided by penalty kicks, which are a very chancy way to win. This time, the luck fell to the Japanese kickers, and everything the U.S. women had worked so hard for was lost.

After the game, Abby Wambach said, "Evidently, it wasn't meant to be." That was a gracious thing to say.

But I'm going to say it differently. It wasn't meant to be because the U.S. coach, Pia Sundhage, thought it would be a great idea to play stall-ball with only a one-point lead, instead of trying to score a decisive goal.

I think it's important to name names and hold people accountable. The U.S. women played their hearts out. They couldn't have played better. It was the coach who lost that game. She didn't play to win.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to use photo purchased from

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Why Phil Mickelson Blew the 2011 British Open

Irishman Darren Clarke won the British Open. He was the only player to shoot in the 60s all four rounds. He's a gentleman, a talented veteran golfer, and he deserved to win. It was his first victory in a "major" tournament, and I'm happy for him.

But I'm an American and a big sports fan, so this day was a disappointing day for me. First, after starting the final day of the British Open five strokes behind, Phil Mickelson played brilliantly and after only nine holes he had caught the leader. Then he blew it - royally. Second, the U.S. women's soccer team lost to Japan in the World Cup final.

I watched both defeats, and it was clear to me why both of my favorites lost. In both cases it was unnecessary and shocking. Here's what happened to Phil.

2005 photo by Dan Perry
He started the day with a seemingly miraculous front nine. What he did was almost impossible, even on a nice, calm day. Instead, the wind was blowing rain sideways. Still, he played like an all-weather wizard who knows all of the earth's secrets. Well, he is 41 years old, and he has won 39 PGA tournaments, including three Masters and one PGA championship.

He rolled in lengthy putts to card birdies on holes 2, 4 and 6. Then on hole 7, he sunk a 20-footer for an eagle. He finished the front nine with a five-under-par 30, equaling the front nine scoring record for the British Open. Then on the 10th hole, he made another birdie: 6 strokes under par after 10 holes. Even though the leader had just made an eagle himself, Mickelson was only one stroke behind with eight holes to go. He was playing the best golf of his life, and to say he had a chance to win the 2011 British Open was a polite understatement.

On the 11th hole, he reached the green in regulation, missed his birdie putt and went to tap in his 2-footer for par. And then the most amazing thing happened.

In Mickelson's head, the game that goes on between a golfer's ears went soft and mushy. Instead of respecting the shot and grinding it out in a professional manner, he didn't go through his routine. He rushed the putt and pushed it to one side of the hole. He missed a 2-footer. When reporters asked him about it later, he said, "It was just a stupid mistake, just a dumb mental error."

Well, actually, it was the kind of mental error that you'd expect from a weekend golfer playing for pocket change - not Phil Mickelson contending in the British Open.

But why?

It seems clear to me that on the front nine he was, as he affirmed later, having some of the most fun he's ever had playing golf, and he got a little giddy and failed to engage two of the personal strengths crucial to professional golfers: THOROUGHNESS and FOCUS. He didn't do a golfer's due diligence for the shot. His mind was preoccupied with the heady feeling of playing magical golf; it wasn't focused on the putt.

Well still, he had seven more holes to go. If he could birdie a couple of them, he might still win. But that's not what happened. The guy who was making all the birdies and eagles started having trouble making par. He made no more birdies and a total of four bogeys on the back nine, blowing himself out of contention.

Again, why?

With plenty of golf left to play and severe weather conditions making it tough on everyone, including Darren Clarke, the leader, why did birdie-man suddenly turn into bogey-man?

Well, I watched it, and the answer is clear. You could see it in Mickelson's posture. You could tell by the way he walked to the 12th hole that it was as if something had knocked him goofy. When that putt rolled by the hole and he dropped another stroke behind the leader, a bolt of emotion and these words flooded his mind: Oh no. What's this? What have I done? I can't do this and win today. I've just screwed myself. Oh my god. Or words to that effect...

In short, he lost his COMPOSURE and his SELF-CONFIDENCE, two more personal strengths a PGA contender needs in order to win. He was trying not to show it to the crowd, but he lost his belief that his game was strong enough to win. Instead of putting the mistake behind him, he changed the way he had been playing. He panicked. He took more chances and got into more trouble.

It was hard to watch. With each bogey, his mental game got worse. I felt sorry for Phil. Nobody gets a pass when it comes to engaging personal strengths. They're crucial to success. If you don't bring a tough mental game, there will be consequences.

I'm sure if Phil ever reads my post here (and he never will) he won't get all this talk about "personal strengths." I'm sure he hasn't thought much about personal strengths per se. He just engages them instinctively. And when he does, he plays magnificently, as he has lots of times. But not on the back nine today, where his instincts failed him. A conscious effort between holes to engage specific personal strengths would have made a big difference.

OK, this is a short putt. OK, let's have a look at this thing. Let's do it right and make sure it goes into the center of the hole....

OK, I missed it. I goofed. But that's done. It happens sometimes. I miss one every round. This was it. No problem. Got seven more chances at birdie, and I'll get my share. Clarke will make his mistakes, too. I'll just keep on playing my game and enjoying every shot....

Next post: why the U.S. women's soccer team lost to Japan. It's a regrettable story...

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength . (Wikimedia Commons fair use license, photo used with permission)

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Best of Harvey Mackay - 17 Great Quotes

Harvey Mackay - publicity photo
Have you ever read Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive (1995) or Beware the Naked Man Who Offers You His Shirt (1990)? They're two of Harvey Mackay's best-selling success books. I love reading Harvey Mackay because his writing is so full of common sense wisdom. You get the feeling that the man knows what he's talking about and is telling you the truth.

He's one of the top-tier gurus, having sold more than 10 million books worldwide. His sixth and most recent book is Use Your Head to Get Your Foot in the Door: Job Search Secrets No One Else Will Tell You (2010). What a title! He's also a nationally syndicated columnist and one of the most popular speakers in the world.

Harvey Mackay is famous for making bold, clever, succinct statements. For this reason, once you read one of his quotes, it's hard to forget it. And you think: hmmm...practical wisdom - ignore it your peril!

This is why I have nearly 50 Harvey Mackay quotes in my database. Here are 17 of my favorites. Read them and you'll see what I mean...

On ATTITUDE - “Attitudes are every bit as important as aptitudes.”

On COMPASSION “Say and do what you mean, but never say and do it meanly.”

On COMPOSURE - “Don't let ups and downs leave you down and out.”

On COOPERATION - “Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto.”

On RELATIONSHIPS - “Unless you work in demolition, don't burn bridges.”

On CREATIVITY - "One sure-fire way to stay creative: force yourself to learn something new."

On EMPOWERMENT - “A mediocre person tells. A good person explains. A superior person demonstrates. A great person inspires others to see for themselves.”

On EXCELLENCE - “For the real winners, there are no finish lines.”

On GRATITUDE - “Anyone too busy to say thank you will get fewer and fewer chances to say it.”

On INITIATIVE - "Ideas without action are worthless."

On OPEN-MINDEDNESS - “Minds are like parachutes—not much good unless they are open.”

On PERSEVERANCE - "Be like a postage stamp. Stick to it until you get there."

On PROACTIVITY - "Failures don't plan to fail; they fail to plan."

On SELF-AWARENESS - “I know that you don't know, but you don't know that you don't know.”

On SELF-CONFIDENCE - “Believe in yourself, even when no one else does.”

On SELF-DISCIPLINE - "Time is free, but it's priceless. You can't own it, but you can use it. You can't keep it, but you can spend it. Once you've lost it, you can never get it back."

On VISION - “When you're thirsty, it's too late to think about digging a well.”

Classic stuff!

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength .

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What on Earth is ProStar Coach? - The Gym Analogy

ProStar Coach is an online virtual coaching system to help you work on people skills and personal strengths. Because it's a brand new, really different learning technology, at first some people don't get what it is. So I find it helpful to use an analogy. It's a lot like working on physical strengths in a gym.

Let me explain...

First of all, for the sake of their health, everyone needs to be physically fit. But not everyone thinks physical fitness is important. Not everyone wants to improve themselves in this way. But many people understand the benefits to their health, and they're willing to do something about it - even if they've never worked on becoming physically stronger before.

Because it is possible to improve your physical strength. It is possible to improve your health.

Now it may be enlightening to read about it, to watch a training video or to listen to the advice of an expert. But these things, by themselves, will not make you stronger.

It's not about knowledge and understanding. It's about working specific muscles. If you want to get physically stronger, you have to do the work. You have to do the repetitions.

You'll see real results, but they won't happen overnight. But if you keep coming back to the gym and if you stick to your routine for several weeks, you'll start to feel and see differences in your body.

This means the key is to make going to the gym and doing the exercises a habit. If you don't, it will be all too easy to sometimes forget, make excuses or blow it off. And if you do that, you won't get a payoff for your membership.

Sound about right? 

Well, working on the core strengths of who you are as a person works the same way...

First of all, for the sake of their success in relationships and work, everyone needs to be strong as a person. But not everyone thinks personal strengths and people skills are important. Not everyone wants to improve themselves in this way. But many people understand the benefits to their success in relationships and work, and they're willing to do something about it. Even if they've never worked on becoming stronger as a person before.

Because it is possible to improve your people skills and personal strengths. It is possible to be more successful.
Now it may be enlightening to read about it, to watch a training video or to listen to the advice of an expert. But these things, by themselves, will not make you stronger.

It's not about knowledge and understanding. It's about working specific areas of personal strength and people skills. If you want to get stronger as a person, you have to do the work. You have to do the repetitions.

You'll see real results, but they won't happen overnight. But if you keep coming back to the ProStar Coach virtual gym and if you stick to your routine for several weeks, you'll start to feel and see differences in your behavior.

This means the key is to make going to ProStar Coach and doing the exercises a habit. If you don't, it will be all too easy to sometimes forget, make excuses or blow it off. And if you do that, you won't get a payoff for your membership.

I hope this was helpful. There's more info online if you want it.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength .

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Four Regions of the Thinking Brain Made Simple - Part Three

What's going on up there? If you have a good handle on what kind of work your brain is doing, it makes it easier to use the right kind of thinking at the right time.

In my last post I pointed out that there are actually two different back-brain perceptual areas - the left-back and right-back, and both of them handle different kinds of "specific, concrete" thinking - what things are.

And there are two different front-brain conceptual areas - the left-front and the right-front, and both of them handle different kinds of "big-picture" thinking - what things mean.

In this post, I describe how each of these four areas of the cortex produces a different kind of thinking.

Left-back. Thinking in this region produces language-based information. It identifies, sorts and stores specific information that is the product of language: names, definitions, dates, times, quantities, categories, rules and other data that define experience. Think of this precise, practical, structured thinking as a means to create ORDER. When order is translated into behavior, the result is disciplined effort, instruction, and rule-based compliance—the action patterns of CONTROL.

Right-back Thinking in this region involves sense-based perceptions. It forms and stores specific images: sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, body awareness and emotion—the very essence of here-and-now awareness. This sense- and emotion-based thinking is the basis for SENSITIVITY. When sensitivity is translated into behavior, the result is hands-on activity, spontaneous interaction and expression of feelings—the action patterns of SOCIABILITY.

Left-front. Thinking in this region produces language-based concepts. It uses reason and objective analysis to make sense of the information received from the left-back region. Left-front thinking produces logical understanding, objective judgment, critical analysis, rational problem solving, structured decision-making, forecasting and planning, all of which contribute to LOGIC. When logic is translated into behavior, the result is organization, rational explanation and goal-directed effort—the action patterns of PROACTIVITY.

Right-front. Thinking in this region produces sense-based associations. It relates images holistically to make sense of input from the right-back region. Right-front thinking produces intuitive judgment, imagination, personal values and beliefs - all of which contribute to INSIGHT. When insight is translated into behavior, the result is dramatic expression, artistic performance and persuasive communication—the action patterns of the mindframe CHARISMA.

Not everyone has the same type and quantity of cognitive skills. So not everyone uses these regions to the same extent. So some types of thought and action come easier to some people and more difficult for others. What are your cognitive strengths? In what areas will you have to try harder? Will you even know when you need to do that?

A brain-based questionnaire called MindFrames is available on the Internet. It will tell you how extensively you use each region of the brain. For now, it's free, and over 100,000 people have taken it. It's fun and revealing and maybe the feedback will be helpful to you.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength . (Graphic from Performance Support Systems, Inc., used with permission.)

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Four Regions of the Thinking Brain Made Simple - Part Two

As I explained in my previous post, there are four general areas of the brain's cortex (thin outer layer) that handle four unique kinds of thinking. To understand these functions, it will help to understand back-brain/front-brain differences, as well as left-brain/right-brain differences.

Back-brain and front-brain. In simple terms, the back part of the cortex takes raw information from the senses and processes it into sight, sound and physical sensation. This gives us perceptual awareness — the ability to experience the world directly, to have real-time concrete images, feelings, names, facts, data and other practical details.

The front brain and the back brain are physically separated by the motor strip, a band of cortex that goes from ear to ear across the top of the brain. The motor strip sends action commands from the cortex to every part of the body. This creates behavior. Thinking in both the front cortex and the back cortex informs these commands, although the processing in both areas is profoundly different.

The back cortex has three main regions: occipital (visual/sight), temporal (auditory/sound) and parietal (kinesthetic/feel and touch). There is also an area that touches on each of these three main regions to coordinate the different types of perceptions into a total experience.

While the back brain produces instinctive stimulus-response reactions, the front brain facilitates decisions based on association and analysis.

The front brain also receives input from the back brain to relate it into categories, relationships and patterns. These units of meaning aren't perceptual. They're conceptual. In other words, the front part of the cortex "makes sense" of perceptions created by the back part of the cortex. Images, facts, emotions and other perceptual input are related to each other. These associations are stored in long-term memory as "knowledge" - meaningful conceptual patterns.

While other mammals have some front-brain tissue, the human front-brain cortex is much more extensively developed, giving us dramatically advanced learning, imagining, reasoning, problem solving and planning ability. Still, this wonderful capacity is not more important to survival than the products of the back brain, which produces perceptual awareness — the essential input for the front brain.

Left-brain and right-brain. The left and right sides of the cortex are physically separated by the corpus callosum, a bundle of nerves that let the two halves communicate with each other. We experience both input at the same time, creating the rich experience of our individual consciousness.
All language functions — hearing, understanding, forming, speaking, reading, and writing language — are clustered on one side of the brain. We call this the "left side" for convenience, because for the vast majority of people, the language areas are on the left side.

The presence of language processing on this one side of the brain has a profound impact on the thinking that goes on there. The act of naming things is unique to humans. The categorization of experience, using the names of things, creates a mechanism for order and structure that is the foundation of logical thought. Reason is essential to understanding cause and effect, analysis, problem solving objective, evaluation and decision-making.

Logical thought may be distinctly human, but it isn’t the only effective way of thinking. The right brain thinks by associating images. This highly useful way of sorting experience and creating meaning is how the right side of the brain processes information, learns, imagines, makes intuitive decisions and triggers action. It’s the basis for human creativity, artistic judgment, value judgment, intuitive judgment, interpreting behavior and recognizing complex patterns.

Neither left-brain nor right-brain thinking is superior to the other. Both are essential to survival and work together to help us make our way in the world. If a person was lacking either one of these ways of thinking, he or she would be radically disabled and have trouble functioning in society.

Now you can see why there are actually two different back-brain perceptual areas - the left-back and right-back, and both of them handle different kinds of concrete, "specific, concrete" thinking - what things are.

And there are two different front-brain conceptual areas - the left-front and the right-front, and both of them handle different kinds of "big-picture" thinking - what things mean.

In my next post, I'll describe what makes these four areas unique.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength . (Graphic from Performance Support Systems, Inc., used with permission.)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Four Regions of the Thinking Brain Made Simple - Part One

Whenever I talk about the weird behavior of teenagers, which is caused in large part by changes in the teen brain, I'm talking about the pre-frontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that facilitates critical judgment, intuition, creativity, logic, decision-making, planning and organizing. It's what scientists have referred to as the "executive" part of the brain. Humans have many times more pre-frontal cortex than any other mammal. Birds, fish and reptiles have none. It's one of the characteristics of the human brain that makes us highly intelligent, and special.

But it's hard to understand the role of the pre-frontal cortex with understanding how it fits into the big picture of the rest of the cortex - the thin outer layer of the brain.

I encourage you to stick with me. I'm going to make this simple...

Learning how the brain works is fascinating. With hundreds of interconnected areas and components, the brain is the most complex organ in the human body. Many parts may contribute to a single function such as emotion or memory; and interactions take place hundreds of times per second.

In the past, the brain has been difficult to study. Unlike other organs, when a part of the brain is damaged or destroyed, it changes who you are. For this reason, scientists only rarely got to examine a living brain. Components of the brain are surrounded by other components and are hard to reach, even during surgery. The brains of deceased persons are less useful to research because they no longer function. The brains of other mammals may be similar to the human brain, but they have important differences, and there are ethical limitations to studying animal brains.

Formal brain research, which has been going on for about 150 years, began as the study of the effects of brain injury. Recent advances in sensing technology and computers have created breakthroughs. We can now watch the brain in action without physically probing into the brain. This has led to advances in medicine and psychology. The current scientific consensus about how the brain works is widely published and discussed.

The part of the brain that produces the most striking differences in personality is the cortex, the outermost layer of brain matter. This is the thinking part of the brain, where perception, language, learning, planning, problem solving and most high-level functions are processed. So this is the part of the brain we'll look at right now.

Both your cortex and the thinking programs you acquire over a lifetime influence the thought patterns and behavior patterns we call “personality.” Since our brains aren’t exactly alike and we don’t all learn the same things, we think differently, act differently and have different personalities. In this regard, every human being is completely unique.

Scientists have learned that stored information and thinking programs reside in different regions of the cortex. Functionally, there are four basic regions, each of which produces a different kind of information in its own special way. The four regions are:
  • Left-front
  • Left-back
  • Right-front
  • Right-back
In order to understand how these four regions contribute to your thinking and personality, we must first check out the basic differences between the left and right parts of the cortex, along with the basic differences between front and back parts of the cortex.

You've heard about "left-brain" and "right-brain." In my next post, I'll first talk about "front-brain" and "back-brain" differences.

I know. It's "brain science." But stick with me. In Part Two you get the plain-English translation....

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength .

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Jack Canfield - Never Give Up on Your Dream

I've heard this story many times before, but I just listened to it again and it inspired me all over again.

I don't care what business you're in or what your dream is. You've got to watch this video.

If Jack Canfield can do it, I can do it. You can do it.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength .

Friday, July 8, 2011

Atlantis Lifts Off - Last Shuttle and End of an Era

Atlantis - 2011 NASA photo
When the space shuttle Atlantis lifted off safely into space July 8, 2011, it was an historical event - the final launch of the space shuttle program. The first launch happened on April 12, 1981. I remember watching it live on TV. Exciting stuff. The program then built five shuttle vehicles and there were 133 more launches during the next 30 years. And gradually the entertainment factor scaled down to something close to ho-hum.

I'd like to see something in the media about what the Space Station program has cost the planet so far, along with a summary of exactly what we got for all that money. Besides videos of weightless astronauts on the NASA channel, of course.

A launch may be pretty expensive entertainment, but I have to admit it's a fascinating thing to watch. When I lived in Vero Beach, Florida, which is located only 50 miles south of the Kennedy Space Center, we used to walk a few steps to the end of our street, which gave us an unobstructed view looking north. Even at that distance the visual experience was exciting. The lift-off was visible to the naked eye, and with binoculars we could even see the separation of the two booster rockets. Once we watched a night launch, and the take-off brilliantly illuminated the sky northward.

Once we even went to Titusville to watch a launch from across the Intra-coastal Waterway. Did you know that among the spectators are shuttle groupies who have never missed a launch? They sat outdoors in lounge chairs with headphones, trinket-covered jackets and an entourage of lesser groupies surrounding them like royalty. What a country!

Here's an amazing video of a previous Atlantis launch, recorded from the perspective of one of the booster rockets:

And more shuttles. So what's next for NASA?

Here's what the talking heads say: It's humankind's destiny to travel to the stars. We're a species of explorers. It's in our DNA. It's what we do.

Of course, this is romantic NASA crap. It's not our destiny to travel to the stars. Earth is 4,500,000,000 years old, and humans have been walking around on the surface for only 1/100th of 1% of that history. We've had modern science for only 500 years. Considering the way we foul our air, water and land, we can't even claim that it's our destiny to survive as a species.

But NASA is talking about going back to the moon. The purpose? To refine space survival methods in advance of sending humans to Mars.

Why Mars? Two reasons. One, it's the only planet we can walk around on. The conditions on all the other seven planets are so unbelievably hostile that humans couldn't survive for even a few seconds on the surface. For example, the atmospheric pressure on the surface of Venus is over 90 times that of Earth's and it's mostly sulphuric acid blowing at 200 miles per hour at 800 degrees F. Nasty.

The other reason is to prove once and for all whether some form of life exists on Mars. Why that proof is so important is beyond me. They say it's important, but they never say why - why we should spend over $100 billion to get that proof. I keep thinking that it's a pretty hefty price to be entertained, have heroes and to know for sure there's some kind of life there. For zero dollars we could say, "There is probably some form of single-cell life somewhere on Mars, even if it's below the surface." What benefit do we get for proof?

Of course a manned mission to Mars is a far cry from traveling to the stars. But they're already gearing up for missions to the stars! DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) announced that they have joined with NASA to offer $1 million to anyone who comes up with the best solutions for star travel: "A Pentagon effort to enable a human journey to the stars within 100 years aims to enlist the brainpower of science fiction writers, ethicists and researchers. This new call for ideas covers innovations such as faster than light travel and life-sustaining technologies as well as questions about who gets chosen for the starship crew and what happens if alien life turns up at the end of the journey."

The fastest space vehicle ever made travels 50,000 miles per hour. The speed of light is more than 13,000 times that fast. Scientists say that travel at light speed is impossible because matter (including the crew) stops being matter and becomes energy at that speed.

The reason our defense leaders talk about "faster-than-light" space travel is because a round trip to the nearest star would take 10 years at the speed of light. And for sure, that's not the star we'd want to go to. If we had a solid reason to travel to any star (and we don't) it would likely take 1,000 years or even 10,000 years round trip. But faster-than-light travel is beyond theoretical. NASA talks glibly about "warp" travel because they know we've been watching Star Trek. Scientists say that IF warpable space-time actually existed, it would take the net worth of the planet to warp space-time only a little bit. The bottom line - faster-than-light travel is the craziest kind of nonsense, which means that interstellar travel is, too.

I know that the government considers $1 million pocket change and that amount of money doesn't even appear as a line-item in their budget documents. But I sincerely wish they would halt that project. Please save the money for something that really matters.

Even crawling through space at a mere 50,000 mph, a micro-meteorite the size of a grain of sand would have enough energy to blow a huge hole in a space ship. Space isn't a void. It isn't empty at all. It's full of gas and dust and larger particles. Even Earth satellites and space craft in stationary orbit have been damaged by this kind of debris. And engineers have no answer for it. Of course, if you travel faster than 50,000 mph, the problem becomes many times more dire. The futurists never talk about this when they theorize about building sexy super-fast propulsion systems.

And we don't have an answer for the degradation of bone mass in zero-gravity and low-gravity environments. The bone loss is dramatic and can never be fully restored. This is a huge problem for a so-called "colony" on Mars, and the space program has produced no answer for it. The futurists always leave this issue out when they talk about a colony on Mars.

I could go on. Deadly solar radiation and cosmic rays in space and on the surface of Mars. The problems of taking your food, air, and water with you. Not to mention fuel. The psychological problems of being in deep space far from Earth for long periods - totally unexplored psychological territory. And oh yeah, the cost.

Basically it's way more dangerous out there than the dreamers like to talk about. You get a serious problem with the spacecraft and there's no service station. No one comes to rescue you. You die. End of expensive mission.

Personally, now that the shuttle program is over, I'd like NASA to refocus on priorities that are killing us here on Earth right now, not this crazy romantic garbage about travel to the stars, funded by - YOU GUESSED IT - you and me.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength .

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Separateness - What I Don't Know about My Friends and Family

If you've been following my blog, you probably know that I believe the years of adolescence - roughly age 12 to 24 - are a profoundly important period of development. They powerfully shape who we become as adults. For months now, I've been steadily interviewing people to collect their accounts of their youth. You may have caught some of these "teen journey stories."

This project has taught me a lot about teenagers, the significance of these years, and the impact that parents have. It has also made me wonder about the teen journey stories of my six siblings. For example, I have two sisters. One is seven years younger than I am. The other is 13 years younger. We shared the same mother and father and the same home. But we didn't share the same bedroom, friends, acquaintances, schools, activities or interests. In fact, I am left with this conclusion: I don't have a clue about their teen journeys, not one clue. In fact, their adolescent years happened after I left home.

Acknowledging this makes me realize how little I know about them. One lives in Cedar City, Utah. The other lives in Topeka, Kansas. Three brothers also live in Topeka. Another brother lives near Los Angeles. We are blood brothers and sisters, but for all sorts of reasons they are virtual strangers to me. Maybe they always were.

I recently visited one of my best friends. He lives nearby, so we get together regularly. The interchange is so rich and fulfilling that our wives typically get left out, sometimes for six hours at a stretch. Nevertheless, a few days after each visit, I wonder what my friend is up to. What did he do on Sunday? What did he do on Monday? Has anything important happened in his family since my visit? What unexpected developments? What disappointments? How did these events make him feel? What has he been thinking? What new turns have his projects taken? And the answer is, even with my best friend, I don't know. To be honest, I don't know much of anything about the ongoing arch and flow of his life.

Once we accept what we know and don't know about the people we care about, we start to understand the separateness. And I know that if I want to be closer to them I need to spend more time with them and continue learning more about them. This is the antidote to separateness, but it takes you only so far. Ultimately, we are left to walk our paths mostly alone with our own daily activities, memories, thoughts, feelings, imaginings, wishes, and plans. We share what we can, but most of it remains private.

To me, this isn't a sad thought. I was thinking recently that one sign of a healthy, mature adult is the ability to be comfortable with oneself, to be good company with oneself when alone. So being alone doesn't equate to being lonely. Loneliness is another matter. We can be with family and friends and still feel lonely, if the relationships are shallow or conflicted.

I'll continue collecting teen journey stories indefinitely. It has turned out to be an exciting path of learning. I have a feeling that my brothers and sisters won't want to be a part of that project. But along the way, I think I may pick up the phone more often and learn more about what's happening with them.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to use photo purchased from

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Five Things People Who Strive for Success Don't Know That Can Hold Them Back

I've been studying the neuroscience related to learning and behavior change for 25 years. Along the way, I've learned some things about success that even the hard chargers don't know about - major realities that can hold them back. Here are the top five...

1. Knowing what to do doesn't mean you can do it. The reason is that most situations don't allow for reflection and conscious decision-making. For example, in the workplace things often happen so fast that your automatic habits kick in. You do what you usually do without thinking about it. The bottom line - if you want to consistently do something different - the excellent behavior you learned about - you have to first ingrain it as a habit.

2. It takes a lot of repetitions of the behavior to establish an ingrained habit. This is because habits are triggered by neural pathways, networks of brain cells related to the behavior, which are stimulated to grow together each time the behavior is repeated. Once all the brain cells are connected, the habit is ingrained. Permanently.

3. This doesn't happen quickly just because you're highly motivated.
It takes time, and it isn't easy to change your way of doing something. Because the new way isn't a habit yet, you'll forget to do it. You'll react with your old habit. Or you will try, and in the early stages your effort will be unpracticed and awkward. This failure may discourage you. The disappointment you feel is what I call "the crunch point." Things have to get worse before they get better, and you may be tempted to give up on the new way and fall back on what's comfortable.

4. It's hard to do this on your own. It makes a big difference to have people who care about your success to give feedback, coaching, encouragement and accountability.

5. Even if you successfully ingrain the new habit, without personal strength and people skills your new behavior pattern may not bring you success. Adversity is a fact of life; and in nearly everything we do, we do it while interacting with people. So you've got to be strong enough to work through the challenges, and you have to be good with people. Otherwise, you won't get far.

So if you really care about getting ahead and achieving your dream, you need to take these realities seriously. Understand what personal growth involves, and follow through. Build a network of people who can help you. And while you're acquiring the knowledge and skills related to your success, don't neglect your core strengths - personal strengths and people skills.

In brief, this is the message of a new 36-page ebook, Launch Your Personal Success, which you can download free online.

I created ProStar Coach to help success-oriented people deal with these challenges. Based on more than 15 years of research and development, it's the world's first learning empowerment system. It's stimulating content and online virtual coaching support to make the hard parts of your personal development journey a lot easier.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength .

Sunday, July 3, 2011

No Fireworks this 4th of July - No Problem!

It's July 4th weekend in the year 2011, the year of a record drought in Texas. Fireworks have been banned in San Antonio and in most of the counties in the Hill Country. Getting mellow, grilling, fooling around with friends and family, and setting off pyrotechnics...all this would certainly create a few more wildfires!

The fireworks ban is OK with me. I'm entitled to my eccentricities, and one of them is that I could care less about fireworks. Would you like to know why? The story...

But I do enjoy affirming America's independence. I've lived abroad four times, and I don't take living in a "free country" for granted at all. My most memorable Fourth of July took place 35 years ago in London, where I celebrated the American Bicentennial. The story...

If you're taking time off to celebrate America's independence, I hope you have a great time! If you meet any veterans, be sure to express your gratitude. And take care not to start any wildfires! And oh yeah, watch out for the crazies...

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to use photo purchased from