Understand Your Mind

One of the things I did when I put this website up, was I did a quick hunt of other websites and blogs that might be of interest to me.

I very quickly stopped hunting!

It was immensely time-wasting, and mostly left me shaking my head with each line I read.

However in that immense haystack I found one shining glittering needle, and I have been an avid reader ever since.

I mean, I just had to read further with such titles as…

“Why We do Dumb or Irrational Things”

“How and Why We Lie to Ourselves”

And the generic classic…

“10 Weirdest Psychology Studies”

His current post is on “Absent-Mindedness: A Blessing in Disguise?” as part 2 in “a new series on the 7 deadly sins of memory.”

Just what I was looking for 🙂

The author Jeremy Dean combines good clear writing with a tight focus on available evidence from the research literature and comes up with a very entertaining, informative and challenging blog.

I thoroughly recommend you check out “PsyBlog: Understand Your Mind” at:

http://www.spring.org.uk/

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for other good places that you’ve found from your own haystack hunting (even if it’s your own site), leave a comment below for me to take a look.

-Dr Martin Russell

Do You Have A Healthy Relationship With Your Emotions?

When people come to me with problems often they think of their problems as “irrational”.

The really interesting part is that their emotional response is always the bit that is irrational.

It doesn’t enter their minds that perhaps the most irrational part of what is going on is that they are they are believing their logical thinking.

Human beings are remarkable poor at using logic, despite all our efforts. We are incredibly self-deluding, and disturbingly unaware of most of what goes on in our lives.

So give your emotions a break.

Here is a first step to making sure you have a health relationship with your emotions.

Check for any emotional reactions that you think are “irrational”, or that you are “battling”.

I’m not going to try to convince you that your emotions are correct or that you should give in to them. I don’t know you or your emotions, and yes emotions aren’t always the most accurate guide either.

But here is the question.

Can you think of a time when that emotional reaction WOULD be exactly what you want to have happen in your life?

Emotions are part of the range of being human, so where do they fit appropriately into your life, even if only in rare circumstances.

If you are doing this as an academic exercise and don’t have a personal example, then let me set a few challenges for you.

Where would you like to have a phobia in your life?

Where would you like to hesitate more, or be confused?

Where would it be appropriate to have a craving in your life?

Where would you like to be more stubborn?

All these emotions have a place in a healthy human being. Rather than avoid them, how about figuring out where they fit for you?

-Dr Martin Russell

The Decade Of The Brain

When I was going through medical school it was a really exciting time in psychiatry.

Just as I began in medical school the new generation of anti-depressants arrived. Most famous of all was Prozac, which is still one of the most prescribed anti-depressants in the world.

Then the 1990s was called by US Presidential decree the “Decade Of The Brain”.

All very exciting.

Among the new scanning technologies, research findings, and biochemical breakthroughs there was one key outcome of this period that has forever changed psychiatry and neurobiology.

In the last years of the Decade of the Brain, it was discovered that human beings do in fact grow new brain cells. One key paper came out as late as October 1999.

This may not seem such a novel idea.

We are used to the rest of our body growing and adding new cells, but the brain was meant to be different.

The belief in medicine was that at a very young age you had produced all the brain cells you would ever have.

After that point you would slowly lose brain cells until you ran out. It was all downhill from there, so you best take good care of them and not kill them off with alcoho, drugs, or various forms of contact sport.

Somehow the brain was meant to be similar to teeth, or like female eggs cell in human ovaries where you start with a set number and they run down until menopause when they’re all gone.

Why the brain was more like ovaries and eggs, than like testicles and sperm, I never did work out.

But this turned out to be wrong.

All through the human brain we have nerve cells dividing and creating more neurons.

This new finding added enthusiasm for the idea that you could regrow nerve cells after strokes and spinal cord injuries.

This idea was most publicly promoted by ex-Superman actor, Christopher Reeve.

In practice regrowing nerve cells hasn’t turned out to be as simple as it sounds.

However in my work in counseling, this one breakthrough opened up a huge new vista of hope.

Suddenly all the permanency of the brain and it’s behaviors became up for grabs again. You didn’t just have to tell people about “growing new connections” which was already known to be true, but in fact there was no built-in decay process either. The brain could add more cells and by implication could change more radically than previously thought.

There was one additional message which was important for me and my work – important in fact for the thinking behind this blog too.

I don’t use it in counseling with patients, but I do use it as a fundamental piece of how I think about everything I do as a helping practitioner.

Here is the message:

  • The medicine I was trained in got it wrong!

Not just slightly wrong either. Totally, horribly, 180 degrees wrong.

They asserted an idea that the brain could not create new nerve cells because they couldn’t detect it. They took this lack of evidence and claimed it to be a truth.

What other basic assumptions is medicine wrong about even today?

Lots. You can be certain of that.

-Dr Martin Russell

Heath’s Death

A friend of mine suggested I should write about Heath Ledger’s unexpected death.

In fact he suggested I should do some media publicity about the material I have about taking sleeping pills safely since Heath was found with sleeping pills and anti-anxiety pills in the room.

Well I wasn’t up for a media campaign, and I wasn’t even going to write about this subject on this blog. A little too raw, the story is still a little unclear, and it’s always awkward for readers of this blog who might find death a personal topic of interest. This is where the disclaimer comes in.

However there was one post I found to be worth a read from a self help perspective:

http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2008/01/23/depression-how-you-label-determines-how-you-feel/

Also, if you are taking sleeping pills, or considering doing so, then I urge you to check these videos out for your own safety:

http://www.selfhelpsleepingpills.com/

-Dr Martin Russell

Don’t Be A Hero

I really appreciate all the comments I get on this blog. I read them all, and they are often worth your time reading as well.

However some of them are worth putting up as an entire post. Thanks to teqjack for pointing me to a post on the website of ‘World’s most popular blogging anesthesiologist’
that had this Financial Times article by John Kay that I quote from:

The hero is the person who tackles a problem, rather than the person whose actions prevent the problem arising. The statesmen we need are those who avert wars and prevent depressions, but such individuals gain little credit. These wars and depressions might have been dam’ bad. We don’t know; we dodged clear of them.

The paradox is illustrated by Jim Collins in Good to Great : more successful leaders attracted fewer column inches. Al Dunlap of Scott Paper declared his admiration for Rambo: “Here’s a guy who has zero chance of success and always wins.” But Mr Dunlap’s company was acquired by Kimberly-Clark, whose chief executive for 20 years, Darwin Smith, avoided the storm by taking the company out of the competitive coated paper businesses and into high-value-added consumer products.

Mr Dunlap was a celebrity but Mr Smith is little known. We prefer to read about Lee Iacocca and Lou Gerstner, who held the helm in the storm, or Jack Welch, who managed the ship through turbulence largely of his own creation.

How much are you the creator of your own problems too?

Do you define your success in terms of solving problems, or avoiding them in the first place?

Check out the whole FT article here:

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/5022717e-b8d4-11dc-893b-0000779fd2ac.html

-Dr Martin Russell

The Other Forgiveness

In my therapy work I have pretty much given up using the word forgiveness.

Not because it is a bad idea – heck no. Forgiveness is a key self help skill for being an effective human being.

It’s just that the people who most need to use forgiveness in their lives, have also been the ones who have the most terrible and dangerously twisted misconceptions about what the term means.

It does NOT mean to continue to accept harm or damage to yourself.

It does NOT have anything to do with losing face, “weakening”, or giving in to someone.

I don’t suggest you have anything to do with that sort of corruption of “forgiveness”.

I am speaking to you direct.

If your first reaction to the idea of forgiveness is that is unsuitable or dangerous in your particular situation, then let me give you my firm opinion based on all my years of counseling…

  • You are EXACTLY the person who needs to understand what real forgiveness is, and you are wasting your life and knee-capping your chances of helping yourself, if you don’t get started on doing it correctly ASAP.

Here’s all the instruction manual you need to get started and done…

http://www.jamesbrausch.org/forgiveness/

-Dr Martin Russell

The Gambler’s Delusion And Anti-Depressants

The first time I ever remember hearing about gambling was when I was given a Christmas present bought from a year’s worth of horse race winnings.

Later my parents explained to me that they were going along with the gift to please the person who gave it, but that the “winnings” weren’t actually that.

Basically there was a bank account specifically for the winnings, but any loses were not taken out, and neither were the original stakes.

So every Christmas it seemed like there had been a successful year.

Even “professional” gamblers don’t like to answer the question of how much money (or time and effort) it took to get the winnings they talk about.

However this bias doesn’t just apply to gambling.

It applies in scientific research as well.

The most recent publication from the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine (NJEM) includes a paper titled: “Selective Publication of Antidepressant Trials and Its Influence on Apparent Efficacy”

The idea is that pharmaceutical companies are finding ways to hide or ignore research that doesn’t show their drugs are great.

This is nothing new.

Promote the good studies, downplay the bad ones.

Tobacco companies have been repeatedly accused of this type of publication bias. If they don’t like the results of a study, then it can be simpler to just never publish it.

The public is none the wiser.

However researchers have been honing in on this problem over the past few years.

This particular piece of research from the NEJM is very nice.

The researchers found that 37 out of 38 positive studies were published, but pf another 36 negative studies, 22 were not published, and at least 11 of the remaining 14 presented a negative study as a positive one.

All of the 12 different anti-depressants drugs from 7 different drug companies were helped by this positive bias.

Some of the drugs seem to be over 200% better than they would be if the negative studies had been included. This is not a trivial error.

The evidence suggests massive and systematic bias, but is it self-delusion like a gambler, or cynical manipulation?

Either way I don’t suggest anyone rely on anti-depressants to create their happiness.

This research paper even triggered a well-written article in The Wall Street Journal so I’m sure there will be much more to come on this issue.

-Dr Martin Russell

Scientific Fraud

I was talking with someone about the need to get good research in a particular area of interest to him, and he dismissed me outright.

“Not only is research a waste of time,” he said, “I could get research done and published that proved whatever I wanted it to.”

“Then I’d get another study published and so on.”

Was this guy cynical?

Certainly.

Is he completely wrong?

Unfortunately not.

The history of fraud and falsification in the research literature is huge.

Yet how many times do you hear about the latest research, and really question if it was produced by outright fraud.

My favorite example is Gregor Mendel, the monk who in 1865 published experiments with growing peas, that demonstrated the basic principles of genetic inheritance.

It was pointed out however that his experimental results are in fact way too perfect to be true. The main reason why he is not totally rejected is because subsequent scientific results have shown he was correct. Being right saved him.

He might also have received some sympathy because no one in his lifetime took his results seriously, right or not. It wasn’t until the 20th century that his work was rediscovered and he was seen as a genius.

When I was going through medical school, one of the really interesting stories in science was the idea of “cold fusion”.

Two researchers with great scientific-type names, Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann at the University of Utah, had found a way to get the energy of the sun, out of water at almost room temperature.

This was jaw-dropping stuff.

The attempts at replicating their research came thick and fast and the debate raged across hundreds of different research reports because the idea was so enticing.

Now almost two decades has past and the hope of cold fusion has come to nothing.

Most of the recent scientific fraud and misadventure has received much less publicity, but regularly in the scientific literature there are retractions and accounts of people getting caught out in various ways.

In colleges and universities, the proven rate of fraudulent activity is pretty high. Most of this fraud is copying of other’s work, and at the higher levels of published scientific research, plagiarism like this can be a lot harder to get away with because people assessing the research already know much of what is in a particular field.

More importantly however, it’s not much of a leap from copying someone else’s work, to inventing it from scratch, or at least filling in the gaps and covering over the flaws in the work you have done.

With the world awash in so much information it’s not hard to imagine that such behavior would be easy to get away with, at least on a few occasions.

This is all just another thing to think about when you hear about the latest piece of research on your favorite topic.

Science is still human after all.

-Dr Martin Russell

Having A Life In A J.O.B.

I think most people who run companies have no idea what is really required for the mental and spiritual well-being of their employees.

Having a J.O.B. (Just Over Broke) takes up a huge chunk of your waking life.

Sure you do it for money, but do you do it for self-actualization?

Many employees at some stage dream about having their own business, or working as a “freelance” consultant, to get the “freedom” they desire. Or they look forward to retirement so that they can do what they really want to do.

How can you be yourself when you are caught in a company that dictates so many areas of your life in ways that are definitely NOT what you want?

Well one company, Semco, claims it has a solution.

Semco is a company in Brazil that runs very differently than most companies.

It is a democracy.

You don’t need to read Dilbert cartoons to realize that “democracy” and “company” are usually complete opposites.

But what would actually happen if the boss’ vote was equal to that of each of their subordinates.

How many of your bosses decisions would have won on a democratic vote? Oh, and that means if the votes were truly secret.

It would force management to persuade rather than dictate, and surely that would mean utter chaos in any organization.

Not Semco.

Back in 1993, the CEO a guy called Ricardo Semler, wrote a book about his upstart company SemCo. I thought it was a very brave book. He titled the book “Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace“.

He was advocating that self-fulfillment could be found WITHIN a big company. SemCo was his experiment to prove that companies didn’t have to be unfriendly to humans.

I loved the book and even recommended it to a few people which is rare for me, but I always had one big reservation. What if the company falls over? All these wonderful ideas, but will it last?

Well I finally found a decent interview with Ricardo Semler that describes where the company is at with it’s democratic capitalism “experiment”. It impresses me:

http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2007/s1864738.htm

-Dr Martin Russell