3 Basic Things That Aren’t Understood

My father is an anesthetist, which means he puts people to sleep for their surgical operations.

We have been using anesthetics for surgery, childbirth etc since ether was recognized for this purpose back in the mid 1800’s. There are now about a dozen main general anesthetic agents, Nitrous oxide ie Laughing gas, Halothane, various forms of ethers and so on.

Millions of people go off to sleep each year, have their treatment, and wake up afterwards, and here is the kicker…

We have no idea how it happened!

Theories are all over the place, but it’s still guesswork as to how they did their job.

But time and time and time and again they do!

Go back and re-read the last 4 sentences, but substitute hypnosis for anesthetics. It is the same.

The theories for hypnosis are equally as poor, and in dispute, as those for anaesthetics. It’s hard to even define what hypnosis is in the first place.

Both hypnosis and anesthesia have been extensively applied, and heavily researched and studied.

Let me give you a third item that is even more basic.

Going to sleep.

We don’t even know how to explain what sleep is, or how we go from being awake to drifting off and falling asleep.

So consider this… What hope does a new or uncommon treatment have of being studied and actually understood, when we have so little ability to understand what we are already using?

Does that mean we throw away something because we don’t know HOW it works?

Well I’m very pleased to know general anesthetics are around if I need an operation, and my wife wouldn’t wish to have had her third child without hypnosis beforehand.

Personally we’re not going to wait until scientific knowledge catches up.

-Dr Martin Russell

Tim Ferriss On Weaknesses

In many ways this self help site is about bridging the divide between psychiatry and personal growth/self improvement.

So I watch the extremes of medical psychiatry, but I also watch the extremes of self improvement too. Tim Ferris is an example of the latter.

Tim Ferriss, author of the “4-Hour Work Week” is a really interesting guy, with a really interesting blog. The title of the blog is “Experiments in Lifestyle Design”. He literally means it.

Wacky, sometimes even wacko, and ruthlessly determined to take personal life to it’s limits.

The result?

Many things that will not suit most people, but here’s one I heartily endorse.

I use a variation of this technique when I work with people who are “stuck” in their lives.

To set the scene for this 3-step process, Tim is talking about the issue of starting up a company from scratch.

Perhaps that isn’t an issue in your life, but the steps are the same for anything that seems overwhelming or unachievable, and where pumping up the positives ain’t working for you.

How to re-evaluate your “weaknesses”?

1. Write down the positives of whatever you’ve been viewing as a negative. Don’t know anyone? You’ll be a fresh face and won’t have any strikes against you. No funding? It will force you to find the neglected options and set trends instead of following them.

…Hunger and desperation can be good things.

2. Consider the negatives of the opposites. What if you had too much funding? It would create a false sense of security and breed complacency, both of which are more fatal to a start-up than bootstrapping. It could also overexpose you before your product or service is ready. It could give investors too much influence over big decisions. Don’t assume more of something is 100% positive. It never is.

3. Look for dark horse role models.
“I can’t start a company — I’m too old.” Coronel Sanders started KFC after 40. The excuse doesn’t hold up. Can’t compete in sports because of a bum leg? Sprinter Oscar Pistorius has no lower legs and is aiming for the Olympics. You? For each reason for inaction you come up with, ask: has anyone overcome these or worse circumstances to do what I want to do? The answer is: of course.

Embrace your lack of resources, your weaknesses.

Far from a handicap, these are often the pressure points that will take you the furthest… if you’re able to use them instead of excuse them.

I know many of you will be cynical about doing such an obviously distorted exercise.

In fact I suggest you read Tim’s whole post to flesh out these ideas a bit more:


In some forms of therapy they would try and explain to you the distortion was really in your original thinking, not in these new perspectives.

When I work with people who have become “stuck” in some aspect of their lives, whether or not they have psychiatric labels such as depression or anxiety, I want you to know that I have not found this technique alone to be enough.

So if you are cynical, it’s probably because a part of you has recognized that this is not a complete piece of change-work.

Well spotted.

BUT… it is the best way I know of to loosen a “stuck” situation so that any and all other changes happen so much more easily.

So pick something you are “stuck” about, stick the cynicism in the back pocket for a moment… it will still be there for you when you’re done… and go back up and write out your responses to the steps above.

-Dr Martin Russell

Claiming The Title

There are so many people claiming the titles of Depression, or Bi-Polar these days.

There are certainly companies who spend a lot of time and money telling us that every possible emotion, other than a sort of flat-lined acceptance of inevitability is an illicit symptom of a pathology.

If your life seems dull and pointless, and you can’t think of anything to get excited about, you are depressed, it could be Depression and need to get yourself dosed with some new, but legal, drug.  If you are particularly happy, and your mind is clicking away coming up with amazing idea after amazing idea, you are just in a “Manic phase,” and in addition, though it feels good, it will soon be over.

These medical “titles” have escaped from the narrow confines of the psychiatric world into public and commercial use, and they are running havoc.

This is a trend and at least partly a marketing-driven trend at that.

Nobody makes any medication sales if you are not self-diagnosing as “ill” to get you to go see a “medical professional” in the first place.

Once you are in their office it is easy for most medical professionals to fit your situation into the idea that they have something on the shelf that can bring your emotional state back to being more appropriate.

Once you are taking something, it can often lead to you taking more, whether by increasing the original dose, or adding something to treat side-effects of the original pill, or because you are seeing a health professional who is helpful enough to find a title for something else you have.

Then what happens if you want to stop the pills?

Anarchy will ensue, of course.

Or will it?

The only way you can find out is to stop the pills “under medical supervision”.

Isn’t that an interesting Catch-22.

-Dr Martin Russell

Following Instructions

Have you ever thought you were following instructions exactly as described, and then found out that you weren’t.

I just discovered that I’ve been incorrectly mixing the milk powder formula for my 1 year old daughter.

I’ve been putting in 3 scoops, when it was meant to be 33% stronger at 4 scoops. I had been adamant I had read the instructions and was doing it correctly. I wasn’t.

Incredibly this is now my third child. Even though all three children were breastfed, I have still gone through probably more than a hundred of these milk formula cans, which means I’ve prepared many times that number of bottles over the years.

I even know I have revisited that particular set of instructions many times.

I still had it wrong.

And it’s not a one off experience for me.

As an example, about 5 years ago I was recommended to try a new shampoo.

It had instructions on it amounting to 2 sentences of a total of about 20 words.

In the first week of use I re-read those 20 words every day. I changed what I was doing on at least 4 occasions before I was happy I had it right. It was a very humbling experience.

However I suspect I’m not alone.

In my counseling work I get to give other people instructions too, and I’ve noticed what they do with them.

However by setting up this blog I found an even more obvious area for me to observe people’s ability to follow instructions.

With this blog I have an Intern Program where I teach people hands-on how to run an internet business.

Would you believe that the commonest problem people have had in following the Intern Program is not following instructions?

Even when I have let people know that they did not follow the instructions, they still repeated the same errors.

Then they got frustrated, and all but one stopped.

Really, really interesting.

Others have performed the procedures successfully. I re-read the instructions myself, and on only one occasion was the instruction itself unclear.

On all the other occasions the issue was that the instructions had not been precisely followed. In fact part of the Intern Program’s design is to test how well people can follow instructions because it is a crucial skill for success in business and in life.

How often have you tried something and then given up when it didn’t work?

On a rough survey of myself, my interns, and my patients over many years, I would suspect that one of the commonest problems will have been that you did not precisely follow the instructions.

“Oh, no, not me”, you say. “The problems I run into are one due to inadequate instructions in the first place, not because I don’t follow them.”

Well, gently I ask you to consider this…

IF, in the bizarrely unlikely event that you didn’t follow an instruction precisely as described, how would you discover your error?

Without feedback from someone who knows what it should be instead, you wouldn’t ever know!

This is the whole problem.

You may NEVER know of this error when it happens, and you can spend all your time identifying a thousand other reasons which have nothing to do with the crucial issue.

So there are only two possible solutions.

1. Self Help: Repeatedly start over, as if for the first time, and recheck whether you are following the instructions.

2. Other Help: Find someone who has already done what you want to do and who is willing to give you honest feedback on your efforts as you go. You can call them a counselor, adviser, friend, or even enemy, because sometimes that might be what it feels like, but in the end they are an extremely valuable mentor.

Even professional sports people are continually getting instruction on how to refine what they do to be closer and closer to what is ideal.

Of course you may get to the level where you decide to do things your own way. But first it’s a good idea to have done things the standard way, so you have a basis for comparing your personalized version.

So go ahead.

Pick something you have tried in your life that didn’t work out.

Consider if it might be at all possible that you didn’t follow the instructions 100% as described.

-Dr Martin Russell

Procrastination Case Study

A University student in her early 20’s came to me for a few things including for hypnosis to stop her from procrastinating.

She was studying pharmacy and part of her being a high achiever was that she was always leaving her exam studies until the last days and cramming like mad.

She was becoming bothered by it and had finally come for help.

Now before I say any more, let me ask you.

What would you recommend for this young woman?

Even if you know nothing about hypnosis, what would you suggest she change?

I didn’t end up using hypnosis, and in fact this particular change was done in a single session.

Would you have done what I did?

I’ll continue…

I checked a few extra things.

First of all I checked what her results were. She was getting either distinctions or at worst credits for all her results.

Next I asked her what exactly was bothering her about her procrastination.

She told me that her friends and even some of her family were pointing out to her how bad it was that she was cramming like this.

So I enquired further how bad it was, and it turned out that she was putting her head into her studies for all the hours she was awake for about 48 hours before the exam. No other life at all.

She was getting very stressed about this behavior during the cramming. She was also worrying about this at other times during the university term too, and more and more this was playing on her mind. She had tried to set up better , more consistent study habits but with no success.

However she was otherwise healthy, happy and social, and she was not taking drugs, going without sleep, or doing anything else that might be damaging.

At this point I asked her the key question…

“Are the people who are telling you how bad your cramming is, getting better grades than you?”

Her answer came back, “No. They certainly aren’t.”

At this point I started to describe the antics of some of the people I studied with when I went to medical school, and what some of the top achievers were doing to get their amazing results.

I gave her my assessment.

Could she have better study habits?

Probably. But she was getting good results from her current ones, and her future plans probably only required the level of results she was getting at the moment.

Was her problem procrastination?

Not right now it wasn’t. Her problem was that she was taking advice from people who’s performance wasn’t as good as her own. If she followed their advice and did what they recommended she would likely end up with their results.

Should she ever change what she was doing?

If she wanted to, yes certainly. My suggestion was that she have a think about whether SHE was unhappy with the effects of the way she studied. If she was, then we could do something about it. In the meantime she could decide what advice to listen to by checking what results the person was getting.

She came back a week later, much less stressed, and not wanting any changes in this area.

What have people advised you about the suitability or otherwise of procrastination in your life?

What would you have done differently for this woman?

-Dr Martin Russell

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Smoking Can Reduce Your Ability To…

Last year in the city where I live they outlawed smoking indoors in public places.

Actually they did this quite a while back, but they had made an exception for hotels, pubs and bars. Now they’ve extended it to these places too. You have to have an outdoors area now if you want to have a place to smoke.

Australia is one of quite a few countries around the world that has got really excited about images on cigarette packets.

Someone showed me a cigarette packet that they bought off the street.

Presumably it was an illegal import because it didn’t have the local warning label or the gruesome pictures on it.

2006 Cigarette Health Warnings From AustraliaThis graphic type of warning label is meant to produce a nemotional/physical reaction, but does it do this for everyone?

I couldn’t find a picture of the most recent ones in Australia that get even more in your face.

You’ve probably heard the one about the man who avoids the packets that say smoking causes impotency, and instead only smokes the cigarettes from packets that warns about smoking when you are pregnant, because he knows that he’s safe with that one.

Well unfortunately it’s true.

People can do amazing things with their minds.

Our bodies can also do much more than we think they can.

It is almost universal to cough if you smoke a cigarette for the first time, but our bodies compensate and overcome this.

These mind and body adaptations are amazing.

Maybe people who smoke are rebels in the first place, but maybe it is a learned ability as well.

If so, I propose a new label on cigarette packets:

WARNING: Smoking can reduce your ability to heed warnings.

What do you think?

-Dr Martin Russell

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Headaches Are Caused By…

When people come to me and complain about headaches, they usually are quick to suspect their headaches are caused by stress or some psychological worry.

After all if they thought their headaches were caused by something physical, that a physiotherapist could fix for example, they wouldn’t be seeing a psychological self help guy in the first place now would they.

However not every headache is caused by something physical or even something psychological, some are caused by…

“Aspirin-Deficiency Syndrome”.

Yes that’s right.

Perhaps you haven’t heard of Aspirin-Deficiency Syndrome before, however it is obvious that this is a cause of headaches, because rectifying the problem is a well known cure.

Simply take aspirin and more often than not your headache disappears, and that of course is because you are treating the fundamental cause of the headache ie aspirin-deficiency.

Unfortunately aspirin washes out of the body quickly so you need to keep taking it for the deficiency to be properly addressed.

Aspirin is a naturally occurring substance, although often deficient in the diet of many people in the world. For people who require a supplementation to their diet it can be conveniently found in the form of a tablet.

However aspirin-deficiency syndrome is not just a cause of headaches.

No. It is also a cause of all types of aches and pains, and even fevers and chills.

Aspirin-deficiency syndrome is a known factor in bowel cancer, heart disease, and even blood clotting disorders. It may even be an important factor in causing Alzheimer’s.

Here is short list of deficiency syndromes that can cause headaches:
– top of the list is Aspirin-deficiency Syndrome,
– Tylenol-deficiency syndrome,
– codeine-deficiency syndrome (sometimes confused as being withdrawal rebound headaches),
– caffiene-deficiency syndrome (also confused with withdrawal symptoms),
– manual-therapist-deficiency syndrome,
– bed-rest-deficiency syndrome…

Heck, ask your pharmacist to tell you what deficiency syndrome you have. Almost guaranteed, your headaches are caused by a deficiency of something they have on their shelves, and the cure follows from the diagnosis.

At least that’s the way alot of our society treats it. So hop on board.

-Dr Martin Russell

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It has become obligatory for health materials to carry a legal disclaimer. You’ve read them: “The following is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a physician…” And they go on to recommend that you consult a doctor before embarking on whatever program is being offered. They conclude with the author and publisher disclaiming any legal responsibility for adverse consequences.

I take another approach. Don’t read this material if you feel you need the protection of a disclaimer and its counsel. I’m serious. Health care must start with personal responsibility. This vital role should not be delegated to any expert. Yours is the ultimate judgment. Any disclaimer that suggests otherwise does a great disservice.

I only wish I had written this disclaimer myself because you can take it as mine, however it’s author is a physical therapist called Pete Egoscue.

Do you have an ache or pain? Want self-help solutions? Check Pete Egoscue’s stuff out immediately via “Where Is Your Pain”:


-Dr Martin Russell