Category Archives: Decisions

What Can We Learn From Computer Nerds?

“Would you like me to give you a formula for… success? It’s quite simply, really. Double your rate of failure… You’re thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all… You can be discouraged by failure — or you can learn from it. So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because, remember that’s where you’ll find success. On the far side of failure.”

-Thomas J. Watson
Founder of IBM

“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”

-Bill Gates
Founder of Microsoft

-Dr Martin Russell

How To Get Better Results From Treatment

Fake pills and treatments are such wonderful things.

They work roughly 30% of the time, on almost anything.

With the technical term of ‘placebos’ they are the gold standard treatment against which every other treatment is measured.

And the whole field is shrouded in mystery.

Why do blue placebos make people more sleepy, while red placebos keep people more awake?

How can fake pills work even when you know there is no active ingredient in them?

How can they work no matter what level of intelligence you do or don’t have?

Well it’s still largely guesswork, because we don’t know why or how they work but they certainly do. Study after study has shown the effectiveness of variations of placebos.

Here is one more thing that has been recently uncovered about placebos – they work better if they cost more!

Dr. Ariely, a behavioral economist at MIT’s Media Lab, and his colleagues had two groups of people receive electrical shocks to their wrists.

They were told this was for a research into a new painkiller called Velodone.

When they were given the medication one group was told the price of the medication was $2.50 a pill and others were told the cost was discounted to just 10 cents a pill.

Those who got the “more expensive” pill had significantly better pain reduction than those who thought they were getting the discounted version.

This is actually important.

Drug companies often bring out drugs that besides being new, are often more expensive too. How much of the patient’s results is simply based on the added expense, rather than having a better chemical.

Also, this effect may indeed make brand-name medications more powerful than generic brands.

So one way to get better results from your treatment is to pay more for it.

As a side note, Dr Dan Ariely has a book just published about these and other psycho-illogical phenomena. It’s called “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions”.

My main thought is whether people who buy the more expensive hardcover version will rate the book better than those who buy the cheaper paperback.

It wouldn’t surprise me, or Dan I suspect, in the least.

-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:

-Dr Martin Russell

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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Hints For New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions are a self help cliche.

New Year’s Resolutions have the biggest reputation for not working out, despite being one of the most common goal setting methods.

If you want to invoke cynicism just say, “This is my New Year’s Resolution!”

So what do I recommend?

Well hint one is, keep all this in perspective.

I suspect that goals made as a New Year’s Resolution, are just as likely to not work out as any other goal. The difference is more likely to be that a resolution made at New Year’s is often commonly mentioned to others, and the “failure” is therefore more public.

It is also a goal setting moment that you remember, because of the association with the New Year. So the achievements, or lack of them, are more obvious too.

So I suspect New Year’s Resolutions should attract no more cynicism than goal setting generally.

Hint two.

It’s worth considering the alternative to hyped-up New Year’s Resolutions.

Most people don’t have an alternate way to DELIBERATELY plan their life. They don’t set time to review how things have gone, what they want to achieve, and how they can do things differently in future to improve.

What most people end up with is either a haphazard process, driven by what they just came across on TV, read in a book, or got told by a friend, or worse, they have a crisis-driven process where they get to a point where something gets so bad that they finally crack and set out on a new track.

Neither haphazard, nor crisis-driven, are ideal ways to change your life. They are better than no change at all if change is needed, and in fact most people come to me for counseling based on reaching a point of crisis.

Perhaps it would be better however if people came to me more on the basis of a New Year’s Resolution.

So to the third hint.

New Year’s Resolutions are fine if you take the learning one further step.

Sure, set your resolution(s). But as you do so also use this as a time to rate and seek to improve your overall ability to manage and design your life.

Reflect on any past New Year’s Resolutions, and check what the results have been. Base your expectations for the success of this year’s resolutions on your past results.

Work out how you might improve on whatever the results were.

Overall, use the New Year’s Resolutions themselves as a way of practicing and learning about what works, and doesn’t work, for you.

Then you can fail to achieve each and every one of your resolutions for the New Year, and still have success by learning what works better for you.

That skill will advantage you more and more for the rest of your life.

Oh and there is also the skill of tapping in to cynicism, and using a ‘negative’ emotion to your advantage. That’s also a good advantage to get from New Year’s Resolutions.


-Dr Martin Russell

24 Hour Special

I haven’t yet officially launched any of my products on this blog, so here’s the first.

When I have these launch specials it won’t be a measly 10% or even 20% discount. You can expect a minimum of 60% off for any of these offers.

Over time all my products are likely to have a special time-limited offer to announce them, including when I bring out future ones. To make sure you are notified in time sign up for the blog announcements by entering your name and email address under the photo on the main page.

For this 24-hour special I’ve decided to begin with one of my quirkier products because it is relevant to everyone.

And as this is the first special I’ve decided to make this a no-brainer, so I’ve dropped the price to only $5.

Ignore the price on the page when you visit. When you click on the order link you will see the $5 come up.

This special ends promptly at noon tomorrow (Eastern Standard Time which is -8 GMT.) Here is the URL to place your order:

Then once you visit, if you’re trying to decide whether to buy it or not…

Well that’s a dilemma, and it’s only $5 for a short while:

-Dr Martin Russell

In Decisions, Decisions

Ever been stuck making a decision?

Tossing up between one option and another?

Here’s the simple way to decide. Toss it up literally ie toss a coin.

Of course you do need to decide before you toss the coin, which option is for heads, and which option is for tails, but you already know that decision doesn’t matter so it’s easy to do.

[Actually it does matter because statistically the top face of a coin is more likely to show up when you toss it. The reason is that many types of tosses don’t turn the coin end over end, they just spin it around with a wobble that looks impressive, but the coin never really flips over. Anyway…]

Once you have settled on what heads and tails means, then toss the coin.

Watch the coin come down and land, and look at your decision!

If you actually have a dilemma in your life right now that you are needing to fix, then stop. Go and find a coin and toss it before you read on.


Do it. Toss that deciding coin first.


There’s a next step.

Notice how you feel about that coin decision.

If you are unaware of your feelings, notice whether your shoulders moved up or down, whether the corners of your mouth and eyes moved up or down, and also whether you went to reach out to flip the landed coin over.

Your emotional reaction is your best bet. Go with what your emotions decided. Doesn’t mean it’s always “right”. However it does mean it’s the choice you have the most investment in, and will be better prepared for making the best of what comes from it.

If you have bigger dilemmas in your life that you think the coin won’t solve, you can go here:

Or if you did the coin toss but can’t get yourself to trust your feelings, then you need a more fundamental shift and here’s my product for that:

-Dr Martin Russell