Category Archives: Foundations

Why Help Yourself?

I went to a medical conference on the weekend. It’s something I very rarely do.

Medical events tend to have people talking about things I either have no use for anymore, or that I disagree with. This one was more on the second category. But I still need to keep up my medical registration by attending some of these events.

Anyway one of the pieces that did catch my attention was repeated by two speakers.

They said that on current trends in my state, in 25 years the health budget will take up the ENTIRE government budget.

There will be money for health, but nothing else.

As one of them pointed out, this will of course make government much simpler because there will be only one portfolio to deal with… Health.

Who needs education, road, police, infrastructure etc anyway.

Then each of the speakers said we had to do something about this problem, and they had the solutions that would fix it.

That’s where they started to go into stuff I disagree with, so let me not go there.

Instead let’s examine their claim for Health expenses being so dramatically out of whack.

The assumptions are these:

Currently the economy of the state where I live is growing at 4%.

Fair enough. That’s a nice average rate for most Western economies.

However health expenditure is 30% of the government budget and it is growing faster, by 9-11%.

Not really very surprising, because of two big factors.

1. The population is getting older and more likely to get sick and use the health system, and

2. There are many more ways to spend more money, on new medications, fancier operations, and higher-tech equipment.

I also like to add in 3. That much of health is driven by private enterprise that has an interest in making us spend more money on their particular drugs, equipment, services etc. But “disease-mongering” and it’s ilk aren’t required for health demands to still grow rapidly.

The end result is that even assuming a steadily growing economy, we have a blow out in the money spent on health.

If you pull out a spreadsheet and plot the growth the dates are correct.

At 9% growth there is no money left over for anything except health by the year 2032.

At 11% growth, the year of catastrophe is 2026.

My kids will be barely out of school!

And remember, that’s the 100% point, and that’s just ridiculous.

The point where just 50% of all government money needs to be spent on health at 9-11% growth, is either 2018 or 2015 respectively.

This is nuts!

If you think that Western health-care systems are bad now, then you just wait. They have not even begun to show the cracks if these predictions have any basis at all in reality.

That’s the key question. What is the reality?

Will government health care systems collapse within just one generation?

Or is it this all just mathematics gone mad?

Are these theories and extrapolations just as vague and open to interpretation as the debate on world population, or the guessing game about when we will run out of oil we can dig out of the ground to run our economies, otherwise known as peak oil?

When is optimistically saying that we will work it out when we get there, equivalent to burying your head in the sand?

I didn’t have the numbers before, but personally, I think we are indeed in for a health care melt-down. Self help and self-reliance is more needed than ever.

But what’s your opinion?

-Dr Martin Russell

Occam’s Razor For Self Help

Medicine is an art. It’s meant to be a science, but in fact it isn’t. It is slightly more of a science than many other healing arts, but still most of the decisions made by doctors have very little to do with science based on solid, relevant evidence.

Psychiatric medicine is one of the worst offenders.

As much as psychiatry has tried to build itself a scientific basis it is still woefully flawed at many levels.

So as I began to dig to the bottom of the mess and realized how little basis psychiatry has for it’s scientific claims, I began to need other tools to help me decide how best to help people.

One of those tools is called Occam’s Razor (or Ockham’s Razor.)

Occam’s Razor says that if you have two equally valid explanations for what is going on, choose the simpler one.

It’s not a scientific principle, but it is a good rule of thumb.

In my line of work what this means is that I fix the causes that are definitely present, before I go after any others.

At one stage a woman came to me with a diagnosis of long-standing depression.

She had been on multiple anti-depressants, had sought the usual range of medical and non-medical help, and although she was still seeing a psychiatrist her local doctor had gotten desperate with her lack of improvement and had sent her along to see me.

She came to her assessment visit, and among many other questions I asked her when this all began.

She told me she had been fine all her life until the birth of the first of her three children about 18 years ago. Just 2 months after her son was born she had been diagnosed with post-partum depression, better known as the ‘baby blues’, and had been on and off medication ever since. She had had the same depression again with each of her two other children, and in fact with the last of the three she had had a short stay in hospital.

However even as they had grown up she still hadn’t got rid of the depression.

Fortunately this woman came to be a few years after I had had my first child and so I asked her a very specific question.

I asked her how well she slept after the birth of her first child.

She instantly said that she hadn’t slept at all. From the first night she had been kept awake by the baby crying, and to this day she was a very light and disrupted sleeper. Before having children she had always slept very soundly.

So here was the situation…

This woman was diagnosed with depression.

She had been told by psychiatrists and doctors that the cause was biological, set off by the hormonal changes she had had following the birth of her children.

What I was hearing however was that she had a history of chronic sleep deprivation, starting from two months before she was diagnosed. The effects of chronic sleep deprivation are much like depression ie lacking energy, moodiness, loss of interest in usual activities, unmotivated, poor concentration.

So I had two possible diagnoses: biological depression or chronic insomnia.

The diagnosis of hormonal or biological depression has no proof. It is just a list of complaints with a theory attached to it. There’s no blood test, or brain scan, or psychological checklist that can prove it.

However there was no question that this woman had chronic insomnia. It was just a question of whether this was the cause of her depressive complaints.

Applying Occam’s Razor made my next choice easy.

I recommended that to the woman that we treat her insomnia because until we improved her sleep any other treatment was just based on guesswork.

She was already taking sleeping pills, but they weren’t working for her, and she was worried about staying on them and getting addicted. So I taught her how to use the sleeping pills in a better way to get herself a full night’s rest, AND avoid any risk of being stuck on them. She was delighted.

In the end we never did need to address the “Depression” she had been diagnosed with. Treating the sleep alone was all she wanted to get her life back on track.

She certainly wasn’t the only person I have seen in this situation. In my counselling practice sleep issues are the second most common cause of depression that I treat.

If you have trouble sleeping, and have considered using pills or are currently on them, then you might find many other benefits to getting a better night’s rest.

If you’ve been diagnosed with Anxiety or Depression you may have been told that sleeping problems are one of the symptoms. That may be true, but insomnia can also CAUSE or at least worsen these problems, so consider the simple step of treating sleep issues directly.

However, don’t take sleeping pills the way they are usually recommended. Anyone who sells pills is working against their own best interests to tell you how to get off them quickly. So you won’t find the information I teach on the instructions in any pill packet.

Sleeping pills can be a real benefit, but you have to know how to use them effectively and safely, and you can discover how to do that here:

-Dr Martin W. Russell

The Importance Of Dying – Part 3

Part 1 introduced the last lecture of 47-year-old Randy Pausch who summarized the lessons he wants to pass on from his life.

Let me give you Randy’s most important lesson from his entire life…

“Find the best in everybody. You might have to wait a long time, sometimes years, but people will show you their good side.

Just keep waiting, no matter how long it takes.”

Or as he restated it in the ABC interview…

“If you wait long enough other people will show you their good side, and if there’s anything I have learned this is absolutely true, and sometimes it takes a lot longer than you might like, but the onus is on you to keep the hope and keep the waiting.”

This might be very easy to read, acknowledge, and then dismiss.

But ponder for a moment that a man who is distilling his entire life’s experience into a single, solitary idea, comes up with that.

So let me dissect Randy’s comments just a little.

At first sight it could be simply a garden-variety positive affirmation, or as a part of a PMA (Positive Mental Attitude), that just marks Randy as one of those guys who thinks the best of everyone.

But it is not.

Notice two things.

First, Randy is giving this as something he discovered during his life.

Therefore he did NOT always think this, and changing to this made the most valuable difference in his life that he wishes to pass on to others.

In other words he isn’t a ‘positive-only’ guy!

He’s tried out not thinking this way, and it wasn’t as good for him. In fact it was so much better when he changed that he is recommending this to everyone else too. He’s a raving fan for this idea!

In my own counseling, this belief about people that Randy begins assuming, also underpins my work. It is the biggest lesson that I gained from my non-medical training, and it changed forever the approach I was given as a medical student into one that I too think works much more effectively.

Second, and just as important, Randy is giving much more than a positive attitude.

He is outlining a method for HOW to start and KEEP this attitude.

So many beliefs and positive affirmations are set up in ways that just fall apart.

Saying “People Are Good” in the mirror each morning is unlikely to hold water for many of the 6 billion people on this planet, starting with the ones who don’t have access to a mirror, or even enough water to see their reflection in.

Instead of attempting to declare definitively that people have a good side, he is giving you a way to act and respond, EVEN IF IT IS A LIE!

Truth is not the issue. In fact, trying to find what’s true and what’s not just creates distracting arguments, usually inside your own head.

Randy is saying, here is how to act AS IF it was true, and that by behaving this way you will live your life more successfully.

It is only way one to do it, but if you are having difficulty believing what he says is useful, then you won’t believe my version. So start with Randy’s version.

“If you wait long enough other people will show you their good side.”

[You can find the original 1 hour 44 minute lecture, and the short ABC interview here in The Importance Of Dying – Part 1.]

-Dr Martin Russell

Radical Changes

When I posted before about Richard Dawkin’s and the influence that his early book “The Selfish Gene” had on my approach to self help, it only occurred to me afterwards to learn more about what Richard had got up to since then.

I had heard he had written a book called “The God Delusion”, but I didn’t realize he had become the poster boy for radical atheism.

Here you can watch him working up to full speed.

-Dr Martin Russell

A Condition Without A Name

When I went to medical school it wasn’t a clear cut decision for me. For the first two years I also did an extra maths subject on the side, to keep up my interest in the subject.

By this stage I’ve probably turned quite a few people off, and I’m only past the second sentence.

People know maths isn’t meant to be fun or relevant, unless of course it is applied to sporting statistics, finances or weight-loss (not fun there, but it is relevant when sorting out calorie-counters and reading BMI charts.)

There doesn’t seem to be a word for maths phobia.

There really should be a word for it, because people seem to have to the condition.

Out of more than 500 phobias on The Phobia List none matched. Arithmophobia was the closest I found, and that is a fear of numbers, not maths.

Or maybe it’s classified elsewhere – it’s really a fear of blackboards and chalk, or school and teachers, or homework, or mixed up in the phobia of public speaking when people were asked a maths question in class and were humiliated when they didn’t know the answer.

Whatever the real cause I don’t mind.

You can get some great self help tips from a few maths tricks.

For financial self-help I’d suggest using the techniques of multi-billionaire Warren Buffet, who had applied Einstein’s comment that “The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest”.

For perfectionists, take a look at chaos theory. Watch the perfection become equally imperfect no matter how far you go deeper and deeper in. Then when you reel back in shock and horror, notice how still beautiful it all is anyway.

However, don’t bother explaining probability mathematics to gambling addicts. I’ve tried that – once. It got me less than nowhere. Help yourself, and save your breath.

-Dr Martin W. Russell

The Key Life Principle?

A few important things happened in the year I was born.

One of them was that a fellow named Laurence J. Peter got together with Raymond Hull, and put out a book that sat on my father’s bookshelf until the day I read it.

It then made its way into my room at home, and subsequently into my counselling office where it stayed until I lent it out to one too many people and someone didn’t return it.

After I had about 3 more people come to me where I looked to the blank space on the bookshelf for its inspiration, I eventually ignored the fact that it is out of print and bought a pre-loved copy.

I have never let it out of my office since.

The book is “The Peter Principle”.

It examines all levels of society and its institutions, be they government, industry, business, education, religion, the arts, and more.

It analyzes the root cause of why success is a rarity and failure is common.

To quote page 25, “…my analysis of hundreds of cases of occupational incompetence led me to formulate The Peter Principle

‘In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His (sic) Level of Incompetence’

The overall idea is this…

If you are an employee in a job and you are good at it ie competent, then someone will try and give you a promotion.

When you get promoted you will no longer be doing that job. You will start doing another one.

In this next job you may once again be good at it, and be offered a promotion.

However if you are not good at the job then you go no further.

Nor will you be un-promoted back to the job you were good at before.

This means that over time you as an employee will rise to a level in the heirarchy where you are at your “level of incompetence.”

This very simplified summary of the first chapter of the book is enough for most people to be able to find examples.

Read a newspaper, watch the news, or just look around your life.

Sometimes examples are in workplace you are in, or at the public institutions and private companies that you deal with every day.

Incompetence is rampant.

When I first began my counselling practice, I would explain “The Peter Principle” to people who were needing to make sense of the workplace stress they were under.

The message was that everyone around them, including their boss, was likely to be incompetent.

This tended to soothe their nerves.

The deeper message was that they themselves were likely to be incompetent in their position at work too, and this was probably contributing to their problems.

Many fewer got this second level message.

But over time I realized that this second level was even more pervasive.

It didn’t just apply to people when they were in organisations, it applies in every aspect of success in life!

If you are good at sport do you win more?

No, you just start playing higher levels and harder competition so you still lose.

If you are good at hunting for a job, are you hired to hunt for jobs?

No, you now work at something else that probably doesn’t involve searching Help Wanted ads.

If you earn more money what is the commonest next step?

You get encouraged to go for a raise, make an investment, or start up a business.

If you acquire social skills then you do you sit back and party?

Perhaps, or you may start dating, then marrying, then having small kids, who grow into big kids, who could make you into a grandparent.

So if you succeed at becoming competent at almost anything in life what is the natural consequence?

You will move into a new role…

…with no guarantee you will be any good!

So, what are the consequences of “The Peter Principle” for your success in life?

If you have been wondering why everyone else around you is incompetent, then get this book:

Be warned: it is written in jest, so that as a reader your tears are mainly of laughter.

Dilbert cartoons are a modern equivalent.

As I post this there are 20 Amazon reviews. You will discover that on the 5 star customer rating scale NO ONE gives this 3 stars. A few people hate it, most people love it – there is very little middle ground for this book.

If you have been wondering why you are still stuck with problems, and are not creating the results and success you want out of life, then you are ready for the second level message.

This is the product I offer for you to help yourself:

-Dr Martin W. Russell