Category Archives: Personal Development

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:

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

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

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…

-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:

-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

15 Actions To Help Yourself

Forget New Year’s Resolutions. Forget goal setting.

Start taking self help action. It can be massive action, small steps, or incremental change to a new direction.

Almost everything you read on this site includes something immediately actionable. But here are the top 15 actions so far…

1. If you are having a horrible time this holiday season then give yourself a break by following this post here before the end of New Year’s Day January 1st. (Interestingly this one has so far been taken up only by women. This is definitely one for men to do too, and may be even more important for them.)

2. If you are having trouble sleeping, or are taking something to help you sleep, take back control of your sleep and your sleeping pills tonight.

3. If you have a warped sense of humor about medicine, self help and the helping professions, then you can add your own ideas to this growing list.

4. If you need Will Power, go here.

5. If you want to learn internet marketing and how to run an internet business, and you have the time, but not the money, then you can learn as an intern.

6. If something you come across on this site interests you, or irks you, or inspires you, add a comment at the bottom. It’s simple to do.

7. If you only have 5 minutes a day to improve your life, do this.

8. If you would like articles for your ezine or online newsletter, then go to my Contact Page and let me know your name, website, ezine name, and email address, and I will include you in my distribution list when I send out the articles I write for this site.

9. If you want to rock the foundations of what you believe is true about life, spirituality, and the importance of human beings then reading this book here could do it for you.

10. If you are wanting a new way to act in the world, take the mindset from this dying man’s life lesson.

11. If you have a particular issue you are wanting help for, then check if I cover it in one of the online self help ‘sessions’ I have available as products on the left-hand side of my blog. If you’re not sure where to start then Self Help Meeting is the one, and if you are looking for something I don’t have yet, then leave a comment on this post to recommend one I should make.

12. If you want to do something about our society being over medicated with pills, you can help out on a campaign to reduce the use of sleeping pills here.

13. If you take yourself too seriously (as if anyone in this category would believe this of themselves) then here is the cure.

14. If you are interested in what you are reading, then join the blog notification list:


15. If you think someone else might be interested in something you have come across here, you can click on the Share This icon at the bottom of each post and pick one of the options, including email, to quickly and easily spread the word to others.

-Dr Martin Russell

Immersion Feedback

The phrase “feedback is the breakfast of champions” is one that sticks for me.

I’ve found for myself that the level of feedback I get does indeed relate remarkably well to the speed at which I improve.

If I don’t know what to do in a situation I go for the option that will give me the most feedback. Often that means working out how to fail faster.

Micro-feedback. Feedback on the smallest little aspects of what I do.

Fast feedback. Feedback that comes in as soon as I’ve done something so that I can judge how I am going.

Clear feedback. Knowing that there is a direct relationship between what I did and what results came up.

Universal feedback. The good, the bad, the awkward, the painful, the surprising – all of it and more.

Safe feedback. Feedback that doesn’t cripple me from trying again, either emotionally (and that’s for me to handle mostly), but also physically, financially, practically as well.

I’ve watched my 3 children learn how to have a bath as they grew up.

At first I put in all the work. Holding them up in a sitting position with their head out of the water.

Then they are sitting for themselves, and with all their wobbling and wavering they are mostly okay. They just look shakey and have me reaching my hands out every few seconds, then every few minutes.

My goal was to catch them only when they couldn’t recover for themselves.

If I thought there was no way they could find their own way out of it, then I’d help them, but otherwise…

I remember my youngest daughter as a baby falling back and ending face up at the bottom of the bath where for a brief moment her surprised face was staring at me through the water above.

I brought her up and she was fine but she didn’t like it one bit.

One time after this when she fell back she managed to grab a hand rail on the side of the bath as she did so. Her outstretched arm was saving her, but she was stuck, hanging in midair just above the water surface. She knew that this wasn’t right, but she’d never been in this position before so she just hung there.

I watched, moved close enough to catch her, and waited until she unfroze and started to wriggle.

The first time this happened she wriggled so much her hand came loose and she fell into the water again where I plucked her out. The second time she found a wriggle that got her out of it and my hands never touched her.

If you’re going to practice you need feedback.

Gravity is ideal feedback.

Water is ideal feedback too.

Almost everyone learns to walk and manage a bath safely, but in reality both these skills are immensely complicated ones.

Anyway I’m heading off to my counseling practice now.

How much of YOUR life do you think of as practicing?

-Dr Martin Russell

Forcing Function… WillPower Made Easy

Most people have never heard of a Forcing Function, because it’s not commonly thought of as a self-help principle.

However of the 1001 reasons you might want more willpower, my claim to you is that almost always willpower is the wrong tool for the job.

On some of these occasions a Forcing Function will do much better.

But what is a Forcing Function anyway?

If you have ever gone to get money from an ATM you will probably have had the experience of sticking in your card, entering all the details, reaching for the money… and then realizing the money wasn’t going to come until you had first taken out your card.

This is a Forcing Function.

When ATMs first became popular, one of the biggest frustrations for users was accidentally leaving their card in the machine. The banks didn’t like it either. Each morning their staff were handling these upset customers who had “been in a hurry and stupidly forgotten to take my card out.”

Banks tried putting bigger signs on their ATMs, with arrows pointing at the place you were meant to pick up your card. They installed beeping reminders into the machines. They changed the display message to tell people to take their card. They still had problems.

In the end they solved it with a Forcing Function.

They changed the sequence so that you don’t get what you came for ie the money, until you have done all the incidental bits, including take your card.

Of course this doesn’t entirely stop people from forgetting their card. They can always put it down on the machine and leave it there, or drop it, or reinsert the card and walk away, but all these are much less likely to happen.

People want their card. They just need to be reminded about it. They don’t need to have more will power, or spend more time beating up on themselves for being stupid or lazy or worse.

The system can just be changed, so human beings can stay the same.

This is allowed!

Self help can be about changing the world around you, not just changing yourself.

Let me give you an example from my counseling practice.

I had a woman complaining that she was struggling to keep a diary. She only wanted to write a few lines and check the inspirational quote for the following day. She enjoyed doing it, she just seemed to “fall off the wagon”, and forget.

She wanted more willpower.

I said she could use a Forcing Function instead.

If she put her diary on her pillow then she would only be able to go to sleep at night by picking up the diary.

It wouldn’t mean she had to read it or write in it, but she enjoyed doing that part of it so she probably would.

She was much more pleased.

But then she thought it through a bit more and got all down in the mouth again.

“But how will I remember to put the diary on my pillow in the first place? It will sit on my bedside table, ignored just like it is now. I need will power again!”

My answer was to add another forcing function.

I told her to put the diary on the floor right where her feet would land when she got out of bed in the morning.

If she forgot the diary she would step on it when she got up in the morning and be reminded to move it onto the pillow then.

She preferred that to my other suggestion.

My other suggestion was to get her to put up signs all around the house saying in big letters “You stupid idiot. You’ve forgotten something. Why do you always forget such simple things…”

But since she’d already tried something very similar for herself, she thought she’d go along with being “forced” instead.

“Forcing Function”.

Strange name. Vital self help skill.

Find a place for it today in your life, and you can report back your experiences with it on this blog.

-Dr Martin Russell