Dr. Phil on behaving Your way to Success

Phil McGraw, more commonly known as Dr. Phil, has devoted his professional career to changing the way people view and talk about mental health. With a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of North Texas, he began his work in private practices for several years while also holding large seminars for patients in need. On September 16, 2002, he debuted his talk show simply titled Dr. Phil and has since gone on to tape over 2,000 episodes and counting. On the show, he offers advice in the form of “life strategies” based on his life experience as a clinical and forensic psychologist. The following article is a summation of some of the main points of advice on issues surrounding mental health Dr. Phil provides on the podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience.


While some people may think that the world of college and professional athletics is a game purely based on physical ability, the amount of mental preparation, stress, and capacity that goes into being a successful athlete is really quite daunting. Athletes are constantly under pressure to improve upon themselves and their game, which can lead to them always worrying about whether or not they’re doing enough to reach their goals. This haunting thought of “did I do enough” can cause athletes to overstrain, over train, or unintentionally hurt themselves both physically and mentally, and so they have to learn to accept that they’ve done enough work, but not too much.

Being a professional or collegiate athlete is a constant battle between physical ability and will. Real champions, ones that are undefeated and seem bulletproof in their resolve, don’t get intimidated by “mean mugging” or mind games. True winners know what to do when they compete, they know who they are, and they have the self-confidence to hold up to their own personal standards. So, they don’t worry about the girl across the court making faces at them or the guy in the corner talking smack. Because, they’re not trying to beat their opponent, they’re trying to go down in history.

Patterns & Payoffs

One thing Dr. Phil has observed and learned about people throughout his career is that nobody does anything in patterns unless they get some sort of payoff. People find extreme comfort in their patterns, whether that may be exercising, a daily morning routine, or a strict diet. Patterns give us that order and structure in our lives that we all strive for in some way or another. Patterns provide us with ways of compartmentalizing the struggles of the day-to-day which allows us to feel more in control of our lives and surroundings. But, it’s important to remember that patterns aren’t always good, and payoffs don’t have to be positive in order to keep you wanting to perpetuate those patterns. For example, a heroin addict’s payoff could be a sequence of getting high, losing their job, and then not being able to afford to feed their children. These are what Dr. Phil calls “pathological payoffs,” but they are still payoffs nonetheless. And, so, the addict perpetuates this habitual, debilitating pattern that is sure to lead to their destruction. Why? — Because we find comfort in our patterns, in our routines — even the worst ones for us.

So, how does one fix this? How does someone go about changing their patterns to lead to better, more positive payoffs? Dr. Phil has some advice. Identify what your payoff is, then control the currency, and then you can control your behavior. Let’s look at another example to illustrate this method.

Say you want to get in good shape for swimsuit season, but you’re having trouble motivating yourself. According to Dr. Phil’s advice, first, you need to identify your payoff. And, of course, the payoff would be looking and feeling good in your body while wearing a swimsuit that summer. Next, identify your currency, or how you will achieve this goal. To get a beach body you can be proud of that might mean exercising more and eating better. Now that you’ve identified how you need to get to that goal, you need to make a plan of action in order to control your behavior. Set an exercise routine and diet and stick to it long enough to actually see the payoffs. Because, once you start noticing those positive payoffs, you will develop a pattern of behavior. And, we humans find comfort in our patterns.

Self-Awareness/ Personal Truth

Growing up with an alcoholic father, Dr. Phil learned that a damaged, violent home can lead to developing a damaged personal truth. When a child is raised in a dysfunctional environment, they grow up thinking they’re second-class because they compare their bad situations to the seemingly perfect lives of the other children around them. They see other children with loving parents, nice clothes, homemade lunches with fresh, healthy food and they begin to think they are less than those other children because they don’t have those things. They compare what they know and how they live to everybody else’s social mask, or only the parts of someone you see and observe, not how they really are feeling underneath it all. This can lead to children growing up with what Dr. Phil calls damaged personal truths. They grow up thinking they have less, are loved less, and, therefore, are less than the other children around them. This low sense of self-worth often carries over into adulthood and affects people throughout their lives.

According to Dr. Phil, when we view ourselves as less than or second-class, then we settle for second-best. We don’t strive to achieve the most or work for the highest accolades, because we don’t believe we deserve those results. And, why would we? We’ve grown up thinking we’re not good enough, so why would we be good enough now?

Dr. Phil says we need to work to point people in the right direction, to make them see themselves for how valuable they really are and increase their self-awareness based on facts, not preconceived perceptions of ourselves in terms of the people around us. Your self-worth should not rely on what everyone around you does or does not have. Your self-worth should be reflective, personal, and true to who you are. And, only by increasing people’s self-awareness can we increase their views of self-worth and hope to make more people feel worthy of all that life has to offer.

The Stigma of Mental Illness

Mental illness should have no more stigma attached to it than a physical ailment. Dr. Phil says that throughout his career he has tried to talk about mental illness in a way that makes it okay to open up and discuss such issues. In his eyes, diabetes and depression should share an equal connotation, without one being viewed as more taboo than another. Although, with the rise of the Internet, there has been a corresponding spike in the discussion of mental health issues and people are becoming much more aware of just how pervasive this issue in our society is. The stigma attached to mental health is slowly being pried away and the negative connotations are fading along with it. As a collective, we still have a long way to go in accepting mental health issues and how to go about treating them, but, thankfully, Dr. Phil has some ideas about that as well.

Contributions of Medicine

Medication can be both beneficial and extremely detrimental in terms of treating mental illnesses. According to Dr. Phil, mental health medication works as a biochemical replacement for the body. And, once the body’s biochemicals have been replenished or re-balanced, it is often in the patient’s best interest to slowly ween themselves off theses drugs in favor of a more natural method of treatment. However, that is not to say that there aren’t people who truly benefit from long-term psychiatric medication. Patients suffering from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder use medicine to make their symptoms much more manageable and can usually end up living fairly normal lives with the help of modern-day medicine.

But, Dr. Phil believes that doctors and psychiatrists are often far too quick to pull out the prescription pad to “fix” a patient’s problems, but it isn’t necessary nearly as frequently as they are being prescribed. For example, more and more high energy children that have trouble focusing in school are being medicated for ADHD, when they may only need a little extra attention or an outlet to exert that energy. However, they are often seen as problem children and medicating them can be an easier solution than investing the time it would take to get them back on track. Dr. Phil calls situations such as these “wastebasket diagnoses,” and the medication given to patients that don’t need biochemical replacement can often make their problems even worse and more unmanageable.

When treating patients fighting depression, Dr. Phil says he is very slow to medication, and instead favors more natural treatment methods. He points out that depression can often be a normal, human response to rough or stressful situations in our lives.

“Lots of people that are depressed are just realistically reacting to a bad spot in their life,” Dr. Phil said.

He says that if your life is falling apart then, of course, you’re going to feel depressed. But, instead of medicating, he wants people to “behave their way to success” by developing plans of action to change things.

He makes the case that “pain is a good motivator” and can often lead to getting things done. For example, he says if you’re walking barefoot on hot asphalt and your toes begin to burn, then you’re going to be motivated to get off that asphalt. You’ll either run back the way you came or run forward to cross the street, but you will not stand still and endure the pain. Dr. Phil’s advice is to develop a plan, set your goals, and hold yourself accountable for achieving them. Use your pain as a motivator to change things and work toward crossing the street, instead of returning to the hindrances of your old problems.

Chad Q. Brown’s Profile is a retained consulting firm incorporating distinct team building and talent strategies utilizing proprietary technology and behavioral assessment infrastructure. Our mission — help people get better at people.


Chad Q. Brown




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