How’s that working for you? — Dr. Phil McGraw

I’m no fan of Dr. Phil, the TV psychologist that Oprah unleashed on the world. I kinda liked him at one point. Then I wrote a book about him and learned too much. Now I think he’s a blowhard with squishy ethics. And most of the people I talked to made him sound like a pretty unpleasant guy.

But even the people who loathe Dr. Phil conceded one thing: He’s smart. Really, really smart. And to my mind, his trademark sentence—“How’s that workin’ for you?”—is the smartest thing he says.

This is sort of a corollary quote to the famous saying (often attributed to Albert Einstein but nobody is sure), “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

We’re all guilty of this from time to time, I’m sure. We figure that this time if we just, for example, say something with different words, or in different circumstances, or at a different time of day, or in a different room, or standing on one foot, or wearing pink, or wearing yellow, or wearing blue—if we just find the absolute right way to do the same thing we’ve done a million times before, then it will finally work.

How’s that workin’ for you?

Not great, eh?

The thing I love about this phrase is that it is all purpose. Apply it to absolutely anything that’s not going well in your life and it works equally well. Trying to “fix” a mate by nagging? How’s that workin’ for you? Trying to succeed in a career without any help or advice? How’s that workin’ for you? Trying to make a kid stop crying with a swift swat on the butt? How’s that workin’ for you?

Everybody gets into a rut sometimes. Sometimes our ruts are so deep, it’s hard to see over the top. We keep hitting the gas but don’t realize we’re just spinning our wheels and sinking deeper and deeper. And we don’t realize that at this point, it’s time to take our foot of the gas pedal and think things through. Put some cardboard under the wheels. Or climb out of the rut and walk instead.

Some problems can be fixed, some can’t. Nobody blames you for trying, certainly. But if you’re unhappy about something that you’ve tried and tried and tried to fix without success, it’s time to channel your inner Dr. Phil and ask yourself, “How’s that workin’ for you.”

Then get him out of you. He’s icky.



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    Last reviewed: 24 Jul 2012

APA Reference
Dembling, S. (2012). Dr. Phil Makes Sense Sometimes, She Conceded Grudgingly. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 29, 2015, from



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