Chiropractic GTD

B.J. Palmer was an expert at getting things done! Unfortunately, not much has been written about his method. This was probably because he didn’t just get things done, he developed his own habit of listening to what he called, Innate thought flashes (what I refer to as ITFs). For some in the profession, this philosophical approach was probably a bit weird and for others it was more like a holy writ. The methodology B.J. developed to take action never really caught on.

B.J. wrote, “WHEN Innate thot-flashes came, they MUST BE accepted for full face value and acted upon AT ONCE.”(p. 116)[1]*

With a pad and pen in his pocket and by his bedside, Palmer wrote down or acted on everything that flashed. With this action oriented approach to his inspirations, he pioneered chiropractic education, philosophy, technique, research, science, and legal strategy, while also pioneering radio, television, and advertising. In the process he published dozens of books and hundreds of articles.


The core of B.J.’s method as well as his philosophical explanation were amazingly similar to GTD developed by David Allen.[2] GTD is the most popular methodology on the planet today for getting things done (personally and professionally). A simple google search for “GTD” turns up 13,300,000 results!

Both methods share the principle that if you capture every idea you open the floodgate for intuitive action and inspiration. Allen calls this state, “mind like water.”[3]

I have written about ITFs in terms of states and levels of consciousness as well as the role ITFs may have played in B.J.’s unique leadership style.[4]

The ITF was one of his last contributions to the philosophy of chiropractic and in my view a crucial one for all chiropractors seeking to master the game of life and impact the profession in profound and positive ways.

I have not explored B.J.’s methodology for getting things done in great detail. Nor have I explored how I use it in conjunction with GTD. I think it is time start.

The ITF Divide in VS Chiropractic

A divide within the vertebral subluxation focused side of the chiropractic profession around the ITF still exists. The objective straight chiropractic movement, influenced by Gold and Gelardi deemphasized this aspect of B.J.’s later philosophy in order to focus solely on vertebral subluxation. The Life movement mainly influenced by Williams and his Dynamic Essentials strongly emphasized ITFs as part of the chiropractic lifestyle. Viewing ITFs as a methodology offers a way to bring these two sides together and more importantly, give some very practical tools to the profession to get things done!

ITF Practices

One of the keys for B.J. was to capture every idea. If he couldn’t act on it at once, he at least wrote it down. He learned this habit over the years through trial and error. He noticed that at night it was easier for ITFs to break through to the conscious educated mind due to the sleepiness factor. The brain was more relaxed and allowed the inspirations to get in. He also suggested that any method one could use to just relax the brain will help to develop the ability to listen for these insights.

Two important ITF practices were noted; 1) act on the idea right away because these inspirations are always more effective than the ideas the educated brain comes up with, and 2) write down the idea when it comes (if you couldn’t act on it right away). B.J. recommended keeping a pad and pencil next to the bed to develop the habit of writing the ITFs down. He cautions that not doing so will lead to losing the idea when the educated mind takes over in the morning. Also, you won’t develop the habit of trusting the ITFs and thus you will lose the connection to this fount of inner wisdom. Palmer writes,

“Silently, Innate sneaks upon your sleepy self. Innate flashes answers so you MAY have them. Instead of getting up, having a pad and pencil handy along-side your bed, writing while the idea is in full clarity, you roll over on the other side, education saying ‘I’ll remember that tomorrow and then I’ll think about it and if it is worth while will write it.’ Right THERE AND THEN you made your BIG mistake! In the morning, education is top man again. Innate is back in its retreat, doing only those things it has to do to keep physical functions in motion. You didn’t CAPTURE that idea when Innate WANTED TO and WAS WILLING TO GIVE; so you educationally lost it. The more this indifference occurs this way, the more Innate becomes discouraged and eventually ignores YOU because YOU ignored Innate, until it becomes a fixed habit both ways, each ignoring the other.”[6] (p.63)

It is fascinating to me how similar B.J.’s concept is to David Allen’s methodology. GTD is much easier because it is part of a five part process: 1) collect/capture, 2) process, 3) organize, 4) decide, 5) act. I can only assume that B.J. had his own way to systematically put ITFs into action. Before discussing how GTD may be used to expand on B.J.’s method, I want to make one more point about philosophy.

B.J.’s Philosophical Rationale for ITFs

The philosophical criticism against ITFs goes something like this; The ITF process does not directly apply to the innate intelligence as the organizer of the biological processes and thus is not directly pertinent to the essence of chiropractic, or the correction of vertebral subluxation. (Of course there are other more cynical criticisms of ITFs, which generally dismiss it along with much of the philosophy.) B.J. addresses at least the first criticism. To him, ITFs are a logical extension of the philosophy of innate intelligence. Continuing from the passage above he writes,

“The ordinary human being has what are commonly called ‘hunches, intuitions, instinct, wee sma’ voice,’ and sometimes a ‘conscience.’ There are FIVE accounted for. There are other senses unaccounted for which birds and animals have. When asleep, certain ones are dormant. Others are on the job, such as hearing, smelling, feeling, etc.

Suppose at night, while asleep, the baby cries, telephone rings, a fire occurs, a prowler breaks in, you become too cold or too warm. Innate HEARS the baby, the fone [sic] ring, the prowler in the room; your nose smells smoke; if cold or hot, you pull up or throw off blankets. All these can awaken EDUCATION. These are typical thot-flashes FROM Innate TO education.”(p.64)[6]

He reasons that the ITFs are biologically based. They extend to the wider spectrum of your life, not just the emergencies of the senses. (He even claims to have measured the thot-flash in his research clinic.)

But when it comes down to it, his method of listening to Innate was very practical. He applied it in business and according to Maynard, there was a point where B.J.’s board of directors trusted his ITFs over their educated ideas.[7] The success of his radio and television endeavors was the result.**

Mind Like Water

David Allen defines his concept of mind like water as follows, “A mental and emotional state in which your head is clear, able to create and respond freely, unencumbered with distractions and split focus.”[8] This is exactly the state B.J. Palmer refers to. B.J. even suggested that yogis would be great chiropractors because of their ability to attune to the infinite for days at a time.[9] For Allen, when every single action in your life is collected on one master list and your brain trusts you will use the list appropriately to engage with your world, your mind is free and empty to be in the NOW.

B.J. taught a few methods that worked for him after decades of practice. Allen developed his methodology from coaching executives for many years. His system is very detailed and extremely worthwhile for those who choose to master it, what he calls, becoming a black-belt at “knowledge-work athletics.”

According to Allen, the key to getting to such a state is to first capture every single idea in your head and then put it into a system sorted by context (where you can take the action – work, home, phone, errands), energy level (how much juice do you have to take action), and horizon (is the action part of a larger project related to specific goals, as part of a bigger vision, connected to your life’s purpose?). When your brain trusts you won’t lose the great ideas, your mind is clear and inspiration may flow in. This is where GTD may assist chiropractors to implement what B.J. taught.

GTD goes beyond B.J.’s method of just finding the times in your day when educated is quiet, it relies on you creating that space in your mind all day every day by applying the GTD methodology. You capture everything and then review it once per week as a habit. Soon the brain learns to trust and you can respond to daily challenges fluidly, intuitively, and with a mind like water.

According to Allen, one’s ability to intuitively know what actions to take throughout the day is born of practicing the habit.

  1. B.J. Palmer. 1955. Chiropractic Philosophy, Science and Art: What it does, How it does it, and Why it does it. PSC.
  2. David Allen. 2002. Getting Things Done. Penguin Books.
  3. David Allen. 2008. Your mind deserves a promotion. Huffington Post.
  4. Simon Senzon. 2010. B.J. Palmer: An Integral Biography. JITP.
  5. Simon Senzon. 2011. Online CE Course on the Life of B.J. Palmer
  6. B.J. Palmer. 1961. How does innate contact education? The Glory of Going On. PSC
  7. Joseph Maynard. 1959. Healing Hands. Jonorm Publisher.
  8. David Allen defines Mind Like Water.
  9. B.J. Palmer. 1958. Palmer’s Law of Life. PSC.

* He usually used the shortened-English style of “thought,” as “thot.” In his final book, he used the full “thought,” rather than “thot.”
** Chronology of RadioPhone Station WOC 1922-1932.

Chiropractic Organicism

I recently had a long private conversation with Rupert Sheldrake about his latest research and his new book, Science Set Free.(1) We plan to talk again in a couple of months and record the conversation. This will be part of a new series of dialogues I am engaging in with leaders from various fields. The dialogues will be available online. The video below describes some of the background of the new book, which is a MUST READ for all chiropractors and chiropractic students.


Besides the main points of the book, which are described in the video, I suggest there was one important distinction Sheldrake made in our conversation that applies directly to chiropractors. It was this: he does not consider himself a Vitalist but an Organicist. This is important because the philosophy of chiropractic is more congruent with Organicism than with Vitalism (in my humble opinion).

Since the book described the historical and philosophical roots of vitalism as part of the discussions about the limitations of the materialist, mechanist, and physicalist worldview that dominates science, I asked him whether he considers himself a Vitalist. The answer was NO.

I have written in the past on the problems of using the term vitalism to describe the philosophy of chiropractic,(2) but Sheldrake’s explanation was simple and to the point. Vitalism was always about biology and how it was distinct from physics and chemistry. Organicism is rooted in the idea that the entire universe and its parts may be viewed as organic wholes nested within wholes.(3) This may be extended further whereas consciousness may be viewed as part of nature rather than apart from it.

This approach is more congruent with the philosophy of organism, systems theory, and holism, all of which have their roots in 1920s biological thought, just like the chiropractic greenbooks.

It is only recently that chiropractors have used the term vitalism. It is a term fraught with ancient baggage. Most organismic philosophers such as Sheldrake do not use it.

Science Set Free is essential for understanding the philosophy of chiropractic in a much broader context. Not only does the book explore the concepts of biological organization in terms of morphic fields and morphic resonance, that nature has purpose and consciousness, but it also opens the possibility that psychic phenomenon may be rigorously studied as natural. Sheldrake refers to this in terms of the extended mind. This is right in line with B.J. Palmer’s exploration of “That Something,” “thot flashes,” and “The Law.”

For B.J., there was an extension from the Innate Intelligence to the Universal Intelligence, a type of linkage, whereby Innate had access to many levels of information. This could then be flashed to the Educated Intelligence. I’ve written about this in detail,(4) and even compiled a book of B.J. Palmer’s quotes about it.(5)

In his famous story called “How the Law Works,” he followed the cues of his Innate on one particular occasion and took a train instead of a drive to his destination. It turned out there was a massive storm. When he arrived he walked out to the street in the cold wind. A car pulled up. The driver recognized him from his portrait hanging in his own chiropractor’s office. The man offered B.J. a ride. B.J. tells the reader that coincidences like this are natural.(6) He writes,

“When “incidents” like this “happen” consistently and persistently, time without end, year after year, under many varied conditions, it becomes a law at work…That’s how the law works between one person and another who are in tune with the law within.”(p. 57)

Sheldrake’s research and hypotheses offer a framework that connects B.J.’s insights directly to the way Innate Intelligence governs the body’s shape and form. It is an important body of work for chiropractors to understand.

To learn more about his new book please watch the video lectures and stay tuned for our upcoming dialogue.(7,8)

1. Sheldrake, R. (2012). Science Set Free: Ten Paths to New Discovery.
2. Senzon, S. (2003). What is Life. Journal of Vertebral Subluxation Research.
3. Organicism. Wikipedia entry.
4. Senzon, S. (2011). B.J. Palmer: An Integral Biography. Journal of Integral Theory and Practice.
5. Senzon, S. (2004). The Spiritual Writings of B.J. Palmer.
6. Palmer, B.J. (1949). How the Law Works. Excerpt from Chapter 19: What is Finding Yourself, in The Bigness of The Fellow Within. Published in: Sinnott, R. (1998). The green books a collection of timeless chiropractic works-by those who lived it! [Mokena, IL], Chiropractic Books.

© 2020 The Institute Chiropractic - Senzon Learning, Inc.