Recognize unconscious motives and defense mechanisms.
There is no doubt that sometimes we are not realistic. Not all of our actions are rational and intentional. Sometimes we avoid reality, we deny the truth, we fool ourselves. We may see the world the way we want to, not the way it is (example: a person falling in love or going through divorce). We may use excuses or rationalizations for avoiding an unpleasant but important task (example: procrastination instead of studying or self-indulgence instead of thinking of others). We may seek hidden payoffs through some action (example: fat helps us avoid sex or putdown games build our ego). The purpose of these distortions and self-cons is to make us feel better about our behavior, to defend ourselves against anxiety, and/or to conceal an unworthy purpose.
The self-evident solution to this self-deception is to be honest and realistic with ourselves. But how do we do this? There are powerful reasons for our distortion of reality; how can they be overridden? How can we deal with our own unconscious?
This is much too large a topic to be covered in one method. Chapters 14 and 15 help us understand unconscious factors. If we understand our unconscious motives and distortions, we can intervene and counteract these forces. The intention here is merely to draw your attention to a complex array of ideas and self-help methods that may need to be considered if you have an unwanted behavior that persists:
- Irrational ideas may exaggerate our problems, arouse very disturbing emotions, and/or provide excuses for unreasonable behavior--see chapter 14 for important explanations and solutions. Almost everyone has some irrational ideas. Changing your behavior probably won't change your troublesome ideas.
- Attributions, assumptions, and conclusions are constantly being made by everyone. They aren't all logical and accurate. We are unaware that our thinking is not straight in many situations (see method # 8 in chapter 14). There are methods for double-checking these assumptions, e.g. "I'm dumb" is testable and "She is this way because that is her personality" can be checked by asking (see method #7 in chapter 13 and Laing, 1965).
- Defense mechanisms reduce our anxiety but also distort reality, e.g. one "projects" his/her bad traits to others or a worker rationalizes why he/she got a bad evaluation (often involving "sour grapes" and "sweet lemons"). See chapters 5 and 15. There is a test to determine how much you use specific defense mechanisms. Would a person ever change if he/she saw all his/her negative evaluations as being biased or meaningless ("Oh, they just don't like my kind of person!")?
- Interpersonal "games" are played for sickish purposes--to putdown others, to putdown ourselves, to build our fragile egos. Such games yield unconscious pay offs. If you are a game player, adding a few rewards for some desired behavior is not going to wipe out the urges underlying your games. See chapters 9 and 15.
- Old leftover emotions unconsciously influence our current behavior, e.g. old failures produce today's reluctance to try again or a fight with a person with certain physical characteristics 10 years ago leads to unreasonable suspicions of a similar looking person today. See chapters 9 and 15.
- Unconscious motives and hidden pay offs undermine many of our self-control efforts. Not all of our motives are sensible and noble, and when they aren't, we'd prefer not to know about them. Many people do things and make decisions that are self-defeating, e.g. people do poorly at work to avoid getting more responsibility or to become the office clown or gossip. People push others away because they are afraid of getting hurt or they assume others will not really like them.
If you do not understand your behavior or if some behavior is remarkably resistive to change, investigate the role of unconscious factors (see chapter 15).
SELF-CHANGE METHODS APPLIED SIMULTANEOUSLY WITH THE TARGETBEHAVIOR
Self-observation and self-evaluation: Observe and record "target" behavior; set intermediate and final goals.
There is no doubt that being "mindful" has practical benefits (Langer, 1989). We need to attend to what we are doing, to how others are responding, to alternative ways of doing things, to the steps necessary to get to our final goal, etc. Some of us by nature are much more watchful than others, but all of us can become more aware and more accurately aware if we objectively record significant events about us.
The importance of making accurate observations was underscored in a recent study of people who had failed to lose weight on 20 or more diets and weight loss programs. They all claimed "I eat like a bird but I don't lose weight," "it's in my genes," "it's my metabolism," and "I eat less than 1200 calories a day!" When researchers carefully recorded these people's activities 24 hours a day, it was found that they ate twice as much as they said they ate. They were unmindful.
Careful recording of specific behaviors, reflecting your adjustment in a problem area, is important for several reasons: it helps assess the seriousness of your problem, it helps you identify the most important behaviors to change, it contributes to setting concrete goals and time-tables, it measures your progress in changing, it is rewarding, and about 15% of the time self-observation is all you need. Setting goals also increases progress.
Self-observation, recording the "target" behaviors, and goal setting are so important that they are part of the steps in any self-help project. The comments here supplement chapter 2, steps 2, 4, and 7. You may not count or rate target behaviors in every project, but there should be at least vague awareness of (l) the more significant behaviors to change, (2) daily observation of those behaviors, (3) where you want to go (goals), and (4) some assessment of how the behavior is changing over time.
- Any of the possible purposes mentioned above.
STEP ONE: Select clearly countable or ratable behaviors or feelings to record.
Chapter 2, step 2, gives directions and examples for doing this. Be sure you are clear about the behavior to be recorded, otherwise many of the above purposes will not be accomplished.
It may be helpful to specify the conditions as well as the desired behavior, i.e. record the behavior-in-a-situation, especially when the environment enhances the behavior (Methods 1 and 3). For example, a student might record the minutes per day studying efficiently in his/her "study" chair (and, therefore, not including the time spent mostly watching TV but occasionally glancing at a book).
Your self-help plan may involve developing a new and improved behavior. Therefore, the desired response will not be available for counting and recording until well into the project. A new index of progress can be added just as soon as the new target behavior has been developed.
In contrast to behaviors, feelings are seldom in discrete, countable episodes, so you will need rating scales. Examples:
Scale Behavior 1 very happy, one of the best days of my life 2 happy, generally a good day 3 sort of happy, more + than - 4 mixed, both + and - 5 sort of unhappy, more - than + 6 bad day, quite unhappy 7 a terrible day, one of the most unhappy of my life
Scale Behavior 1 no anger, well controlled, able to avoid or forgive. 2 a little irritation but quickly controlled or handled assertively 3 some irritation, others noticed, I was a little sharp or sulky 4 irritated most of the day 5 one or two angry outbursts which I didn't handle well 6 a bad day, big angry episodes kept me upset most of the day 7
a terrible day, I lost control of my anger and was hurtful and/or destructive.
These are just examples; devise your own scales tailored to your problem, your situation, your response style, and your eventual goal. One can rate anything: tension, energy, aches and pains, goodness (as you define it behaviorally), self-esteem, self-acceptance, tolerance of others, assertiveness, belief in self-help, sexual adjustment, etc., etc.
STEP TWO: Keep a daily count or make a daily rating (see chapter 2, step 2).
See chapter 2, step 2.
STEP THREE: Make a chart of your progress.
The daily counts or ratings can be plotted on a weekly or monthly chart, as illustrated in chapter 2. Both counting and charting are easy to forget; try doing them at scheduled times or pair them with some dependable event. Examples: count calories before each meal; plot daily total calories before doing exercises every evening; rate "target" emotion before having your evening drink; plot hours spent studying effectively every night before going to bed.
STEP FOUR: Use progress chart as a motivator; set reasonable immediate, intermediate and final goals.
"Taking one small step at a time" or "one day at a time" is good advice. Long-range goals may seem overwhelming, but a reasonable goal set for the next 15 minutes, the next hour, this afternoon, or today may seem quite manageable. For dieters, for example, focusing on self-control during the next few hours is more effective than setting weekly or monthly goals. Indeed, setting your own immediate goals which will enable you to reach your long-range goals, in terms of the "target" behavior, may be one of the better techniques for facilitating change (Chapman & Jeffrey, 1978). Completing the desired behavior is even more likely if you are frequently recording your progress; you need to be striving for some immediate goal as well as improvement each day or each week. The records will tell you if you made your goals. See chapter 2, step 4.
Post the progress chart in a conspicuous place, over your "study" chair or "depression" chair, on the refrigerator door, near where you exercise, some place where others can see your progress too.
STEP FIVE: Frequently evaluate your progress by comparing achievements with baseline data and with sub-goals.
See step 7 in chapter 2. The concept of baseline data is explained there. The self-rewards and praise (or punishment and self-criticism) we give ourselves have a powerful effect upon our behavior.
STEP SIX: Note special events on the progress chart.
Of particular interest to record will be (l) possible causal factors and (2) major outcomes. First, any event that might help explain a change in your target behavior should be recorded: got a new job, started dating steadily, had argument with my boss, doing poorly in math, and so on. Second, as chapter 2 recommends, one would ordinarily record each day the most immediate and direct indicators of progress, e.g. calories consumed, hours studying each day, minutes involved in meaningful conversation with spouse, a rating of daily tension, etc. However, it is the big, long-range achievements that are really important to us. So, the progress chart should also reflect major outcomes, like: lost 10 pounds this month, got a new dress! Got 3.6 GPA last semester! GI series indicates ulcer healing! (Record disappointments too.)
With a little creativity the progress chart can come alive and be more than sterile numbers. It can picture, even illuminate your life. Use symbols (or a secret code) for certain events. Add "before" and "after" pictures or descriptions. Perhaps the progress chart could become part of a diary or journal of your life (see chapter 15).
Devising the counting or rating procedures and progress chart will take only an hour or two. Less than 10 minutes per day are needed for counting and recording. Very little time is needed to set daily or weekly sub-goals and assess progress. The time will be well spent.
Within many of us lurks a rebellious critter who frequently shows him/herself when some routine task, like record keeping, needs to be done. Anything mechanical or clerical will be resisted by about 1/3 of us in my observation. Another related problem is just forgetting, after several days, to do the recording and eventually dropping the recording. Try to keep doing the project even if your record keeping gets sloppy.
It has definitely been shown that self-monitoring aids changing. And setting short-range goals helps. There are several other advantages from being more objective and accurate in observing and in self-evaluation. There are no dangers.
Watson, D. L. and Tharp, R. G. (1972). Self-directed Behavior, chapter 6, Brooks/Cole.
Thorensen, C. and Mahoney, M. (1974). Behavioral Self-control, New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Birkedahl, N. (1990). The habit control workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.