The steps in carrying out a self-help project are described in this chapter. However, before trying to change we must realize that a specific change is needed and we must believe change is possible. The first step below, selecting a self-help project, gives you several suggestions for overcoming your reluctance to try to change. The key is to think about the problem--don't avoid it--by reading about it, talking to others about it, and thinking how life would honestly be better without the problem.
After deciding to improve in some specific way, then obviously you need to understand your problem, overcome your fears of changing and failing to change, and start to figure out exactly how you can make the changes you want. This entire book helps you do those things. Self-help takes a lot of knowledge, it isn't just a simple matter of having the "will power" to do something, although you must be motivated to get the knowledge and skills you need to change.
Recent research says we go through six "stages" when we change: precontemplation (we aren't thinking about changing yet), contemplation (starting to think about changing), preparation (planning to change), action (using self-help methods to change), maintenance (of our gains), and termination of the project (Prochaska, Norcross & DiClemente, 1994). This is potentially useful research, not so much in terms of naming the rather obvious stages in changing, but rather in terms of discovering how to motivate ourselves from one stage to another. A lot of people deny the need to make changes, even more want to change but can't get started. We must stay motivated. Prochaska, Norcross & DiClemente's suggestions for moving ourselves from one stage to another are summarized below but these techniques have not been well researched. Science needs to study self-motivation much more.
A valuable aspect of the following 10 steps is a simple system for analyzing your problem into five parts, which, in turn, will help you develop a comprehensive plan for changing yourself. This system, described in step 3, will help you understand any problem situation. Every problem has five parts or levels: (1) the behavior involved, (2) the emotions experienced, (3) the skills you may need, (4) the mental processes involved (thoughts or self-talk, motivations, self-concept, values, and expectations), and (5) the unconscious forces that may contribute to your troubles. An old adage says, "a problem well stated is half solved." When a problem is carefully analyzed into these 5 parts, you can more easily see how most treatment or self-help methods available today could be applied to this problem (see step 5).
This same 5-part system of analysis is also used in chapters 3 to 10 to help you understand how specific problems may have developed, are maintained, and could be changed. Then, chapters 11 to 15 describe in a simple cookbook manner how you can apply many different self-help procedures to each of the five parts of your problem. Chapter 11 deals with the behavioral part or level 1, chapter 12 with the emotions--part 2, chapter 13 with skills--part 3, chapter 14 with thoughts--part 4, and chapter 15 with unconscious factors--part 5.
Please note: As mentioned in chapter 1, you may use this book like a standard text, reading every word chapter by chapter, but when you are actually trying to self-improve, use it like a reference book, searching out the information you need at the moment by skimming the chapters' titles and sub-titles. Every chapter starts with a detailed index. This look-for-what-you-need-to-know process is not simple, not if you study the causes and possible methods for "treating" each of the five parts of every problem. Learning self-control is not easy, if it were, humans would have mastered it 35,000 years ago. Don't let the complexity of your problems or of this book scare you, though; plunge in.
Another caution: making important changes in our lives is not a smooth, linear process; there are poor plans, methods that don't work, times when we lose motivation and forget our projects, relapses, etc. Most self-help projects require several tries, perhaps 80% to 95% of us have at least one setback as we undertake a self-improvement project, especially if we are not well read and informed, but the successful self-helper doesn't give up. He/she goes back to earlier steps or stages and reads more, asking why am I not more motivated, what methods will work better, is there another unseen problem involved, do I need to give more attention to maintaining my gains, etc.? It is far better to try and fail (this time) than never to have tried to change at all (guaranteeing permanent failure). When you have trouble changing, there are a lot of helpful people, books, videos, professionals, and groups that would be glad to help. I try to point you towards several sources of help.
Summary of Steps in Self-help
Once you have decided to make some specific self-improvement, there are ten desirable steps in a difficult self-help project; however, not every step must be compulsively carried out every time you try to change something about yourself. Sometimes, you can omit measuring your progress or analyzing the problem into parts or setting goals or some other steps. This is because sometimes, the desired change is very easy to make, as though it is just waiting for an excuse to change. Most of the time, however, it is hard to change, forcing you to pay attention to all ten steps. At least, you should know how to carry out all of the possible steps, in case they are needed:
Step 1: Select self-improvement projects, no more than 2 or 3 at a time.
- ____ see problem checklist in this chapter (Table 2.1).
- ____ if you aren't sure you want to change or keep postponing making
- changes (see Table 2.2).
- ____ ask yourself: could this problem be physically caused? If so, see
- a physician.
- ____ if you have a very serious problem, such as suicidal thoughts or
- difficulty thinking well enough to make any plans, please seek professional help (see the warnings below).
Step 2: Start collecting and recording data reflecting the severity or frequency of the problem.
- ____ estimate and record frequency for 1 to 2 weeks prior to starting
- a daily record.
- ____ record information each day that will indicate changes you are
- ____ keep a diary of your thoughts and feelings as well as actions.
Step 3: Try to understand the problem, how it developed, its original causes, and what causes it to continue.
- ____ analyze your problem into five parts. Use Tables 2.1 and 2.3 (in step 5). Look
- for the origin and influence of each part.
- ____ what causes your problem? the history? under what conditions does
- the problem occur? Any payoffs?
- ____ see chapters 3-10 and other readings for frequent causes and
- ____ biology and environment as causes. Motivation to change: do you
- understand why you want to change? or why you are reluctant to change? What seem to be the barriers to changing?
Step 4: Set realistic goals.
- ____ be specific: exactly what behavior, emotions, skills, attitudes, or
- awareness do you want to change? What do you want to eliminate? What to increase?
- ____ change in small easy steps if rapid or radical change ("cold turkey")
- is impossible.
- ____ summary of goals--outcome, time, method. Are these goals
- important, fair, and in keeping with your values and long-range aspirations? (see chapter 3)
Step 5: Select the self-help methods that seem most likely to work, i.e. "develop a treatment plan."
- ____ consider each of the five parts of the problem: considering causes
- and goals, which parts seem to be the most likely to produce the changes you want to make?
- ____ refer to Tables 2.1 and 2.3, and chapters 3-10 for self-help ideas.
- Sample self-help plans. Read "general idea" and "purpose" of the methods in chapters 11 to 15 to see which ones seem most likely to work for you.
- ____ use doable self-change methods directed at several "parts"
- simultaneously or in sequence. But avoid overly complex plans that overload your computer or your schedule.
Step 6: Learn the detailed steps involved in each self-help method you are using (chapters 11-15) and try out your plan.
- ____ give the selected self-help methods a fair trial
- (daily for two weeks or more).
- ____ your motivation is crucial; keep it high (see chapters 4 and 14).
- ____ take precautions in advance if any strong emotions or possible
- dangers are involved (see chapters 11-15).
Step 7: Continue throughout the project to assess and plot your progress.
- ____ use self-observation for assessment, change, and reward. Get other
- people's opinions.
- ____ continue systematic self-observation for a few weeks after reaching
- your goals.
Step 8: If needed, revise plan as needed--deal with your resistance to change. Keep up your motivation.
- ____ change your tactics, if selected self-help methods are not working.
- Perhaps other "parts" are more involved than you realized.
- ____ change your approach, if you lose your motivation to change.
- Perhaps the change isn't as important as you thought. Is the old behavior meeting some unhealthy need?
- ____ seek professional help if your problems are very serious, become
- worse, or do not respond to self-help.
Step 9: Plan ways of maintaining the gains made.
- ____ use partial and natural reinforcement of the new desired behavior so
- it becomes intrinsically satisfying. Make it a habit.
- ____ may need to repeat treatment occasionally, e.g. start exercising and
- dieting again as soon as you gain 2 pounds.
Step 10: Make a note of the method's effectiveness: what works for you?
- ____ critically evaluate the quality of your "research." What else happened
- besides your treatment that might have changed the problem situation?
- ____ jot down ideas about future uses of this method or improved
- procedures; share with others.
- ____ what and/or who were your greatest sources of help?
- ____ build your confidence in your ability to self-help.
- ____ go to step 1, and begin another self-improvement.