HOW TO USE THIS BOOK TO
CHANGE YOURSELF: STEPS IN SELF-HELP

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Overview

 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.

Step 2: Start collecting and recording data reflecting the severity or
  frequency of the problem.

Step 3: Try to understand the problem, how it developed, its original
  causes, and what causes it to continue.

Step 4: Set realistic goals.

Step 5: Select the self-help methods that seem most likely to work, i.e.
  "develop a treatment plan."

Step 6: Learn the detailed steps involved in each self-help method you
  are using (chapters 11-15) and try out your plan.

Step 7: Continue throughout the project to assess and plot your progress.

Step 8: If needed, revise plan as needed--deal with your resistance to
  change. Keep up your motivation.

Step 9: Plan ways of maintaining the gains made.

Step 10: Make a note of the method's effectiveness: what works for
    you?


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