Select self-help methods and organize them into an overall treatment
plan that will be most effective in producing the desired self-change.
In the chapters below, you will find many self-help methods recommended for these problems. It is important to read the chapters related to your problem.
Nature of your concern Chapters that will help you
understand the problem
Deciding on a philosophy of life Chapter 3
Changing your behavior or habits Chapter 4 and 11
Dealing with anxiety and fears Chapter 5 and 12
Dealing with sadness, low esteem Chs 6, 12 and 14
Dealing with anger and prejudice Chs 7, 12, 13 and 14
Dealing with dependency, conformity Chapter 8, 12 and 13
Understanding yourself and others Chapter 9, 14 and 15
Love, marriage, and sex Chapter 10
You will find that most situations aren't so simple that you only need to read one chapter, however. Here is why: Each of the How-To-Understand chapters (3 to 10) breaks the topic into the five parts: behavior, emotions, skills, mental processes, and unconscious factors. Thus, chapter 6 on depression will refer you to chapter 4 because depressed people need to be active--behaving--and chapter 6 will also refer you to chapter 3 if guilt is involved and to chapter 13 if you need social skills to get out and have fun and so on. Before you are done, you may feel like you have had to read almost the whole book because everything is so intertwined. Sorry, but that's real life... and you need to know about all of it.
Remember originally I said the five parts were to help you understand your problem. Now, it sounds like I'm saying the five parts help you fix the problem. That's right. This five-part analysis helps both ways. It is especially helps you find usable self-help methods. Here is how. Most self-help methods (and therapy methods) have an influence primarily on only one of the five parts of a problem, not all five. Thus, there is a highly useful relationship between diagnosis (a description of a part of the problem) and treatment methods to use. Table 2.3 will help you see this relationship and find the chapters telling you in detail how to change each part. At this point, you should be beginning to get the basic idea of how you could develop a comprehensive and fairly sophisticated treatment plan.
Table 2.3: Analysis of Problem into Parts and Possible Solutions
Parts of any problem Psychological self-help methods
1. Behavior (simple thoughts) (What behavior or habitual thoughts do I want to change?) Self-reinforcement, self-punishment change of environment, break the chain early, extinction, thought control, covert sensitization, self-instructions.
--fears and anxiety
--sadness & self-criticism
--anger & prejudice
--dependency & passivity
(What unwanted feelings are involved?)
Relaxation, self-desensitization, venting feelings, exposure to harmless fears, stress inoculation, meditation, constructive use of emotional energy.
3. Skills (Lacking)
(What skills do I need?)
Problem-solving training, social skills via practice in groups and role playing, assertiveness training, constructively handling anger, decision making, study skills, leadership skills, organization and scheduling skills.
4. Mental processes
(Which views and values harm--and which help?)
Questioning irrational ideas, correcting expectations, determinism, building self-esteem, paradoxical intention, increasing motivation, values clarifications, gaining hope, developing a philosophy of life, learning to think straight, helpful attitudes, self-hypnosis.
5. Unconscious motives (What needs and defenses cause me trouble? What conscious life plan can replace my unconscious life script?) Self-awareness exercises, transactional analysis, psychological reading, focusing, dream analysis, self-understanding by writing an autobiography, feedback from tests, friends, and groups, and learning to accept oneself.
After reading a couple of "understanding-the-problem" chapters (3 to 10) that address your problem, and after reading the general idea and purposes sections of "possible methods" in chapters 11 to 15, you are ready to start working out a treatment plan for yourself.
In step 3, you have already seen how to describe your problem, part by part. Now, you start developing a self-help treatment plan, part by part. By first considering the pros and cons of using several self-help methods within three or four of the most promising parts of your problem, you can crudely draft tentative plans for achieving your sub-goals within those parts of your problem. Jot down your self-help ideas and add other methods as you read and think about solving the problem. Talking to others will help you develop a better plan (see brainstorming in method #11 in chapter 13). At this point, several self-help methods should be considered.
Examples of the self-improvement planning process: Finding self-help methods
Keep in mind that to become an expert self-helper, you need a lot of practice analyzing problems into the five parts. And you need to become familiar with a large number of self-help methods, before you can quickly devise comprehensive self-help treatment plans. After doing several self-improvements and reading much of this book, you should be able to think of many possible solutions to almost any problem within a few minutes, even though a good plan uses only a few methods.
For now, even without that practice and knowledge, let's look at two illustrations of how to develop a well thought out treatment plan. In the first case, Case A, a young man has a problem of being lonely, fearful, and pessimistic, especially concerning the opposite sex. In Case B, the problem is John/Jane again, i.e. procrastination and a negative attitude towards school.
Case A: A lonely shy man Part of the Problem Possible Self-help Methods 1. Behavior: Avoids girls, has little to say. Write a contract rewarding talking to girls with TV time; buy a new record album as soon as one girl is asked for a date (chapters 4 &11). 2. Feelings: feels shy, anxious when talking to attractive girls, afraid of rejection. Use relaxation and desensitization to reduce fear of approaching a girl to talk to or for a date (chapters 5 & 12). 3. Skills: doesn't know how to start or end a conversation; unsure how to ask a girl out. Practice different approaches by role-playing with a friend, observe others, prepare for conversations in advance (chapters 9 & 13). 4. Attitudes: has self-doubts and the belief that it would be awful if a girl didn't want to go out with him. Develop a more positive self-concept by reviewing and praising self for good points; challenge the irrational idea that it would be so awful that he couldn't stand to be rejected by any girl for any reason (chapters 6 & 14). 5. Unconscious: unconsciously hates self for being so weak, suspects that females are demanding, critical, and fickle; afraid of being hurt in a relationship. Look for the source of the self-critical attitude (did parents put him down? Has he been ignored--or indulged?) Where does the distrust of women come from? (Mother liked a sibling more? Has been rejected before? Afraid of sex or intimacy?) See chapters 6, 7, 9, 10, & 15.
Case B: John/Jane--Procrastination
See step 3 for a description of the problem; this is a list of possible self-help methods for changing John/Jane's procrastination:
Part 1: Behavior (Chapters 3, 4, 11, 13)
Part 2: Emotions (Chapters 5, 12, 14)
- Self-confront and admit how serious my situation is; decide if I want to
become capable or stay a con headed for trouble. Have a
honest discussion of this with my parents.
- Update a To-Be-Done List every morning or no breakfast.
- Set up a schedule for studying. If I can't immediately start studying 3
hours a night (I've got a lot of catching up to do), I'll start with 1
hour and increase it 1/2 hour each week. My reward will be time with
my boy/girlfriend (they have agreed to not let me cheat).
- Reduce wasted time, stop cheating, stop insulting good students. Use
thought stopping and self-criticism to stop these things. I'll self-praise my
- Make friends with some serious students, try to see their point of view.
- Plan more good times with friends, but goof off and watch TV less.
Part 3: Skills (Chapter 13)
- Confront my fears and find out how smart I am. Do my best in one
course (4 hours of study per week) and see how well I can do.
- Desensitize my anger towards school work and anxiety about not doing
well on papers and exams.
- Challenge my irrational, self-defeating ideas about how stupid school and
studying is. Challenge the self-cons about being so clever and so good
with people. Remind myself of the deep trouble I am heading for if I
don't reduce my hostility.
- Make studying more enjoyable by relaxing, eating, having a coke, holding
my boy/girlfriend's hand, etc. at the same time.
- Feel better by being better prepared and by feeling proud of better
and honest work.
Part 4: Mental processes (Chapter 3, 4, 6, 13, 14)
- Read about scheduling and time management so I can be better
- Learn and use a good reading method, such as SQRRR.
- Learn to write better by writing in my diary every day and seeking
tutoring at the Writing Clinic.
- Build my vocabulary and spelling ability by adding 5 new words to a
3 X 5 card every day.
- Concentrate on listening to others and responding with empathy to be
- Learn enough and then offer help to others with their homework.
Part 5: Unconscious processes (Chapter 4, 9, 15)
- Test out how much studying really affects my grades.
Study different amounts of time for different exams (record this) and
compare with grades received.
- Stop myself every time I tell myself that social skills and "image" are all
that matter. Start being honest with myself about needing to study more,
being scared, etc.
- Become realistically excited about my future by spending 10 minutes a
day talking to someone or fantasizing about being successful. Also,
imagine failing or becoming a hated con artist or total jerk.
- Look out for excuses, rationalizations, and self-cons that justify
procrastinating, e.g. "studying doesn't help" or "I'll do it tomorrow" or
"I'll be hard working and honest just as soon as I graduate."
- Learn to think clearly and make good decisions, including a career
- Develop a meaningful philosophy of life which I can live by.
- Ask myself several times a day, "What is the best use of my time right
now?" Act on the answer.
- Think of compliments to give students who do good work...and even
- Figure out ways to build my self-esteem and my belief in myself as a
self-helper who is in control of my life. Increase my motivation.
- Talk with Mom and Dad to see why he worked so hard and why I
resented it. Share with them how I felt left out or rejected. Find out
how they felt about my anger and rebellion.
- Increase my understanding of my procrastination and cynicism by doing
an autobiography and/or by keeping a journal.
- When I resent a teacher and a tough assignment, I will tell myself that this
feeling is a harmful leftover from my competition as a child with my
father. It is silly for it to spread to teachers.
- Realize that I may have a tendency to self-destruct by manipulating and
lying. Send up a mental warning flare to myself whenever I feel the urge
to con someone.
- Become more aware of the unconscious feelings and needs inside me.
Read about the unconscious self-destructive or rebellious factors in
- Get in touch with the child within; realize the destructive, you're-not-OK,
put-down games that child has been playing and find out how to stop
game-playing. Take care of my inner child.
OK, OK, if you are screaming, "NO REBELLIOUS PROCRASTINATOR IS GOING TO DO ALL THIS WORK!" You are right. But you are missing the point. This is simply illustrating how a procrastinator might consider using many self-help methods. In reality, a procrastinator will probably think of a few of these useful steps he/she could take (especially if he/she reads this list and about procrastination as well as motivation in chapter 4). Then, if he/she is ready to change, he/she will decide to try a couple of the methods.
Deciding on your treatment plan: Make it practical and doable!
In keeping with all the research about good decision-making, I have emphasized over and over that there are a large number of possible sub-problems within each part of the overall problem--and, therefore, a large number of possible self-help approaches to each part, depending on your unique situation. IT IS TO YOUR ADVANTAGE TO KNOW MANY SELF-HELP METHODS. BUT, KEEP YOUR PLANS SIMPLE! USE ONLY A FEW SELF-HELP METHODS. This seems contradictory, but it isn't. To make a good decision, you need to consider many options. But, your actual self-improvement plan must be doable.
In most of your problem situations, there will not be clear-cut problems in every one of the five parts. In most instances, only two or three parts of the problem will need to be changed. Concentrate on what seems to be the crucial parts of your problem. For example, suppose that you were John/Jane. You would certainly have to first self-confront and decide you were heading the wrong direction if you really want to be successful and respected. Then maybe (a) establishing a To-Be-Done List and (b) a daily schedule with (c) rewards, plus (d) a diary focusing on how you excuse your procrastination and blame others for your problems are all the methods you would need (as your first try). If these methods don't work, there are lots of other methods to try.
Likewise, suppose you have frequent headaches for which your physician cannot find a physical cause. Your self-help may concentrate on only three parts: part 1, (behavior) observing the circumstances that precede a headache to gain understanding of the causes, part 2, (emotions) learning to relax to counteract the stress, and part 5, (unconscious factors) using meditation or focusing (see chapters 12 and 15) to become aware of the repressed emotions that might cause a headache. If repressed emotions are found, then they can be dealt with directly. In brief, keep your initial plans very basic and straight-forward.
Become a connoisseur of self-help methods; collect them, modify them, invent them. READ other books related to your problem. TALK to people who have solved the problem themselves, to counselors, to friends, etc. Consider tentatively several methods to change each part of your problem; don't just automatically select a method just because you have heard of it. Don't just use the same method over and over again, there may be better ways of changing. Also, use methods that will not only solve the immediate problem but will also help you cope with life in the future, e.g. decision-making skills, build self-esteem, etc. Obviously, you can't learn everything you need to know in just a few days, so for your current self-help project select the best two or three methods you have found for changing two or three parts of your problem. Then get on with it.
Unjustified emotional reactions--positive and negative--to certain self-help methods
As you read and think about possible solutions to your problems, you will have to rely on research findings or clinical opinions and/or your subjective reaction to each self-help method. Often the methods you believe will work best actually do, probably because you have positive expectations. Trust your judgment (until the results come in). As you get more and more experienced with self-help, your reactions to certain methods will change, depending on how well they have worked for you in the past. An experienced self-helper will adapt old methods and adopt new methods.
You are likely to find, however, that from the very beginning you have positive and negative reactions to certain methods which are not based on real experience. For instance, some people think (without trying it) that it is childish or overly mechanistic to reward their own desirable behavior, feeling they should just carry out the behavior because it is reasonable or right or satisfying, not because it is followed by a silly little piece of candy. Other self-helpers are just the opposite and prefer to concentrate almost entirely on rewarding desired behaviors, feeling (without trying it) that speculation about unconscious motives is, at best, a waste of time or, at worst, foolish and destructive nonsense. Some people feel that they should just naturally be good listeners, good empathizers, good conversationalists, good lovers, etc. without having to learn any new social skills. Others are insatiable social skills training "groupies." Still others are afraid of groups--or think they can't learn anything from peers; only professionals could tell them anything. Many people believe that a complete, logical, compelling, and moral philosophy of life should magically form inside their minds without their having to study various philosophies or debate moral dilemmas at length. Others are constantly pondering the meaning of life; some find meaning, others don't.
Still other self-helpers believe, like Freud, that unconscious factors are the important determiners of what happens in our lives, so looking for "games people play," for unconscious defense mechanisms, for old emotional garbage, for sinister motives, or for "scripts" from early childhood are the only parts of psychology that interest them. Often these people spend all their time searching for their unconscious dynamics and never bother to change.
What are my points? Recognize your biases. These emotional reactions strongly influence the effectiveness you will have with specific methods. So, use your "beliefs" in certain methods to your advantage. In the long run, however, try to guard against having unfounded biases or hopes; try all kinds of methods and fairly evaluate them all. I have noticed that psychologists who have a negative attitude towards some technique, such as projective tests, hypnosis, NLP, dream analysis, etc., have more often never studied or used the technique, rather than have used the technique and found it to be ineffective. The world is filled with skeptics and naysayers. Try to be open-minded and learn for yourself. Be sure your negative views of certain self-help methods are based on facts, good research, or your own experience; avoid having opinions based on comments from someone else who is also inexperienced.
Avoid striving for the perfect plan! DO SOMETHING!
Don't spend too much time planning how to change. It can an excuse for doing nothing. Make decisions about goals and methods, then get on with it! Again and again in this book I will tell you to DO SOMETHING, meaning you need to take action. Often just simple acts will produce the desired changes. There is a story about Milton Erickson, an unusually clever and insightful therapist, being asked to make a house call on a reclusive woman who never spoke to anyone and seldom left her house. Dr. Erickson spent less than an hour with the lady and found out she was depressed, felt unneeded and lonely, and was so shy she arrived at church late and left early so she wouldn't have to interact with anyone. He observed she had several African violets in her modest home. So, as he left, he gave her this prescription: "start growing more flowers, ask the priest to notify you of every birth, wedding, and death in the parish, and send a flower on every occasion." She did... and it changed her life. Many years later, Dr. Erickson read a newspaper account of several hundred people attending the funeral of the "African Violet Lady." It wasn't a complex, deeply psychological plan. It was a great plan only because she was willing to DO SOMETHING!