Psychological Self-Help

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ostentatious writer. (Don't misunderstand me, research is the best
basis for "knowing" about the general effectiveness of some method,
followed by the opinion of a practitioner with lots of experience.
Eventually, your own experience with the method in question may
dominate your evaluation of its effectiveness in your situation.) 
Some popular writers even tell you that it is simple to achieve
some major change in your life (like stopping smoking with one
hypnotic session or "getting rich" by having a "positive mental
attitude"). Simple solutions may sometimes work but that doesn't
prove that human behavior is simple. There is probably a wish for
things to be simple. However, you will be more accurate, in my
opinion, if you assume that humans are very complicated. Most people
have no conception how complex the psychological world really is. This
over-simplification may account for astrology, for a belief that a
weekend workshop will solve marital problems, for the hope that a few
hours with a psychologist or psychiatrist will overcome depression, for
the incredible sale of one diet book after another, etc. 
Hope Springs Eternal...that's good but watch out for false
Hope springs eternal in the human breast; 
Man never Is, but always To be blest: 
The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home, 
Rests and expatiates in a life to come. 
-Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man, Epistle I, 1733
In spite of repeated failures, people often try to make the same
self-improvement over and over again. The fact is that most self-
change efforts fail, especially in the areas of eating, smoking, drinking,
gambling, poor study habits, New Year's resolutions, etc. Many people
have failed many times on the same project. Yet, people keep trying.
Why? Is it just human nature to have hopes, even unrealistic ones, for
things to be better? 
Polivy and Herman (2002) try to explain what they call the "False
Hope Syndrome," a sequence of hoping for self-improvement, trying
some change method for a while, then relapsing and experiencing a
disappointing outcome, analyzing the reasons for their failure, and
eventually deciding to make a new effort to change (even though the
person has not learned much more about self-change techniques).
These authors start their analysis by asking "Why do self-change
efforts fail?" Their answers: we tend to start with unrealistic
expectations, namely, big, fast, easy, far-reaching changes. The goals
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