Even if it is done gradually, it isn't easy to learn to eat, smoke,
worry, etc. in one place. There are so many old stimuli that are
conditioned to produce the unwanted response; they are hard to
break. On the other hand, pairing a desired response (study, positive
beliefs) with a new stimulus or environment is not hard, but it is
tedious to remember to do.
Effectiveness, advantages, and dangers
Intuitively, the efficacy seems to depend on the problem and the
method. It is effective to study or work in one place--after about a
month or so of daily experience. Yet, it would take more than
controlling responses in the grocery store to restrict the diet of most
hungry midnight raiders (who can down a quart of low fat yogurt), but
controlling responses can help. However, my experience with classes
suggests that only a few people use conditioning procedures to change
habits or attitudes.
Relapse prevention; temptation resistance training; cue exposure
One of the hardest parts of self-control is stopping some
unwanted, but compelling behavior. Once stopped, then there is the
problem of staying in control. For this reason a section of chapter 4
section, it is important. Coverage here will, therefore, be brief.
The basic approach is to avoid the stimuli that produce the
unwanted response (method #1) or, the opposite, to confront the
tempting situation repeatedly without responding in the undesired way
(methods #2 ); thus, reducing the habit's control over you.
The drop out rate from treatment and exercise programs is high,
often 50% or 60% in the first three months. The relapse from weight
loss and alcohol or drug treatment programs is notorious, maybe 90%
or more. Maintaining our gains in self-control is a serious problem. But
we are learning much more about relapse prevention and research
shows that adding these techniques to other methods, such as
treatment for obsessions or compulsions, significantly improves the
To break the grip that certain urges have over our behavior.
Examples: the urge to drink, to smoke, to gamble, to
masturbate, to be excessively concerned with or to avoid work
or responsibilities, to over-eat, to be compulsively clean and
organized, to shop, etc. (Compulsions and obsessions are dealt
with in chapters 5 & 12 because they are primarily ways of
handling anxiety, not just simple behaviors.)