Psychological Self-Help

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improving your social interaction, recognize the new and/or deeper
friendships as being your rewards. 
STEP SIX: Make plans to maintain the gains you have achieved.
As noted in chapter 2, most bad habits have a way of gradually
growing back. So, once you have achieved an acceptable weight, it
pays to monitor your weight closely, at least every week for 3 or 4
months (probably forever). As soon as you gain two pounds,
immediately start watching your diet and exercise for the next few
days until you lose the two pounds. After several months the desired
behavior will become so routine that it will require little attention,
except for a moment of attention occasionally to be sure you are still
on target. 
Time involved
The simple "behavior-reward" agreements take almost no time at
all, just rearranging the order of things in our lives to serve our
purposes. More complicated contracts take more time. The first three
steps may take 1/2 to 2 hours. The actual reinforcement of every
response (or after a few responses) will take detailed scheduling and
arrangement of rewards--perhaps 30 minutes every day but more
likely five minutes. Later, it takes less time. It will probably be several
weeks before the new response is automatic (see "positive addictions"
in chapter 4). Habits are hard to predict, some changes are easy,
some are unbelievably hard. 
Common problems with the method
Many people resist the idea of having their lives mechanically
determined by rewards and punishment, even if they are entirely in
control of rewarding the desired behavior. Some people just aren't
organized enough to count and frequently reward a specific behavior.
Nevertheless, the method works well, so if possible, give it a try. 
When required to make a self-improvement, reinforcement is the
most common method used. I've seen thousands of such projects.
There are two really common problems: (1) the self-helper wants to
depend on the naturally occurring consequences. Examples: "Better
grades will be my reinforcement for studying more" or "Good
friendships will be my reward for being more outgoing and social." My
response to those proposals is "those rewards have always been
available to you for studying or socializing, and they haven't worked
yet! More reinforcement is probably needed to get you to change." (2)
The reinforcement is not closely associated with the necessary daily
behavior. Often the payoff is months later. Examples: "I'll get lots of
new clothes when I'm down to a size 8" or "My health will be so much
better after I have been on an exercise program." My response is "you
need to reinforce every little behavior along the way--every refusal of
fatty meat, dessert, a beer, etc. and every 10-minute walk, aerobics
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