Psychological Self-Help

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There is no doubt that threats work in many situations: we drive at
65 mph, we pay more taxes than we would without penalties for
cheating, students study more when threatened with low grades, we
are intimidated by pushy, aggressive people, etc. Sometimes we rebel
against threats, or we disregard threats because we are so emotional
(for example in murder cases). But, many "rules" and fines or mildly
critical reminders influence our behavior easily and very effectively
(Miller, 1980). 
Research with alcoholism and homosexuality has had limited
success with avoidance and escape training (Bellack and Hersen,
1977). It is set up so that drinking or unwanted sexual behaviors lead
to nausea or electric shock. The nausea and shock can be avoided by
staying sober and avoiding certain sexual thoughts or actions. The
drop-out-of-therapy rate is high with these problems using threats of
physical punishment, so using similar self-help methods are dubious in
these cases too. However, the threat of mild self-administered shock
associated with taking out a cigarette has been fairly effective. 
The techniques for avoiding an unpleasant situation, e.g. change of
environment or being assertive, have a good rate of success. The
efficacy of creating your own stressful situation and then lowering the
stress by being "good" is not well researched, although it is a common
procedure in diet, exercise, and study programs. We humans are
remarkably adept at disregarding the harmful long range
consequences of over-eating, taking it easy, and putting off studying.
Stressful self-confrontation may be the best solution to getting
ourselves going. 
These negative reinforcement methods can be fairly simple,
especially getting out of bad situations and making up threatening
rules. But, it is not easy to recognize the payoffs for unwanted
behaviors (see method #9) and change those situations. Creating your
own stress may also be hard and should be done with caution. I
suspect that people who are already prone to be overly critical of
themselves are attracted to self-criticism as a self-help method (which
contributes to their problem, not to the solution). 
There may be some risks associated with these methods: if you
build the stress (to be avoided in order to be reinforced), you may
then avoid the threatening situation altogether when it is to your
advantage to stick it out. For example, if you make studying much
more important (by emphasizing the long-range consequences), the
additional stress may result in your partying and drinking more (to
forget the future), instead of studying more. So be sure only desired
behavior is being strengthened by the avoidance of unpleasantness.
Furthermore, creating more stress might be psychologically and
physiologically unhealthy. 
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