Most of psychology is descriptive; for understanding, look for
As you read more and more, keep in mind that general psychology
textbooks tend to be 95% descriptive and only 5% prescriptive, i.e.
academic psychology observes, surveys, describes development, and
reports on experiments to prove and disprove theories, but it doesn't
tell you much about how to solve common problems (you usually have
to figure that out yourself). There are thousands of volumes describing
and attempting to theoretically explain human behavior in an
experimental lab. In this book, I have pulled together only the most
useful prescriptive information and summarized it. In each chapter, I
have also cited the better, more prescriptive references. I urge you to
become a reader for self-understanding (see chapters 14 and 15).
Reading useful psychological information can have a tremendous
impact on your life. Give it a try, but I want to repeat a caution: don't
get so involved in understanding--it can be addictive--that you forget
to, or put off, actually trying to change. The key words are, "DO
SOMETHING! If it doesn't work, try something else." If you don't use
what you read within a day or two, you will probably lose it. Keep up
your motivation so you can move on to making specific goals and
plans for changing
Avoid these additional pitfalls: wanting to know everything before
trying to change, worrying more than planning how to change, hoping
for some easy way to change, etc. Continue to reduce your opposition
to changing: accept that change takes time and effort, accept that you
might fail, accept that the changes may result in the loss of some
friends and pleasures. Decide to pay the price for the improvement.
Prochaska, Norcross & DiClemente (1994) say that our motivation
to change can often be increased by arousing certain emotions.
Examples: Bad habits, although immediately pleasurable, often harm
our lives. This long-term self-destruction should make us mad. You
can arrange for experiences that emphasize the need to change, e.g.
try running (very slowly!) around the block if you are overweight,
calculate how much you spend per year on alcohol or cigarettes or
excess food, video yourself getting drunk or bingeing, etc. Create your
own negative fantasies about the long-range consequences of your
problem, e.g. imagine becoming so fat you can't make love, fat
clogging your arteries, how your negative attitude and anger drives
everyone away, etc. Looking steadily and honestly at our own gloomy
predicted future can propel us to change.
As you work through the steps of self-help, you are likely to get
more motivated to change. You will read about and measure the
problem, set goals, think about the causes of the problem, wonder
what methods will help, develop a good self-help plan, think about
how good you will feel about yourself if you change and how bad you
will feel if you don't change; all these things add motivation. Seek out