Psychological Self-Help

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does not result in as many sit-ups as "do 10% more sit-ups than you
did last time." On the other hand, overly demanding, perfectionistic
goals are more likely to lead to failure, disappointment, and giving up
(see chapter 6). It may not be easy to find the optimal middle ground
between too hard (seeking perfection) and too easy (not trying hard
enough) goals; try both extremes until you find what serves you best. 
Guidelines for goals: your goals should be truly yours, not
someone else's. Goals based on "I should" or "I ought to" are not as
motivating as goals based on "I want to..." Negative goals that state
what you do not want to do (eat too much, get mad, feel sad, etc.) are
not nearly as clear and motivating as positive goals (I will eat 1000
calories per day, make "I" statements instead of getting mad, and
accentuate positive thoughts instead of pessimistic ones). Our goals
should be stated in terms of specific behaviors at specific times under
specific conditions, not just "I want better self-esteem." Sub-goals
usually seem more reachable if they form a series of gradual steps,
rather than one giant leap. Understanding your feelings is a
commendable goal but gaining understanding frequently doesn't solve
all your problems; often you must learn to act differently as well as
understand. Try to do less of what doesn't work (often what comes
naturally) and do things differently; hopefully, more of what works. To
set doable goals means you have to know how to change--how to get
from where you are to where you want to be. Sometimes this means
you must know what methods will work (see next step) or you will
have to use your determination or "will" to change, e.g. stop nagging,
be a better empathic listener, use "I" instead of "you" statements, etc.
Self-confidence that you can accomplish each of your sub-goals is an
important part of your motivation and your reaching your long-range
goals. But if your "I-can-do-it" attitude is an illusion, then you will fail
and your confidence decline. 
Your self-help goals should, ideally, be within your control (the
outcome is not). That may seem obvious but goals get confused with
values or wishes. For example, "I want to be happy" is a very
reasonable condition to hope for in life. But our happiness is
determined by so many things, many of which are beyond our control.
So, as a goal of a self-help project, happiness probably wouldn't be as
good as some specific, more controllable act, emotion, skill, thought,
or awareness that would probably help "make us happy." Of course, a
lot of very desirable goals are not entirely within our control: your
grade in Physics, your total sales this year, your love life, your health,
etc. On the other hand, we are perfectly able to decide how many
hours a day we study Physics, how many sales contacts we make or
the skills we use with customers, how much we criticize our spouse or
how many fun things we do together, and how stressed we are or how
much saturated fat we eat. We can have fairly good control over these
things. We can only expect to partially control our behavior, not the
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