Psychological Self-Help

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A body of research shows that there are a series of stages in
changing. The best summary is Prochaska, DiClemente, & Norcross
(1992) or Prochaska, Norcross & DiClemente (1994). In the first stage,
I'll call it "avoidance," we just don't think about the problem, even
though it is perfectly clear to others. Or, we may briefly wish to
change but have no serious intentions or plans for changing. Often, we
blame others for the problem and resist change or believe we can't do
anything about it. We must move to the next stage, call it
"contemplation," before we can begin to change. In this stage we
become more aware of the problem and we think about changing, but
we haven't definitely decided to do something about it yet. We may
wonder if change is worth the effort; we should weigh the pros and
cons of changing. Many people remain in this stage for a long time
(smokers for an average of two years). To actually change, however,
we must move to the next two stages of commitment, called
"planning" and "action." When we make explicit plans, we have
decided to take action soon. We may have already tried to change and
want to try again. Ideally, we will not obsess too long with
understanding the problem and developing a perfect treatment plan; it
is important to actually start changing. In the "action" stage we stick
with an effective plan until we reach our goals. The last stages are
"maintenance," in which after making gains we do whatever is
necessary to avoid relapse, and "termination." 
When you realize that many decisions lie between the having-a-
problem-but-not- admitting-it-stage and the I'm-going-to-change-
myself-with-these-methods-stage, you begin to understand the
extensive knowledge needed for self-control. You need to know the
steps in change and the barriers to change; you also need to master
many useful self-help methods, which include self-motivational
techniques. Consider the massive numbers of us that can't get started
changing. For instance, among smokers, it is estimated that only
about 10% are ready to take action, 35% are in "contemplation," and
55% are in "avoidance." That accounts for 70% of smokers saying
they would like to join a stop smoking program but only 3-5% actually
signing up and taking action. The "no shows" had not prepared
themselves for action yet. Just look around you, notice how many
people are overweight and out of shape. Students want to study but
don't get it done. They don't want to be that way; they just can't get
themselves to the DO SOMETHING stage. You must honestly ask
yourself if that isn't your problem too. Do you know some problem
exists, but you just haven't decided to attack the problem directly and
forcefully yet? 
If so, then your first job is to get motivated and overcome your
fears of changing. You need to decide for sure that a particular
problem must be faced and conquered. You need to realize you may
lose certain pleasures when you give up a bad habit. You may need to
"psych yourself up." You may need encouragement. You certainly need
to accentuate the positive reasons for changing. There is evidence that
impulsive action on a self-help plan is likely to fail (1) if you do not
have acute awareness of the probable benefits and losses, (2) if you
try to change without an hopeful, exciting plan (including some faith in
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