Psychological Self-Help

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Even though I'm aware that what I originally really liked and
needed was socializing with good looking women, not coffee, I am still
35 years later compelled to have a cup in the morning (only at the
office because coffee drinking is under environmental control). I've
learned to like it (and I still like women too). Indeed, coffee can now
be used to change my reaction to something else. For example, if I
now started to eat nutritious but terrible tasting diet cookies with my
coffee, I would come to like the cookies after hundreds of associations
together (this is higher order conditioning). In turn, the cookies could
subsequently influence my reaction to something else, and on and on. 
In my case, coffee was paired with satisfaction of social needs.
Cigarettes are often paired with relaxation, alcohol with fun activities,
nail-biting with relief of anxiety while alone, work and study with the
reduction of anxiety, etc. If coffee, cigarettes, and alcohol are paired
thousands of times with relaxing, then these behaviors become
capable of calming us down. The body, in its wisdom, will start to use
these habits as a relaxant when we are up tight. Thus, research shows
that feeling stressed and helpless causes a smoker to want a cigarette
more than just smelling the smoke and seeing that a cigarette and ash
tray are available. With this understanding, it isn't surprising that
heavy smokers are more likely to be depressed and anxious than light
smokers or non-smokers. And, bulimic women report more sexual
abuse than non-bulimic women. Classical conditioning connects
feelings with environmental cues and with behaviors. 
The examples above involve mostly taste but many other things
which we come to have a reaction to (but didn't originally) are
conditioned: the music we like, the social activities we like and dislike,
the people we like and dislike, the way we like to dress, the desire to
be the center of attention, the reluctance to approach the opposite
sex, the work we like and dislike, etc. Obviously, these subtle
preferences may have an enormous impact on our lives. 
Pavlov's experiments dramatically demonstrated the environment's
control over behavior. We are highly responsive to cues in our
environment. We see dessert and can't avoid eating it. We act
differently with our mother than we act with our boy/girlfriend. We
have a place where we can really concentrate and study. We feel
uptight goofing off and get back to work. In fact, classical conditioning
is involved in almost everything we do (even though brushing your
teeth isn't the emotional high point of your day, notice how you feel if
you don't brush your teeth at the regular time). Thus, changing our
environment is one of the most effective self-help methods (see ch.
11). Changing our reaction to the environment is another self-help
approach based on classical conditioning methods. Indeed, learning to
reduce our fears and other unwanted emotions is a major part of
gaining control over your life (see ch. 12). 
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