Psychological Self-Help

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automatically and immediately apply an "I couldn't help it" defense of
the ego (and optimistically take on the next challenge). 
On the other hand, Cantor describes the high achieving
"defensive pessimist" as defending his/her self-esteem before the
test, not afterwards. Such a student expects to do poorly or, at least,
anticipates a variety of possible stumbling blocks. He/she works very
hard, preparing especially well for the anticipated difficulties. He/she
uses the high test anxiety and stress as motivators, not as something
to avoid, and then takes an "I expected it" attitude towards the rare
failure that does occur (and with anxious excitement systematically
attacks the next challenge). This strategy is very different from the
pessimistic student who "bad mouths" him/herself after a failure: "I'm
such an idiot," "I'm so lazy," etc. Such a pessimist is likely to gradually
lower his/her expectations and goals, and perform more and more
poorly until eventually becoming a total pessimist who has no hope,
expects to fail and, therefore, doesn't try. 
Both the "illusory glow" optimist and the "defensive" pessimist are
challenged by hard tasks; achieving is important, gratifying, and
absorbing for them; they see themselves as having considerable
control over the situation and stick with the task, even though it is
hard and occasionally disappointing. Compare these achievers with the
underachievers described later. 
The incentive we feel depends on how attractive the possible
outcomes are to us personally (relative to how unattractive the
possible risks are to us). Each major task, such as becoming a winning
tennis player, learning to play an instrument, completing high school
math through Advanced Calculus, asking a really appealing person for
a date, getting a BA with honors, going to medical school, or raising
two children, provides a enormous range of possible payoffs, some
more appealing to us than others. The more likely we feel we are to
succeed in #2, and the more appealing, important, the-right-thing-to-
do, exciting, or wonderful the eventual goal, the more drive and
enthusiasm we have about the activity. 
In summary
How motivated we are depends on (1) the strength of fairly
consistent motives or needs inside of us, (2) our expectation of what
outcomes certain actions will produce, and (3) how badly at this time
we want a certain payoff over all the other wants we have and over
the risks we face. The needs, expectations, and incentives are mostly
learned; together these factors (our motivation) largely determine
what we do and how far we get in life. Although the past experiences
related to these factors are unalterable, these factors that influence
our lives so enormously can be changed by us. That's the beauty of
being human. What does the theory about achievement needs tell us
about self-help? Let's consider John, the procrastinator, again. 
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