Psychological Self-Help

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Langer (1989) reminds us that many of our actions are "mindless,"
i.e. done automatically without weighing the rationality or the pros and
cons for the action before responding. Rather than mindless, it may be
more accurate to label a good bit of our behavior as self-deceptive or
self-conning. For instance, when asked "why are you doing that?"
people frequently give an explanation quickly and confidently, but it is
often inaccurate (they overlook important factors or are unaware of
some response they made and so on). Likewise, people have lots of
silly ideas and feelings about their own behavior, such as "I can tell
when someone is looking at me" or "I think I have a pretty good
chance of winning the lottery." We could also cite as foolish the denial
of alcoholics, smokers, over-eaters, non-studying students and others.
In any case, whether we are just unthinking about what we are doing
or unwittingly fooling ourselves, Langer's point is that greater
awareness (mindfulness) is needed for more rational self-direction and
greater self-control. Freud would say we haven't learned much yet; we
still need to become aware of our conscious and unconscious
cognition, including repression, rationalization, denial and other
defense mechanisms. 
There may be some behavioral habits that have little or no
cognitive, emotional, or unconscious aspects, such as brushing your
teeth, tying your shoes, walking, breathing and so on. But, as we
learned in chapter 2, most behaviors are influenced by other parts of
the problem, e.g. eating when anxious or bored, smoking or drinking
to relax, procrastinating to avoid work, socializing when we need
pleasure, avoiding hard tasks because we think we can't do it, learning
new skills when we feel inadequate, setting low goals so we won't feel
too disappointed if we don't do well, etc. Consequently, you can't fully
understand most human behavior without considering many factors:
environment, perception of the situation, consequences of our
behavior, learning from previous experience, emotions, needs and
level of motivation, knowledge and skills, values and life goals, plans
and intentions, expectations, self-deception, unconscious processes,
genetic and physiological or hormonal factors, and possibly many,
many more variables. All at once! 
In the 1940's and 1950's, psychologists thought they would
develop one learning theory based largely on rats and pigeons which
would explain all human behavior. Not likely! But learning is very
important. Almost everything we do, feel, or think is learned. Learning
is usually necessary for changing--changing your behavior, changing
your mind, changing your awareness, etc. This 100-billion-neuron-
brain of ours with 1000 growing, changing synapses on each neuron
and over 50 chemical neurotransmitters interacting in each synapse
enables some wonderfully complex behavior and thoughts. No
computer comes close to matching the human brain. Two and a half
pounds of fantastic living matter that can, hopefully, study and
understand itself. What a phenomenon! 
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