reinforcement and they decry the idea of increasing our "will power."
They point out, as I have, that much self-help advice is very simple
and unquestionably correct: stop procrastinating by "planning your
time," lose weight by "eating less," be successful by "studying more,"
etc. But such advice is often inane--useless--because it can't be
followed, our will power just isn't strong enough to make the changes.
Often, though, they say that if you understood the forces that block
your good intentions, you could counter those forces and do what you
want to do. This is a cognitive (insight) approach to self-control of your
behavior. Let's see if it helps to describe five different kinds of blocks.
First, a strong force in the environment may block our intended or
desired behavior; it overpowers our will. We often know exactly what
these forces are; we recognize them as constant temptations, e.g. a
strong attraction to desserts ruins our diet, a desire to have fun keeps
us from getting our work done, an angry reaction to someone causes
us to say things we shouldn't, an urge to buy clothes overdraws our
account, etc. When these forces overwhelm our best intentions, we
say, "I'm weak willed," "I'm lazy," "I'm selfish," etc. It may be neat in
a way that there are so many strong forces in the world--things we
want and enjoy, physical, hormonal, and genetic drives, social needs,
compelling emotions, and on and on. But, these forces frequently
crush our self-control, and that's not so neat.
This notion of blocks is obvious; however, it isn't easy to assess
the strength of the blocks or your "will power." How successful do you
feel your will power has been in overcoming the blocks (temptations
and distractions)? These authors say will power is frequently weak,
usually over-estimated and a false hope. Instead of "will," we have to
use our brain--our knowledge of self-help--to devise ways of avoiding
or containing these strong forces. There are lots of such methods;
most are in this book.
Secondly, in contrast with the forces mentioned above that we are
keenly aware of, Lipson and Perkins (1990) contend that some strong
forces are hidden from us and, thus, since we can't combat them
handily, they easily block our intentional behavior. We know the forces
are there because we see the results. Examples: Our hot attraction to
someone turns cold (we don't know why but perhaps he/she is coming
on too strong or getting too dependent). Our grades in chemistry are
D's and F's (we have the ability but maybe we fail because medicine is
dad's choice, not ours). We have a short fuse with our spouse without
sufficient reason and without knowing why (maybe because we feel
taken for granted or got a lousy assignment at work). We don't want
to turn cold, fail chemistry, or have a fight. But things like this happen
to all of us; hidden forces are the cause. To understand these blocks,
we must seriously search for the reasons, the hidden forces. When we
think we have found the reasons, we must carefully question and
critically assess the explanation (because we are prone to self-
deception). Are the conjectured forces really there? Are they powerful
enough to block our desired behavior? When we accurately see the