Psychological Self-Help

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Three steps are needed for us to be in self-control. First, we need
"standards," i.e. to know what we want to do or should do. Second, we
need to be aware if our behavior is failing to meet our standards.
Third, we need to be able to correct our behavior when it becomes
sub-standard (this is what the ordinary person would often call "will
power"). Failure in any of the three steps will lead to poor self-control:
if we don't know where we are going, if we don't pay attention to see if
we are getting there, and if we don't know how (or don't have the
strength--see blocks) to get back on track if we get lost. 
Here are some of the more common ways we lose self-control: we
set no goals or impossible goals; we lose control or don't pay attention
to our goals or to our behavior; we quit because we get tired or
stressed and weakened; we attend to our immediate situation and
needs overlooking long-range goals; we misjudge what is important to
do; we focus on calming our emotions but neglect doing our tasks or
solving our problems; we become obsessed with protecting our egos
and neglect getting the job done; we let the initial failure lead to a
"snowballing" of many failures (see relapse prevention below); we
believe in venting our feelings rather than in eliminating the emotions;
we decide we are helpless or bad and stop trying in order to avoid
further failure. 
Solutions to losing self-control? Set goals, monitor your progress
carefully, reward desired behavior, and practice self-control and in the
process learn as much as possible about the self-help methods that
work for you. As Baumeister, Heatherton & Tice explain, one barrier to
gaining this self-knowledge is that most people don't really want to
know a lot of accurate information about themselves. Our species
prefers to be told positive things or, at most, be told negative things
they already believe about themselves. We resolutely avoid accurate
self-knowledge about our weaknesses. The more we can overcome this
I-don't-want-to-know-the-truth trait, the better we can gain self-
control. 
Preventing unwanted behavior. Is it really within our powers?
Just as it is hard to start a new habit, it is hard to stop an old one.
In fact, some behaviors are thought to be unpreventable, i.e. beyond
our ability to control with "willpower" or self-help techniques. Many
feel this way about drinking alcohol; some do about eating, smoking,
and even procrastination. When we add an awareness that genetic,
metabolic, physiological, unconscious, and environmental factors as
well as underlying emotions affect our reaction to drinking, food,
smoking, coffee, soft drinks, sugar, etc., it shakes our faith (rightly so)
in self-control. There is evidence, for instance, that alcoholics
chemically process alcohol differently from nonalcoholics (Heilman,
film). Alcoholism is called a "disease," implying that it is an
unstoppable physical disorder, treatable only by physicians or a Higher
section and Stanton Peele's books (Peele & Brodsky, 1991). For the
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