Chapter 2 of Dr. Clayton Tucker Ladd's online book Psychological Self Help discusses ways we talk ourselves out of changing. Here are two paragraphs from his book about this.
What are the barriers we need to overcome in the process of "just deciding?" For the person who hardly thinks about making a needed change, the common barriers are (1) a reluctance to admit the problem ("I'm only 10 pounds overweight," "I'm just big boned," "It came from having babies," "My wife is overweight too," etc.). (2) Rebellion against pressure ("I hate it that Mom makes me study before dinner," "I like the way I've been teaching, this new cooperative education is nonsense," "I hate it when he/she mentions my weight when we are making love," etc.). (3) Resignation to staying the same ("I can't do anything about it," "I've tried to quit a 1000 times," etc.). (4) Rationalizing that the problem behavior is really all right ("I know smoking isn't good for you but I only smoke 15 a day and usually I don't inhale and I smoke "light" cigarettes and I didn't start until I was 25 and my grandpa smoked 2 packs a day until he was 95 and I need them to relax but I'm going to quit!"). These are the kind of obstacles you face--they are powerful.
What can we do about our avoidance and denial? First, we can become aware of our use of excuses and mental tricks to avoid changing. Certain personalities consistently use specific defenses, e.g. if someone said something demeaning about you and you responded by laughing it off or saying "they didn't really mean it--no big deal," you are probably prone to use denial or minimization. If you responded by saying "that person is just mean-spirited, besides you can't please everybody--these things happen" or "there are deep psychological reasons why he/she said what he/she did," you are a rationalizer or an intellectualizer. If you boiled over, verbally or physically attacking the person or assuming they are totally evil, you are "externalizing" the causes of the problem. If you became self-critical and felt blamable for his/her opinion, you are "internalizing" the causes of the problem. In short, learn what defense mechanisms you use (see chapter 15) and do something about it, e.g. force yourself to face upsetting problems, avoid explaining away criticism of you, empathize with others (even critics), find less destructive ways to vent your anger, avoid feeling totally responsible for every bad happening, etc.
For more about rationalization see the self deception page on this web site. Chapter 4 of Dr. Clayton Tucker Ladd's online book Psychological Self Help discusses ways we can change our behaviors. He writes that during the 1960s and 70s the approach of reinforcement became very popular with psychologists. He explains that:
The basic idea, straight from Thorndike, is seductively simple: reward the behavior you desire in others or in yourself.
Notice that the idea of punishing others for doing an undesirable behavior is not mentioned. Punishment can lead to rebellion against doing the desired behavior as well as other negative consequences. If one wants to motivate oneself it's probably best to reward oneself with self praise and to avoid punishing oneself with self criticism. One can create incentive for oneself by thinking about the rewards that will come if one engages in a desired behavior. Rob Gilbert put it thus:
Losers visualize the penalties of failure. Winners visualize the rewards of success.
Steps one can take to help bring about a change are:
If one is trying to lose weight the general plan of I'll eat less and exercise more is less likely to work than the plan, I'll count my calories and make sure they are less than a certain amount and I'll do an hour of jogging every day. If one assesses one's progress of weight loss by weighing oneself each day one is more likely to succeed than if one just hopes the weight is coming off. If we assess our progress we know if we have to do more and we are encouraged to stay the course when we lose a few pounds. One way to become aware of one's rationalizations (in the case of dieting) is to ask oneself what one was thinking before one munched on that forbidden snack.
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