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Taking Action is Key

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Because you usually cannot solve troubling issues just by thinking about them, taking action is key to getting any sort of help. This is especially the case with regard to self-help. Just thinking about things that trouble you, but not taking action to change them is likely to be quite ineffective. Even though it is ineffective, the tendency to just think about things that trouble you and avoid taking action to address them is so common that multiple names have been developed to describe it, including "intellectualization", "rumination", and "procrastination", to name but a few. Avoiding taking action on problems is not an effective or useful strategy for self-help because nothing happens when you do this except that your thoughts go round and round. Worry and rumination without action lack a vital ingredient necessary for forward motion and positive change. A car cannot go forward without a transmission, no matter how powerful its engine may be. Like a car without a transmission, avoidance and worry in the absence of an action plan cannot get you where you want to go.

The topic of self-help covers a lot of ground. There are many different ways of helping yourself overcome problems, and not all of them will appear at first glance to be therapeutic. Doing your own taxes, fixing your own car or even serving yourself at a buffet lunch are all legitimate and useful self-help activities that can make your feel better about yourself. These are rather simple, narrow and specific activities, however, when compared with mental health and life-improvement oriented self-help efforts which are usually more complex in nature, requiring multiple actions and efforts to be coordinated before a benefit can be obtained. A typical mental health self-help effort requires you to pay attention, make an emotional investment in change, perform one or more self-assessments, educate yourself about your problem(s), consider multiple alternative possible actions for addressing your problem(s), decide on a specific plan of action (selected from the alternatives available) which seems most likely to be helpful, and then finally commit and dedicate yourself to executing that self-help plan. All of this must be done before you will see any significant relief or results. These multiple components of a sound mental health self-help plan probably sound very complicated, but please rest easy; self-help isn't really that hard to do or to understand. There is a method to the madness and that method is largely based on common sense. This will hopefully become apparent as we consider the follow example showing how one man named Bob builds himself a self-help plan to help himself solve a difficult relationship issue.