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Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

At this point in this document, we've gone over the basic steps involved in self-help planning, have talked about how to go about forming an understanding of the nature of your problems, and have described, at least in outline form, major methods for changing behaviors and thoughts, moods, knowledge and skills, and finally, motivation and identity. What remains now is to help you translate all of this general knowledge into a personalized self-help plan that you can put into action to address your problems.

We described the steps to take in forming a self-help plan at the beginning of this document. Here they are again, reconsidered in light of the material we've now covered. Your task is to follow these steps so as to craft a personalized self-help plan that is likely to work for you. Such a plan should include a carefully chosen selection of change methods that are fitted to the nature of your problems. It should also include well chosen achievable short-term goals and ways of measuring your progress towards those goals so that you always know what you are working towards, and when your work is done (for the time being, anyway - until you set out to address the next short-term goal in the chain of goals that will lead to your meeting your ultimate goal).

Understand your Problem. You cannot address a problem if you don't understand the nature of that problem. Draw upon what you've learned, here in this document and from other sources and explain your problem to yourself. You want to understand what sort of problem you are dealing with by the end of this step, so that you can select methods for addressing that problem that are likely to help.

Describe your problem. Start by writing out a description of your problems. Describe what sort of problems they are (are they thinking problems? Mood problems? Motivation problems?) and also describe how you think they originated, and why you think they keep on being a problem for you. If you have a role in maintaining your problems (and you most likely do), then describe what it is that you do that contributes to the problem.

Address one problem at a time. If you have more than one problem to deal with at a time, then prioritize them and deal with the most pressing problem first, saving the rest for later, after you've made progress with regard to the first problem. The fewer things you try to do at once, the better chance you'll have of actually making progress.

Make vague problems more specific. If the problem you'll be working on is complicated or vaguely stated, see if you can break it down into a set of smaller, more concrete problems that you can work on step by step. Simple problems are easier and more straight forward to address than are complex problems, and less overwhelming too. By breaking your complex problems down into a set of smaller, simpler problems, you'll dramatically enhance your chances of success.

Complex and vaguely stated problems are hard to grasp all at once, and hard to know how to address. An example of a complex and vague problem would be wishing that you were less anxious. It's hard to know exactly what to do to get less anxious. Ask yourself clarifying questions so as to get more specific about the nature of your problem. What specifically makes you feel anxious? Are there specific situations that you want to feel more comfortable in? Identifying a few specific situations will help you get a grip on what to do.

Perhaps you want to feel more comfortable (and less anxious) while speaking in groups while at work. What is it about work groups that makes you feel uncomfortable? What are you worried might happen? It may turn out that you worry that your co-workers think your ideas are stupid. Now you're getting somewhere: You have a thought problem, and a mood problem all at once, and you have identified a specific thought that you can start to take apart and examine using cognitive techniques. The more specific you can make your problem, the better, as more specific problems are far easier to design solutions for than are vaguer problems.