Research Your History

If you want the present to be different from the past, study the past

- Spinoza

Note to the user:  The methods in this section are described in great detail for explanatory purposes.  In practice, you may streamline the processes to suit your tastes and abilities. Please accept the role of responsible puppy trainer and supervise the training so that the challenges your give yourself are large enough to keep you interested, yet small enough to stay safe. If you have a setback or feel demoralized, that is nature's way of telling you to make the steps smaller, and utilize more of the detail described. 

Acquiring willpower is more about increasing your understanding of the cause-and-effect principles that determine your reactions than it is about developing some brute force to resist temptation.  To give your personal research a kick start, you can take advantage of the expensive education in cause-and-effect that you have already paid for, by reviewing your history. The first lapse after a period of control has valuable information to be mined.  Consider what you can learn about these issues by reviewing your past.

  • Your vulnerabilities
  • Thinking errors
  • cause-and-effect principles
  • Patterns of internal states and external events that lead to a first lapse
  • What you would do differently if you had the chance to play it again.
  • Warning signals that can awaken you

The History Review Form, provides a format to study the unfolding pattern of internal states and external events that led to a first lapse. Your history probably includes several different kinds of sequences that have lead to a first lapse.  

Instructions for completing the History Review:

  1. For the first field in this form, see if you can remember and reconstruct an episode during which you had intended to control your incentive use and subsequently lapsed. We are interested in the details of how events and your reactions to them unfolded over time, and to develop hypotheses about what caused what. Please use play-script style for this—that is, write it so naive actors would be able to reproduce the scene from your narrative [voice over's describing thoughts and feelings are encouraged].
  2. The second field asks you to identify moments in the sequence where you could have taken action to disrupt the sequence. Please identify two such moments. The earlier one is call the penultimate moment and the later one is called the ultimate moment.
  3. The third field asks you to identify some cue or signal you can use in the future as a warning signal to tip you off that you are in a high-risk situation, and it is critical that you do something to interrupt the unfolding course of events.

After you have completed the history review, please read it over and make some notes in the Historical Research Worksheet .  You will have two more opportunities to review this episode.  Each time you do you may access more information, please make note of as much of it as you can.  We are seeking to develop a rich, nuanced understanding of how and where you leave your path of greatest advantage and begin following the path that leads to relapse.  We are also interested in discovering the specific moments when you must exercise your will, if you miss the chance the opportunity may be lost.

Thought Experiment: The Dissociative Perspective.
Dissociative imagery refers to the detached perspective—viewing your experience from an external, objective perspective—such as, watching a movie in which a representation of you is on screen, so from your seat in the audience, watching the movie, you would be able to see your face on the screen. For this exercise, you are watching the movie of yourself in the high-risk situation. Create a vivid representation of the physical and social environment. Consider what makes the situation high risk. Observe your actions and responses from my perspective as the psychologist who knows your core motivation and is rooting for you to do what it takes to get it.  You may also may experiment with a coach's perspective shouting out ideas and suggestions from your corner. Notice how different coping responses look as they are executed. In the Historical Research Section, note any additional information that comes to you and any understandings about cause-and-effect, possible coping responses, and especially cues you can use as warning signals. 

Thought Experiment: The Associative Perspective.
For this exercise, repeat the same scenarios as above but this time step into the image instead of observing the action as a spectator. Associative imagery refers to the experiential perspective—that is, seeing the world through the actor’s eyes, so you would only be able to see your face if you were looking into a mirror. Not only would you see through the actors eyes, but you would feel what the actor feels. See if you can bring on the feelings of temptation, anxiety, hopelessness, or any other motivational states that may be implicated in a first lapse.  Experience the actor’s subjective reality. How it feels to be in the high-risk situation—the emotions, internal dialogue, etc.  As above, make your notes in the Historical Research Section.

From this historical research we hope to gather information that will help us to understand and eventually influence the sequence of events that lead to a first lapse. The outcome of each high-risk situation depends, to a large degree, on how early in the sequence you initiate a coping response. If you do recognize the early warning signals and respond to them as intended, you may be too late.


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