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Want to Stop some Bad Habit? Do it MORE.

I studied psychology during my undergrad and graduate program in the USA. I was fascinated by persons with mental disability, having worked in a seniors care home and interacting with elderly with Alzheimer’s disease and many other maladies. I was even lucky enough to have an elderly aunt, 87 stay at my family’s home while I was there saving money to attend college in Miami.

My aunt had a bit of dementia, I’d say “moderate to profound”… but she also had these hallucinations and delusions that occurred once in a while to bring a little excitement around the house. The devil was on the left shoulder and Jesus was on her right shoulder and both were telling her what to do… Quite an exciting time during these episodes, I don’t need to tell you.

My aunt could be the subject of 17 whole blog posts by herself, but that wouldn’t be appropriate for this blog!

Psychology is so fascinating to me because it WORKS. It absolutely works in most situations to either alleviate the problem entirely or to lessen it to manageable levels. I’m not a proponent of drug therapy too often, but there are definitely cases that call for it. There is no other way to treat chemical imbalances in the brain sometimes than by adding chemicals. That’s the way it is and I’m OK with that. It is a horrible thing to see a relative zombied out on Lithium or it’s substitutes, but would you (and the person) rather live with the alternative?

I love the idea of psychological intervention because it’s “talk therapy”. It’s one person saying something to another… or maybe even one person saying it to him or herself that can cause change inside the mind. Changes in mood, behavior, actions can all be affected just by talking.

Going through my grad program I was introduced to some rather radical psychologists. One that stands out in my mind was “Milton Erickson”, an M.D. who lived between 1901 and 1980..

Dr Erickson was a proponent of the “Prescribing the Symptom” methodology of psychological treatment. It’s an incredibly simple and effective idea that has worked for me countless times both in therapeutic relationships and personal relationships throughout my life.

Dr. Erickson’s first official client came to him because he was addicted to pornography and masturbation. He already was masturbating 10 to 15 times per day, so Dr. Erickson told him to “double it”. He told the client he wanted him to do it a minimum of 30 times per day.

The poor client called the next day with problems of impotence. PROBLEM SOLVED!

The technique is THAT powerful. Why it works in my opinion is that by prescribing the symptom the subject is getting permission to do something even more than he / she was before. That takes the power away from the behavior… in this case, the masturbation. Things we “shouldn’t” do have power in our culture. But, the behavior could be overeating, over-smoking, over-sleeping, anything. The technique can be applied in creative ways and to most behaviors that you wish to eradicate.

Exaggerating the behavior can have the effect of making the individual more aware of just how damaging the behavior is. NOBODY does a negative behavior so much that it’s too much to stand. This is one way to approach therapy to get rid of a behavior. Prescribe more of the behavior that the person wishes to be rid of to bring it up to the level of serious hurt, pain, disgust, or other negative threshold that becomes too much to bear.

Here is another case from Dr. Erickson’s files. A 24 year old man came to him complaining that he couldn’t get accepted into the Army because he wet the bed every night between 4 and 5 am. Dr. Erickson told him that he must set the alarm clock for 3 am. But, there’s more… He told him at 3 am. when the alarm clock sounds, he needs to stand up and relieve himself all over the bed and sheets deliberately for one week.

The problem disappeared completely.

In an earlier post on this blog I wrote somewhat humorously about how someone could go about stopping smoking using Aversive therapy in an extreme way. In a sense this is similar to prescribing the symptom because you are going to do the action that you wish to stop MORE, not less.

Doesn’t it make sense that if you are trying and trying to stop something that you should try the opposite and see what happens? Applying the same kind of treatment over and over and getting no results, something must change. It can change radically or in small ways, but it MUST change, yes? It may not make logical sense to change your attempts and go in the complete opposite direction – and along the same lines as what the malevolent behavior is… But, it works!

Can you use this for anything? Think about it!
I’m going to set aside some time in a few minutes after posting this to my blog to come up with some areas of my life I can apply this incredible concept to.

Best of Life!

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5 thoughts on “Want to Stop some Bad Habit? Do it MORE.

  • at 11:36 am

    Hello Vern,

    Saw your name on my bloglog community and made a quick visit to your site. However, I just got inspired with your photos and also your fascinating writings. Like you, I am also a Psych graduate but has been working in the IT & Telecom field for so many years now. I am still wondering myself how I got into this tech stuff… But like they say life happens. Good luck to you and all your endeavors. Keep on writing and taking photos. May I add you to my “Must See/Visit” links on my blog? Thanks!!!

  • at 7:12 pm

    Thanks Serey! I appreciate that you’re reading and hope you find a lot to do at the site. Funny how many psych graduates go into something else for their career… or switch later. Psych is good for that. It’s SO interesting that it’s hard to pass up an opportunity to study and learn a lot about human behavior. Why we do what we do.

    Now that I’m mostly writing I couldn’t imagine doing something else. Tech is great fun – but I’ve had my fun over the years. I do think about getting back into the mental health field again on some level – not for money – just for the reward. There were SO Many rewards working with kids in the big brother programs. Someday…


    Best of LIFE! Vern

  • at 8:32 pm

    Hi Vern,
    This makes total sense to me. I used to smoke and I actually quit twice before quitting for good. But each time I decided to quit, I smoked twice as much the night before so that I’d be good and sick of it the next day and not want a cigarette. It worked perfectly. I quit cold turkey all three times and really didn’t have a problem with it (I only went back to it the first two times because something happened to upset me in my life and I decided to smoke again, not because I HAD to). And I’ve never gone back to it in 27 years now that I quit for good. But the aversion method does work. Now if only it worked with food!

  • at 9:12 am

    I actually tried this, a few years back when I decided I was eating way too much. I bought a whole bunch of really good foods and ate until I got sick with the intent that it’d stop my occasional binges entirely.
    It backfired. I mean, I ate pretty lightly for the next week, it’s true. The experience it didn’t change my attitudes any though. It was just an unpleasant experience. I learned something important about myself with the attempt, though. I really love eating.

    I’m glad I did it, even though it apparently failed. Removing my attention from efforts to reduce the behaviour and putting said attention to ways to ameliorate it was a good thing. I sloughed off a source of stress and started exercising more to counteract my calorie-intense ways. I stopped gaining weight and gained a lot of endurance.
    I’m still fat, but I’ve accepted that negative to go along with the positive of eating delicious food. And I can bike 50 miles over hilly terrain!

    • at 10:12 am

      Unless you count 20 minutes of sitting in front of computer porn everyday, I’ve never really had a problem with anything addictive. I’ve definitely never seen a need to stop any computer porn viewing as I’m fine with that. Reality is – well, I don’t need to tell you I’m sure.

      I think with eating – it’s a different beast. You’d have to target specific things that you binge on and that you can’t seem to stop yourself from eating – if you deem it to be a problem. I used to also do 50-100 miles in the hills on the bike and I’ll tell you, eating a quart of Haagen Dazs coffee flavored ice cream was not any sort of issue in my mind at all. It was a necessity to replace the 3000 calories I just burned.

      If you eat a jar of peanut butter every other day – and you’re morbidly and cantankerously obese (mad about it) then you might call it a problem. You might sprinkle ashes from your cigarettes into the peanut butter and force yourself to eat a jar. You might pair a spoonfull of peanut butter with a swig of some rank whiskey each time you get the urge. Can you eat a whole jar now? If the scenario gets more attractive to you after you’ve done it once – that’s a clue that it’s not aversive enough to you and you need to change the game up a little bit or you’re going to seriously destroy yourself.

      I think if you really want to stop some behavior – you need to pair it with something that is so gut-wrenchingly disgusting that you couldn’t possibly want to do the behavior again. There are such things – few of us push it to that limit when trying to get a handle on an issue.

      And, again, I’m with you on this – I love to bike far because I can eat whatever I want.


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