EACH YEAR, hundreds of "revolutionary" self-help books, articles, groups, and programs appear on a wide range of human stressors. Publishers and producers keep churning them out because (1) the old ones don't work for long, and (2) the needy, hopeful public keeps the cash registers ringing.

A classic example is the ceaseless hawking of new "miracle" diets and weight-loss books, programs, videos, and articles. Some of these may actually promote losing unwanted pounds for awhile - but the flab often comes back or increases.

The urgency to find a lasting cure for "emotional eating" and burgeoning cellulite is increasing in America, as is the tragic incidence of juvenile and adult obesity and diabetes.


As a fledgling psychotherapist in the early 1980s, I had an epiphany reading a book by several family-therapy pioneers - Paul Watzlawic, Richard Fisch, and John Weakland. They described and applied a concept originated (I think) by Norbert Weiner, the "father of cybernetics." They called the concept "first-order and second-order change."

The concept proposes two levels of human behavioral change - one is temporary, and the other is permanent. Examples: addicts who gain temporary sobriety and relapse repeatedly, vs. addicts who quit "for good."

Second-order (pemanent) behavioral changes occur after a voluntary shift in basic values and attitudes. This often happens after "hitting (true) bottom" - often in mid-life. First-order changes alter *behaviors,* but not core attitudes. That's why the pounds, drugs, wrinkles, nail-biting, procrastination, codependence, pornography, smoking, shoplifting, and unhealthy lifestyles return - again and again.

This is old news. The deeper question that the master therapists above did not answer (to my knowledge) is "Why can't average people change their attitudes via logic and willpower (or fear)?"


Chicago psychologist Dr. Richard Schwartz and colleagues provided a credible answer for me almost 20 years ago. They proposed that normal (vs. "pathological") personalities are composed of "parts" or "subselves" that are like the talented members of a unique orchestra or sports team. Each subself has it's own skills, limits, worldview, goals, and values. One universal subself is inherently wise and skilled as an inner leader - our true Self.

When your team of well-meaning subselves trusts the judgment of this leader, you make basic attitude shifts and corresponding *permanent* (second-order) behavioral changes. For example, you *want to* change your attitude and values about self-nurturance and healthy eating and exercise. Result - the pounds melt and stay off.

If other subselves control your personality (a false self), you relapse, grow older, more frustrated, and discouraged; and shop for an expensive new, improved self-help remedy.

It probably won't work either - unless the promoters propose an effective way to get your subselves to trust and follow your true Self. This IS feasible. As a veteran internal family systems therapist, I have seen scores of average women and men intentionally reorganize their inner (and outer) families, and benefit in many ways - including permanently changing "bad habits".


In evaluating your next Self-help guru, miracle product, shaman, philosophy, or program, if the advertising doesn't describe a credible way to reorganize your subselves and shift your core attitudes (make second-order changes) - don't buy it. Look in the book index for "attitudes, ways to change your;" "personality subselves;" and "changes, first and second order."


Notice your thoughts and feelings now, and recall why you read this article. Which of your tireless subselves is causing your reactions? If you're skeptical about (your) subselves, read this. Then try this safe, interesting exercize.

Does this idea help explain your (and many others') failed New Years' resolutions, and why "The road to hell is paved with good intentions"?

For more perspective and options on empowering your true Self, see http://sfhelp.org/gwc/guide1.htm

Author's Bio: 

I have studied human change and facilitated it in over 1,000 average men and women since 1979. I learned to do "parts work" from Dr. Richard Schwartz, and have witnessed it's power for desired change in many average adults and kids. My book "Who's *Really* Running Your Life? (Xlibris, 2002, 2nd ed.) describes what I've learned about freeing your true Self. So does "Lesson 1" in my nonprofit Website: http://sfhelp.org/gwc/guide1.htm