Cognitive Behavioral Strategies

Lynne S. Gots, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist

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202-331-1566

2440 M Street, NW
Suite 710
Washington, DC 20037

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Why You Don’t Need Willpower to Change a Habit

By Lynne Gots, posted on December 27th, 2017.

There’s no shortage of advice this time of year about eating clean and getting ripped. And while the prospect of a new you in the new year can be seductive, especially after a month of overindulgence, I’m not a fan of restrictive diets or New Year’s resolutions. They simply don’t work over the long haul.

Any rigid regimen carries with it the whiff of deprivation, of restraint, of saying “no” when your mind wants you to say “yes.” The key, we’re told, is willpower.

Just say no. Just do it.

Let’s be real. If it were so easy to turn away from that donut or force yourself out the door on a dark, frigid January morning to go to spinning class, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

We know from research that willpower is a limited resource. Over time, with repeated use, it becomes depleted, just like any energy source. And the moments when we most need it—say, after a stressful workday at happy hour when the margaritas are $5 and the queso and chips beckon—it’s gone.

So I suggest changing the narrative. It’s too easy to throw in the towel when you tell yourself, “I don’t have any willpower.” Those words render you powerless in the face of overwhelming forces beyond your control.

Instead of recruiting willpower to help you pursue your goals, consider building willingness power.

Willingness starts with motivation. Begin by looking at the costs and benefits of the behavior you want to change. If you want to improve your diet, for instance (notice I didn’t say “eat clean”), pay particular attention to what you get from the undesired habit. The costs will be readily apparent to you. But the benefits? Not so much.

To get you started, here are some real-life examples of the benefits of overeating (continuing to eat past the point of satiety or even to discomfort) I’ve heard over the years:

  • It relaxes me.
  • I enjoy the taste of food.
  • It keeps me from feeling bored/ lonely.
  • It’s social.
  • I don’t like rules.
  • I deserve a reward.
  • It passes the time.

Then look at the costs (I’ll bet you won’t have any trouble coming up with a long list) and review them daily or more frequently if necessary. Remind yourself why it’s worth it to forego all the positive associations with the behavior you want to change in order to achieve your goal.

In a nutshell, willingness means being open to feeling short-term discomfort for long-term gain. It’s a useful skill to cultivate, and not just for sticking with a diet or exercise plan but for all the challenges life brings.

So in 2018, ditch the idea of willpower and practice willingness power. You’ll be laying a more solid foundation for success.




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Posted in Goals, Motivation, Techniques |

OCD By Any Other Name . . .Is Just OCD

By Lynne Gots, posted on December 1st, 2017.

OCD is a shape-shifter. Its content often changes, especially with primarily internal obsessions and compulsions (involving thoughts about harm, sexual orientation, and relationships). For many with the disorder, addressing the ever changing obtrusive thoughts is like playing Whack-a-Mole.

The internet is full of articles about “hOCD,”(OCD about sexual orientation), “rOCD,” (OCD about the “rightness” of a relationship) and “Pure O” (obsessions in the absence of compulsions) OCD. Although these designations can be appealing if you’re trying to make sense of distressing thoughts, I find this alphabet-soup approach to OCD problematic for several reasons.

  • It places too much emphasis on form over function. OCD isn’t about what it seems to be about. Every subtype of OCD has at its root the inability to tolerate uncertainty.
  • It encourages compulsive checking and reassurance-seeking. Many of the forums and sites dedicated to OCD subtypes list the differences between OCD doubting and signs of a genuine issue, such as sexual identity conflicts or relationship problems. Checklists contain generalizations. But individuals don’t necessarily fall into neat categories. So more confusion results, leading to an endless cycle of checking and searching for reassurance.
  •  It implies a definitive, black-and-white answer. In reality, OCD won’t accept yes or no. If doubts about a specific content fade, new ones will surface unless the driving mechanism—intolerance of uncertainty—has been addressed.
  • In the case of so-called “Pure O” OCD, it’s inaccurate. OCD by definition involves obsessional thoughts and compulsive actions performed to neutralize the distress from the thoughts. The compulsions may not observable to others, as they are with, say,hand-washing; they may involve covert mental rituals, such as reviewing, comparing, or silently repeating prayers, words, or numbers. Rumination and worry in the absence of compulsions do exist but are more likely symptoms of generalized anxiety or depression, not OCD.

Addressing the form OCD takes is important only in designing a treatment plan for ERP (Exposure/Response Prevention).  To keep the OCD from becoming a pattern in which one obsession dissipates only to have another pop up, focus on accepting uncertainty.

Here’s how to begin the process of response-prevention:

1) Refrain from checking and analyzing.

2)Acknowledge that OCD is causing you to doubt yourself and that no amount of research will help you arrive at an answer you’ll believe.

3)Don’t try to categorize your OCD.

4)Give up trying to figure out if your fears are justified.

5)Stop seeking advice from internet forums.

Taking these steps will start you on the path to recovery and keep the moles from lying in wait to ambush you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




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Posted in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder |

Seeing Anxiety as an Opportunity Instead of a Threat

By Lynne Gots, posted on August 22nd, 2017.

My newly rescued terrier Dewey is, in almost all ways, an excellent dog. He’s energetic, inquisitive, friendly, and affectionate. But when we’re out walking and he spies another dog, he turns into a whirling, barking Tasmanian Devil. Luckily he weighs only eighteen pounds—any bigger and he’d knock me off my feet. Still, the prospect of a surprise canine encounter made me dread our daily outings.

So I signed up for a Distracted Dog class. I already had been working on undoing some of the bad habits Dewey had acquired over the seven years of his life before coming to us. He’s learning how to wait for his food, lie down instead of jumping up and begging, and walk on a leash without pulling. The challenge now is to keep his attention on me in more stressful situations.

Before the first day of class, our instructor asked us to send her a hierarchy of our dog’s top five distractions, much like the hierarchy of anxiety triggers used in CBT for exposure and response prevention. At the top of Dewey’s list was “seeing another dog approach while on a walk.”

In treating anxiety, I help people stop avoiding and start approaching what they most fear. I needed to apply the same mindset to changing my dog’s (and my own) reactions to the stimuli that send him into a frenzied display of doggie frustration.

So, instead of anxiously scanning the environment for other dogs in order to do an about face before Dewey spots them, I’ve started looking for ways to practice building his self-control. As a result, I’ve observed a dramatic change in my own (if not yet Dewey’s) emotional reaction. I’m excited instead of tense when I see neighbors out walking their dogs. I now interpret a potential trigger not as a threat to steer clear of but as an opportunity to seek out.

If I were drawing only from my personal experience, my method wouldn’t carry much weight. But the results of several research studies support my anecdotal evidence. Saying, “I feel excited” instead of attributing physical arousal to anxiety—a technique called “anxious reappraisal”—can improve singing, test-taking, and public speaking performance by putting people in an “opportunity mindset” even though the physiological markers of anxiety such as increased heart rate and cortisol levels remain elevated.

In fact, you don’t even need to tell yourself you’re excited; just believing that anxiety can improve rather than impair performance helped test takers score higher on the GRE. It’s a trick actors often use to cope with stage fright. Those who are successful don’t necessarily feel less nervous. But they’re able to view the fluttering of their hearts and rumbling of their stomachs as feelings that give energy to their performance.

Confronting anxiety is hard. You can’t make progress unless you’re willing to face the situations you fear. But changing the way you think about arousal might make it a little easier to rise to the challenge.




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Posted in Anxiety, Dogs |

This blog is intended solely for the purpose of entertainment and education. All remarks are meant as general information and should not be taken as personal diagnostic or therapeutic advice. If you choose to comment on a post, please do not include any information that could identify you as a patient or potential patient. Also, please refrain from making any testimonials about me or my practice, as my professional code of ethics does not permit me to publish such statements. Comments that I deem inappropriate for this forum will not be published.

Contact Dr. Gots

202-331-1566

2440 M Street, NW
Suite 710
Washington, DC 20037

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If you don't receive a response to an email from Dr. Gots in 48 hours, please call the office and leave a voicemail message.

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© 2008-2018 Lynne S. Gots, PhD. Photographs by Steven Marks Photography.