Cognitive Behavioral Strategies

Lynne S. Gots, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist

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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 |

How to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy and Start Getting Things Done

By Lynne Gots, posted on January 15th, 2014.

Even though I don’t think New Year’s resolutions work, I’m still a sucker for the kinds of self-improvement lists popping up everywhere this time of year. “Five foods you should never eat!”  “The only three exercises you’ll ever need!” “The ten best breakfasts for fat burn!” Even my own recommendations for modifying a morning routine turned up in the latest issue of Working Mother Magazine condensed by the journalist who interviewed me into three ways to “Change a Habit, Change Your Day.”

I’m clearly not the only one irresistably drawn to quick fixes. So here’s another list.

My Five Favorite Tips for Becoming More Productive

1)    Don’t wait for motivation to strike.

You don’t have to feel motivated to start. Momentum builds from action, so do something. Anything. Once you take the first step, it gets easier.

2)    Stop fooling yourself.

Think you’ll do it later? Think again. Get started now because it will never happen later.

3)    Make a daily To Do list.

And then cut it by two-thirds. There’s nothing more daunting than a long list of tasks you’ll never finish. Pick a few items you know you can complete in one day. You can always add more if you have time.

4)    Do the hard stuff first.

It’s tempting to get started on the easy, mindless tasks but by the time you get around to the more difficult ones, you’ll have run out of steam (see #2). Motivation researchers have shown we have limited stores of willpower. So jump in and tackle the big challenges first, before your willpower dwindles.

 5)    Reward yourself.

You may think your day is already front-loaded with too many pleasurable activities (watching cute kitty videos on YouTube, playing Candy Crush Saga, searching home design sites for the perfect ottoman, reading political blogs, making Fantasy Football trades, sneaking in an episode of your favorite TV series). But you’re probably using those as distractions, not rewards. Do the time-wasters after you’ve finished a task and they’ll become motivators instead of sources of guilt. You’ll either enjoy them more or discover the limitations of their appeal, thereby freeing up time to explore new (and possibly more meaningful) leisure pursuits.

So test out my suggestions. If they work, you may never need to make another New Year’s resolution again.




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Posted in Behavior Change, Motivation, procrastination, Self-help, Techniques |

Get Started on Dealing with Procrastination Now!

By Lynne Gots, posted on September 4th, 2013.

Ok, enough putting it off. No more checking Facebook for status updates of people I don’t remember from high school but can’t unfriend because I’m afraid of offending them. No more binge-watching Orange is the New Black. No more scrolling through the App Store to find the perfect habit tracker. No more games of Words with Friends. I have to stop procrastinating and write a blog post on procrastination.

The beginning of September brings out the inner student in all of us, even if it’s been decades since we last smelled the intoxicating possibilities contained in a brand-new box of Crayola crayons. A new school year is a blank slate—a chance to start over with pristine notebooks and no overdue assignments.

Unfortunately, life isn’t quite like school. Time isn’t measured in semesters. There are always endless projects to complete and opportunities to avoid them.

Dealing with procrastination requires a tough love approach. No excuses. No second chances. Just do it. Now.

Easier said than done, of course. It calls for a major cognitive overhaul. New rules.

Memorize, and repeat often:

1)    Later isn’t a better time.

2)    You’re fooling yourself.

3)    There is no better time.

4)    You don’t have to feel like it to do it.

You can work on your capacity to follow through with a plan by practicing just one small behavior every day. Meditation is a good choice because it can help you sit with uncomfortable feelings. Over time, it may actually strengthen the part of the brain involved in organization and planning.

But any behavior (preferably one that doesn’t take more than a few minutes) will do. You can decide you’ll sweep the kitchen floor every night at 8 pm, or empty your in-box at the end of each workday. The point is to choose an activity and carry it out, no matter what.

Procrastinators also should practice resisting the overwhelming impulse to give into avoidance. One way to power through the urge to avoid is by not hitting the Snooze button when your alarm goes off. You’ll be working on ignoring the self-sabotaging messages your brain is sending you. And as an added bonus, you’ll be starting the morning with a sense of accomplishment that can boost your motivation to take care of business throughout the rest of the day.

No matter how long your To Do list, crossing off even one item can help you break through the inertia of procrastination. I feel so much better already! But I’m just getting started. I’ll have more tips on how to deal with this irksome problem in future posts.

 

 




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Posted in Behavior Change, Motivation, procrastination, Techniques |

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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