Cognitive Behavioral Strategies

Lynne S. Gots, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist

Toggle Menu

Contact Dr. Gots


2440 M Street, NW
Suite 710
Washington, DC 20037

Email >

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.

Building Healthy Habits: Visualizing Positive Outcomes Works Best

By Lynne Gots, posted on October 3rd, 2012.

I recently heard a popular media doctor talking on the radio about making dietary and exercise changes to promote optimal health. He gave some sound advice.

“Write down your goals. Think about why you want to lose weight and get more fit.”

So far, so good. But then he added a suggestion which flies in the face of what we psychologists know about behavior change: “Thinking about what you want to avoid is the best way to motivate yourself.” He went on to explain that a family history of diabetes keeps him on the straight and narrow. In other words, he’s motivated by fear.

Maybe this approach works for him ( though given his success, I suspect he’s more disciplined naturally than most of us anyway, so he probably doesn’t need much of a motivational boost). But it’s not the most effective way for most people to stick with a diet or exercise plan.

If scare tactics worked, wouldn’t those gruesome, anti-smoking PSAs impel more smokers to quit? Knowing something isn’t good for us—potentially fatal, even—usually isn’t enough to make us stop.

Thinking about what we want to achieve is much more motivating than envisioning the dire consequences of unhealthy habits. So if you want to get in shape, don’t imagine yourself in ten years, three sizes larger and insulin-dependent. Instead, picture yourself six months from now, crossing the finish line of your first 5K.

If you point yourself in the direction of where you want to go, you’ll get there faster than if you run the other way.


Leave a comment

Tags: , , ,
Posted in Behavior Change, Goals, Motivation, Self-help, Techniques |

Get SMART: 5 Steps for Setting Goals You Can Achieve

By Lynne Gots, posted on December 26th, 2011.

I saw two magazines side by side in the checkout aisle of the supermarket today with the same headline:  “Organize Your Life! ”   New Year’s Day is right around the corner.  Six days away, to be exact.  The resolutions are beckoning.

If you’re serious about organizing your life or making any other changes come January 1, you’d better get started right now.  It’s time to build the foundation for success.   The number one reason people fail to change unwanted behavior is not setting goals they can achieve.

Here are 5 guidelines to follow for successful change.  They’re easy to remember if you think SMART.  Make sure your goals are:

1)    Specific.  Break your goals down into observable behaviors.

2)    Measurable.  You should be able to determine the outcome quantitatively.  Be scientific.

3)    Achievable.  Take small steps.

4)    Realistic.  Be sure your long-term goal isn’t too rigid and unsustainable.

5)    Timely.   Create daily and weekly changes to shoot for.

Let’s put the Organize Your Life goal to the SMART test.  Is it specific?  No, it’s too vague.  Is it measurable?  No, you can’t measure organization without first defining it.  Is it achievable?  No, you can’t achieve it if you haven’t defined it.   Is it realistic?  No, it’s too all-or-nothing.  Is it timely?  No, you can’t set a timeline for completing goals if you can’t measure them.

If organizing your life seems like an attractive way to wipe the slate clean and start the new year out fresh, you’ll be dooming yourself to failure before you even start unless you make the Organize Your Life goal SMARTer.   Let’s take a stab at it.

1)    The concept of organization has many components:  managing your time efficiently, keeping track of bills, getting rid of clutter, and meeting deadlines. Decide on one or two specific aspects of organization you want to tackle.  Don’t get caught in the trap of aiming for perfection.  If you want to organize a messy house, say, start with a small, specific goal:  I will clean out the kitchen junk drawer.

2)    List all the steps you’ll need to take to accomplish the goal.  Cleaning out the junk drawer may mean throwing out a collection of rubber bands and twist ties, sorting through old warrantees to file or dispose of, collecting loose change and putting it in your wallet, wiping out crumbs, and making a trip to Target for plastic bins to keep everything tidy.  You can measure each step and check it off after you’ve completed it.

3)    An achievable goal isn’t overly ambitious.  Rein in your perfectionistic aspirations and start small.  You’ll need to silence the inner voice that’s telling you, “What good will cleaning the kitchen junk drawer do when the whole house is a mess?”  Set yourself up for success, not failure.

4)    Deciding to clean the kitchen junk drawer is realistic.  It won’t discourage you, and you’ll see results quickly enough to motivate you for the next task.  You can also maintain the change by planning to spend five minutes once a month (specific, measurable, achievable and timely!) tossing out the odds and ends you’re bound to accumulate again.

5)    As you can see, specific and realistic goals lend themselves to timeliness.  You can decide whether to take an hour, a day, or a week to finish cleaning the drawer.  But don’t drag it out any longer, or you’ll lose steam.

After you’ve accomplished a small piece of the larger goal, give yourself a pat on the back.  Then move on to the next step.  If you’re making sure to stay SMART, you’ll have lots of opportunities to feel good about your progress even if you haven’t yet reached the endpoint.

I’ve decided one of my goals for the new year is to write three blog posts a week.  Is this SMART?  Even though it’s very specific and measureable, I’m not sure if it’s achievable, realistic, or timely.  So I need to revise it.  I’ll plan to write one post a week for the month of January.  If that works, then I can aim for two posts in February.  At that point, I’ll reassess my original goal and see if I still want to produce three posts a week.

Try creating your own SMART goals, and we’ll work on them together.  I’ll be posting more tips in the coming weeks.  Maybe even more than once a week!  Oops.  I’m getting ahead of myself.




















Tags: ,
Posted in Behavior Change, Goals, Techniques |

Getting Ready for Change: Finding Your Why

By Lynne Gots, posted on December 5th, 2011.

As I said in my last post, I’m going to help you beat the New Year’s resolution rush by giving you some tips you can use right now on how to create the optimal mindset for change.  Why wait?  A little readiness goes a long way when you’re trying to build new habits.  If you start now, you’ll be way ahead of the game next month.

Losing weight and getting in shape are two of the most popular New Year’s resolutions.  Walk into any gym on January 1st, and you’ll find all the bikes in the spin class occupied and the 5-pound dumbbells in short supply.  But by Valentine’s Day, you’ll have the place to yourself again when the exercise converts have all gone back to their couches.

If you don’t want to rejoin the ranks of the couch potatoes yourself, you’ll need a plan.   More important, before you even think of making a resolution, you should ask yourself how your life would be different if you were to achieve your goal.  Too often, we tell ourselves, “I need to [insert target for change here]” without asking ourselves, “Why?”

I just signed on to participate with a few friends in a workout program to motivate me to exercise more.  Before starting, I had to set up a “before” profile and determine my goal.  Lose weight?  Sure, I could shed a few vanity pounds, but since I’m already at a healthy weight and all my clothes fit, this wouldn’t motivate me.  Get healthy?  Too vague.  Tone up?  Sounds great, but not compelling enough.  Increase energy?  Ah, now we’re talking!

Although I already have a modest exercise program in place, my workday routine is very sedentary.  I spend an hour and a half or more sitting in my car and ten or eleven hours on top of that sitting in my office.  Makes me tired just thinking about it.  Yes, increasing my energy is a goal I can really embrace!  It touches on so much I value:  feeling physically and mentally on top of my game, being clear-headed and creative, having the stamina to get out and do the active pursuits I enjoy.  And, better yet, I can get instant results instead of having to wait months to see a difference.

The best “why” will give you an immediate return on your investment.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t create long-term goals.  But those aren’t usually enough to help you stick to your resolve when short-term pleasures beckon.

It’s much more effective to connect your goals to your values.  Being thinner may seem appealing for a lot of reasons, but taking off the 10 or 20 pounds most people want to shed probably won’t change your life.   If your weight is so excessive that it currently interferes with your activities or undermines your health, that’s another story.

So you need to figure out what would really drive you.  Do you want to feel more confident?  More in control of your decisions?  Are you sick of being sluggish?  How about being able to run around with your kids?  Or set a good example for them?

Finding your why isn’t a one-size-fits-all process.   There isn’t a universal solution.  You have to zero in on what’s truly important to you.  Where there’s a why, there’s a way.



















Tags: , ,
Posted in Behavior Change, Motivation |

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


2440 M Street, NW
Suite 710
Washington, DC 20037

Email >

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.

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