The other day, just after making & posting a video on how to avoid being stuck in OCD rituals while reading, I became stuck in an OCD ritual while reading. In my case, this involved having to re-read the last few words of a page before turning it, only to feel like I need to go back and read them again or some disaster will occur. I resisted as best I could, but it wasn’t getting any better.
And so, I put the book aside, and practiced a little OCD-free reading in a magazine — just reading a few words on random pages and turning to another page without going back. I was concerned that if I kept trying to get through the book I was stuck in, I would just be strengthening the OCD’s habitual neuro pathways. I needed to strengthen OCD-free ones, instead.
Touching Lamp Posts
If you find yourself compelled to touch every lamp post (or bush or whatever) as you walk down the street on your way to work, that may seem fairly harmless, but every time you do those little rituals, you are strengthening that habit, making it harder to resist in the future. What you might try is taking an alternate street to work, or wherever you commonly walk.
Its important to decide in advance that this will be the OCD-free route. Trying to stop doing OCD in the middle of an episode is like lighting up a joint and then deciding not to take a puff, or being handed a beer at a party and deciding not to drink. It’s much more effective to just not go to that party, or to let the host know up front that you are not drinking or smoking.
When you strengthen an OCD-free path, you simultaneously weaken an OCD path. You may have many relapses, since the OCD path is so well-trod, but over time you will have more and more successes.
The new route is a fresh start — it hasn’t been claimed by OCD. Keep walking down the OCD-free path and now and then test to see whether you are able to go back to the old street where you used to touch objects along the way. If it’s still too hard to resist, or if you slide back into touching everything along the way, go back to the the new path and keep strengthening the new habit.
The One Trip Rule
I used to have a terrible time with my OCD while driving. Anything would set off mental rituals — someone driving to fast, too slow, honking… any common human behavior on the road. As a result, I was never present. That is, I was never able to fully appreciate the scenery, the company in my car, or even pay attention to directions.
Here’s what helped:
Decide in advance of a road trip that it will be OCD-free. It might be a short drive, or a day trip. If you find yourself doing a ritual, remind yourself, “Oh yeah, this is the OCD-free trip.” You are giving your brain permission to take this time off from OCD. You might even look forward to the behavior of other drivers that would normally trigger OCD, just to feel that sense of relief when you don’t have to react.