“You have to be willing to act differently than how you feel.”
When my therapist said that to me during a recent session, I knew he had spoken wisdom to me and that I was going to get a lot of help from those words.
With obsessive compulsive disorder, I often feel uncertain, guilty, afraid and hopeless. I’m not always steeped in those feelings, but I often have them.
When I’m feeling like that, I don’t always act in ways that move me towards improvement in OCD.
For example, if I’m feeling uncertain, it’s easy to give in to a compulsive urge to check to make sure the lights are out in the basement.
If I’m feeling afraid, I may check the coffee maker again and again to ensure that it’s unplugged.
If I’m feeling hopeless, I’m close to giving up on resisting compulsive urges.
To act differently than how I feel is to refuse to check the lights again. It’s to walk away from the coffee maker. It’s to fight a compulsive urge one more time.
Those actions I take are going to be what changes me and improves my OCD.
Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz speaks of this when he discusses refocusing in “Brain Lock.”
I recently wrote about the four steps that Schwartz outlines and explains in his book.
After relabeling and reattributing the OCD obsessions and compulsions, the next step is to refocus: “You walk away from the sink without washing your hands and do something worthwhile that makes you happy. You do not attempt to make the OCD go away through some kind of magical understanding of what it is and what it means (p. 72).
Schwartz also writes the following: “The key to Refocusing is to realize that you must go on to another behavior even though the OCD thought or feeling is still there. You’re not going to let those thoughts or feelings determine what you do (p. 73).
Those words were life changing the first time I read them, and they still are. For me, they mean that I don’t have to be a victim to how I feel.
My therapist’s words reminded me of how important actions are.
Acting differently from how I feel is not always easy. Schwartz incorporates the idea of a 15-minute rule in the refocusing step: “The idea is to delay your response to an obsessive thought or to your urge to perform a compulsive behavior by letting some time elapse—preferably at least 15 minutes—before you even consider acting on the urge or thought (p. 212).
At first it might be necessary to set smaller time limits, Schwartz said, but you shouldn’t give in to the compulsion unless some time has gone by.
The time should be spent in doing “any pleasant, constructive behavior,” and after the 15 minutes have ended, “reassess the urge. Ask yourself if there’s been any change in intensity and make note of any change. Even the smallest decrease may give you the courage to wait longer. You will be learning that the longer you wait, the more the urge will change” (p. 212-213).
Actions are what count, Schwartz said.
Some might call this “fake it until you make it.” Do you ever do that? What kind of results have you had?