Perfection: One of OCD’s Most Favorite Traps

160_F_68429999_0pBv8U33AMDkI3T3R3eeCzz8ChuE2XOsWhen I was a kid my brothers and I played in the woods all the time. We fished near the railroad tracks and loved waiting for the trains to pass. For hours we’d pick berries and look for salamanders. We built forts out of sticks and stones. One time we challenged each other to see who could build the highest wall with bricks from the remains of an old house. I used only perfect bricks. All of them were intact and of the same size. They all laid on top of each other just right. My brothers used bricks that were jagged and broken and they were all different sizes. Not only did they build one wall, they built four walls. I only had enough bricks to build one wall, which wasn’t nearly as high as the four walls my brothers built.

Not only did my brothers win the contest, they also had a lot more fun. I was tied up in finding perfect bricks and there weren’t many of them around. It was frustrating and time-consuming. Had I just shrugged and used bricks of any size, shape or condition I would have had an entirely different experience. I watched my brothers laughing and making progress. I was grumpy and getting nowhere fast.

OCD is very fond of perfection. It’s one of its most favorite traps. OCD can get you to spend hours doing a compulsion or mental act until it feels “just right” or in other words, perfect. I know people who work 17 hour days because they’re trying to do everything perfectly and make no mistakes. On the flip side, if you don’t have the time to get it right or perfect, OCD convinces you to avoid or procrastinate. For example people with lengthy bathing rituals will skip bathing if they don’t have time to shower to perfection.

This is where knowing how to yield comes in handy. Yielding means to never argue against OCD’s threats. Don’t ever try to prove it wrong. Arguing with OCD is like gasoline to the fire. When OCD starts talking perfection it’s important to yield to imperfection. This is what yielding sounds like:

OCD: Don’t stop until you get it right.
YOU: Nah, that’s okay. I’m going to just wrong it today.
OCD: Something bad will happen if you don’t get it right.
YOU: Yeah, that’s possible. I agree with you. I’ll take my chances.
OCD: If you don’t do this until it feels just right you’re going to not be able to concentrate the rest of the day. You’re going to go nuts until you scratch the “itch.”
YOU: Yeah, this urge is going to be driving me nuts all day. Oh well. It’s going to be a tough day. That’s for sure.
OCD: Things are really going to go bad. I strongly suggest you get this right. Do it now and get it over with.
YOU: I totally agree with you. Something bad might happen. I’m willing to take the risk.

It’s scary to surrender and admit defeat. But the byproduct is 160_F_85369006_nVqc9ff9NOJWrlFxvSkyKvM6mIZDg5LJmuch more productivity and freedom. Had I used all the imperfect bricks I might have had a fighting chance to win, but more importantly I would have had a blast.

This is day 29 of a 30 day challenge. Here is the challenge: Recognize when OCD is trying to trap you into feeling “just right.” Practice shrugging. Admit defeat. And get on with the day. Accept it may be hard. You can handle hard. Being bossed around by OCD isn’t any easier.

4 thoughts on “Perfection: One of OCD’s Most Favorite Traps”

  1. This is me when it comes to the dirty dishes. I have to wash them because no one will get them as clean as me and if I let somebody else do it they get my sponge all skanky gross. I need to let someone else do them and learn to shrug when there is cheese stuck to my sponge. Exposure for sure!!!

  2. Thanks for this! I really liked your illustration from when you were a kid trying to do something perfectly–so relatable. Today I had a choice between making a stew with the ingredients I had on hand or going out to the store and buying the one ingredient that would complete the dish exactly to the letter as stated in the recipe. I decided to make due with what I had and take the good enough rather than “perfect” route (I subbed in extra shallots for onions). It wound up tasting great and gave me more confidence in my cooking abilities/decision making by not doing it exactly the “right” way!

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