Resisting compulsive behavior is one of the hardest parts of your recovery.
Finding the willpower to resist compulsions requires energy you don’t think you have. But, it’s no mystery where that energy can be found.
You’ll find the willpower to resist compulsions eagerly awaiting you in two places: Your mindset and your body.
What Kind of Mindset Do You Have
Here are a few questions to test your mindset. Do you want to:
- be all better or getting better?
- stay in the comfort zone or be challenged?
- succeed or grow?
- be all-knowing or always learning?
- avoid anxiety or seek it out?
- have certainty or live with uncertainty?
If you chose answers mainly in the blue then you have a Success Mindset.
- Your agenda or plan for daily life is fixed and rigid.
- You care deeply about failure, inadequacies, and outcomes.
- The capability of taking an action can’t occur until an emotion is felt first. (e.g. “I can’t do anything until I feel ready and right about it.”)
- What people think of you matters very much.
- You tend to be self-loathing and easily frustrated with what appears to be a lack of progress.
- Everything is seen in all or nothing terms.
- The path you’re on always needs to be definite, clear and unmistakable.
- Effortless is preferred over effortful. A student with school anxiety who makes it to school five out of five days is pleased with meeting the goal of attendance. (Focuses on outcome) Had she attended four out of five days she’d have felt like a failure because everything is either all or nothing. (Values perfection.)
Finding the Willpower to Resist Compulsive Behavior
If you chose answers mainly in the green then you have a growth mindset.
- You’re curious and flexible about daily life.
- If something doesn’t go as planned you easily adjust.
- Your focus is on finding hard challenges and opportunities for personal development.
- The process of getting from A to B is more important to you than the outcome.
- Celebrating your victories is not something you do enough.
- Practicing gratitude and counting your blessings is something you do often.
- You prefer daily tasks and life experiences to be effortful–full of variety and challenges. A person who deletes 24,000 emails out of 26,000 (egads something I need to do!!!) focuses on the effort it took to sit there and do that! She doesn’t become discouraged that the inbox is still full.
A student with school anxiety who makes it to school each day of the week is pleased with how incredibly hard she worked to get there each day. (Focuses on effort) Had she attended four out of five days she would be proud of her effort and look forward to working harder next week. A setback is a setup for a breakthrough. (Values experience.)
It’s harder to find the willpower to resist compulsive behavior if you have a success mindset.
Here’s how to get out of the success (or fixed) mindset and shift into a growth mindset:
- Focus on your incredibly hard work and effort. Remember, “If you had fun you won?” That’s an example of focusing on effort, not outcome. To use a growth mindset to resist compulsions here’s another cheer: “If you had anxiety and abstained you won.” (i.e., abstained from compulsive behavior.)
- Drills develop skills. Appreciate the value of experiencing anxiety. It gives you an opportunity to practice your skills. You get good at what you practice. If you’re avoiding anxiety, you won’t get good at experiencing it. Hunt down anxiety. Go find it and experience it.
- Be curious about your anxiety. “Hmmm, it’s so fascinating how my body can put butterflies in my stomach. I wonder how my body does that.” Focus on the experience of anxiety, not the story about why the butterflies are there. How not why.
- Ask, “what does anxiety make possible?” One young man told me that his anxiety makes him a better football player. “How’s that?” I asked. He explained, “I’ve got some big guys I have to block. They’re a lot bigger than me. My anxiety gives me the energy to do it.”
- Do your values need a realignment? What is it that you value? A sense of security or experiencing something new? What do you care deeply about? Being with loved ones or avoiding anxiety? Values drive behavior. Make sure your priorities represent your values.
- Don’t get caught up in OCD’s story about something bad happening. To focus on the story is nothing but a trick! This is about your anxiety. Stay focused on the true issue. You don’t need compulsions. You need experience.
Resisting Compulsive Behavior and Mental Acts
The Physicality of Anxiety
You can use your body to resist compulsions.
Stand up like a superhero. Look OCD in the eyes with your hands on your hips. Chin up. Shoulders back.
Don’t contain all the energy from anxiety inside one area of the body. If you clutch your chest, cover your head with your hands or make fists where can the anxiety go?
Experience the Anxiety
Notice where you experience anxiety and stay with the sensation. Don’t go into the sensation. Notice it like a bystander. Think of it like a neighbor who is visiting. “Oh, passing through again?”
Oh no…did you just ask, “But, what if I don’t want the neighbor to visit?” This question reflects your mindset. It’s not a growth mindset. You’re not valuing learning and developing. You need the “neighbor” to visit so that you can gain experience. Keep working on your mindset until you can welcome the “neighbor.”
Stay with the experience of anxiety and away from the story about something bad happening.
The Physicality of Anxiety: Discover where the sensation of anxiety is located in your body.
- Ask your body, “What part of you wants my attention right now?
- Say hello to the bodily sensation of anxiety. “Ah ha, there you are.”
- Where in your body do you feel the anxiety? Perhaps it’s unclear. Maybe it’s puzzling, numb or fuzzy. Stay focused on finding the sensation. Keep hunting down the anxiety in your body.
- Your OCD story is irrelevant. We’re not doing exposure exercises right now. This exercise is not about your story. It’s about anxiety.
Resist Compulsive Behavior by Finding the Anxiety In Your Body
- Describe the sensation of anxiety in great detail as if trying to get someone else to understand what it feels like.
- Just notice it. “I feel it here.” Describe it in great detail. Are any of these descriptive words a good fit:
-Is there any tightness or pressure? Where do you feel it?
-Does your skin have any pain, tingling, prickling, twitching, itching? Where on your body is this occurring?
-What is the temperature of the sensation?
-Is there any motion and if so what is the speed at which it is traveling?
-Can you taste or smell anything?
-Does this sensation have any particular size, shape, weight, texture, or color?
-Can you hear any sounds in your ears like buzzing or ringing?
- Once you’ve described the sensation, get curious about how your body creates these sensations. Don’t ask why. Ask how. Curiosity is the opposite of anxiety.
- When your mind tries to wander to an OCD story, keep bringing your focus back to the physicality of your anxiety. Focus. Notice. Focus. Notice. Experience it fully by describing it and getting fascinated.
Let this sink in: Just because you’re anxious when you resist a compulsion doesn’t mean something is wrong.
Experiencing anxiety is (unfortunately) not what you’ll usually be told to do. But truly, the only way out is in. You can’t master anxiety by avoiding it!
Today’s Best Advice on Resisting Compulsive Behavior:
You can’t be limp when it’s time to resist a compulsion. Rise up like you mean it! Be firm. Stay with the anxiety not the story. Experience the physicality of anxiety.
“If resisting compulsions is the right thing to do then why does it feel so horrible to resist them?”
If you have questions about how to resist compulsions be sure to add them to the comment section on this post. I’ll be sure to address your questions and give you…