Category Archives: Habits

How to Control Anxiety: Should You?

The harder I tried to stop thinking about it…………..the faster I thought about it.

Don’t think about the pink elephant.

The harder I tried not to feel it….the stronger I felt it.

Don’t feel the couch on your back.

If you’ve been properly treated for OCD then you know the answer will never be to stop. You can’t stop thoughts. You can’t stop anxiety. And you shouldn’t try! What then should you be doing? 

Want the thoughts. Want the anxiety. The only way out is in, not out.

If someone is telling you to just “knock it off” send them this blog. If you’re telling yourself to knock if off…keep reading!

Let’s assume your OCD is a little you. A three or four year-old version of you. If this is true, and I think it is…telling such a young worrying child to “KNOCK it OFF” is not really teaching any kind of life lesson. 

A young boy is about to take the stage for the first time in his life and sing with the chorus. His brain is asking, “What’s wrong? How come my legs feel funny?” The brain MUST search for and provide an explanation. “Why are my legs wobbly???” The brain must explain. It’s human nature. If there’s an explanation there’s got to be a solution.

Searching for an explanation can occur below the threshold of consciousness. You don’t even know you’re doing it. The attempt to explain physiological sensations can be too subtle for the conscious mind.

Only one or two seconds have passed. Ah-Ha!!! The brain has found a reason for the wobbly legs!!!! “Mommy, what if I fall in front of everyone? I feel like I’m going to fall!”

What do you think most Mommies say? I hope you take the poll before reading any further! We’ll have lots of fun if you do!

 

The problem isn’t the wobbly legs. Agreed? The wobbly legs are a symptom of the problem. If we only talk about the wobbly legs, then we address the symptom but not the cause.

“You’re not going to fall. Your legs are very strong.” In this response the focus is on the legs. But, what’s causing the wobbly legs?  

“Here, drink some water and think about the pizza we’re eating after this.” The focus is on trying to stop worrying about the wobbly legs. Distract. Reassure. “You’ll be just fine.” Don’t think about the pink elephant. Don’t feel the couch against your back.

“The chances of you falling are very low. It’s possible but not probable. So far no one else on that stage has fallen. So you’re not likely to fall either. And I bet they’ve got wobbly legs too.”

Again, the focus is on the wobbly legs not being likely to cause a fall. Why won’t this work? Because that little brain of his quickly calculated that he could be the one and only kid that falls.


In this precious moment, this boy has an opportunity to learn a life lesson. This is the kind of lesson that will carry him through many rough times in his life.

The answer to his question, “Mommy, what if I fall” has the power to rewrite the script playing in his mind.

The way you answer your question also has the power to rewrite your inner thinking patterns. Even though your thought patterns are automatic due to practice and repetition you can retrain your brain.

Let’s talk about the little boy’s wobbly legs for a minute. We all agree that the problem isn’t his wobbly legs. Right? It’s his anxiety.

Anxiety is felt physically. In nerve endings. In muscles-tense or weak. Aches. Pains. Twitches. In breath-fast or slow. In the skin-clammy or itchy. The racing heart. Upset stomach. Tremors. Saliva.

There’s nerve endings everywhere so anxiety can be felt anywhere! 

The brain doesn’t like unexplained things. It will notice the physical sensation, create a story to explain the physical sensation, and it will build control mechanisms into the story.

When the brain explains the physical sensation, it won’t automatically consider that it’s just ANXIETY!!! And it certainly won’t conclude that the anxiety is okay. (That part has to be learned.)

Instead the brain will focus on finding a way to stop the discomfort. It will focus on the story, not the anxiety.

How can it be stopped. Hmmmmm, lets think of a story that has control mechanisms. How might this look for the little boy afraid to take the stage?

“If I skip three times and jump up once, I won’t fall.” Does that sound like OCD? The focus is on controlling the situation. The brain created a story that explains the physical sensation and now he has something he can do about it.

He probably won’t fall. So what will the brain conclude? “You didn’t fall because of that skip and jump thing you did. Good job buddy! See! Anytime your legs are wobbly, skip and jump and you won’t fall.” Liar, liar pants on fire!!!

The compulsion has been reinforced in the inner thinking-below the threshold of consciousness. And now the subconscious will run the show. This will easily grow into a habit and soon he won’t even remember why he does what he does.

This little boy has anxiety. Your OCD is young, like him. A three or four year-old part of your mind. It’s only a part of your mind. There are so many other beautiful parts to your mind. But, this part has the potential to run the entire show.

What is the life lesson this little boy has an opportunity to learn? What will make his brain a lean, mean fighting machine? Choose as many answers as you think will be most helpful:

 

The actionable steps for YOU to take are:

  1. Stay focused on the anxiety-not the story that is trying to control the anxiety. Anxiety doesn’t need to be fixed. Notice it, name it and move on. Steer away from the story and go towards the anxiety.
  2. Want the anxiety. Want the thoughts generating the anxiety. “Good, there you are. I need the practice.”
  3. Seek the anxiety. “Let’s see if I can make myself anxious right now and learn to experience it as something making me stronger.”

The anxiety comes from a very young part of you that truly doesn’t know very much about life at all. But, you have all these other beautiful parts of your brain that are very rationale and fun-loving.

Let those parts talk to the little you, who really shouldn’t be leading the way.  

I’ll lead the way now.

“I know you’re afraid and uncomfortable, but I know how to move forward. You can trust me.”

One other actionable step you can take:

To work on rewriting your inner thinking patterns, let’s rewire the messages that are exposed to the mind, but are too subtle for the conscious mind to know about.

Using post-it notes or reminders on your phone, or messages that flash on your computer while you work, write messages like these:

  • I can meet any challenge even though I’m anxious.
  • I’m ready for anything because I don’t mind anxiety.
  • I go after what I want in life even though I’m anxious.
  • Everyday my confidence grows stronger because I’m okay being anxious.

You don’t even have to read them. They’ll be picked up by your subconscious mind.

Sharpen Your Mental Ability to Pay Attention

We all get weird thoughts. How we react to those thoughts is pure choice. If you’re not paying attention to the fact that you have a choice, and just operate on automatic pilot, then you’re likely to get stuck in a loop. Watch this video for a warm and humorous explanation of how to manage mental habits and prevent getting stuck in a loop: (I had trouble embedding this video so click on the link above or “show all content”.)

Key points:

Thoughts cause habits. Some of these habits are mental acts. Mental habits appear invisible. But they aren’t! When there is a thought there is a choice of how to react. If we don’t notice the choice we will automatically react as we have before. It’s human instinct to repeat, repeat, repeat. Pay close attention to the choice!

Our reaction to a thought will either reinforce the same thoughts or reduce them. If we don’t want to perpetuate a thought then we have to do something different to break the habitual response.

Notice an unwanted, intrusive thought. Recognize there is a choice on how to react. Don’t use the same old response you’ve been using that keeps you stuck. Your reaction must be different.

One time I helped a married couple who were arguing all the time. During their sessions all they would do is yell at each other. I couldn’t get a word in. Finally one day as soon as they came into the office I had them lie down on the floor with heads touching. They never raised their voice once. The pattern was broken by doing something different.

A lot of times people will stay away from something that brings them joy because they don’t want to associate something bad with something good. What they end up with is everything bad and nothing good.  This is a great example of doing the same thing over and over and getting the same outcome. Be courageous and break the pattern of keeping everything that is good locked up. Let the goodness touch the bad. Do something different.

It sounds simple and too easy for such a tough problem. It’s hard for a while but stick with it and there’s a payoff.

This is day 23 of a 30 day challenge. If there’s something you love to do, but you’re not doing it because you’re afraid a bad thought will pop up. Break this pattern. Take the good with the bad. Don’t let your world get so small.

Do You Have Trouble Getting Out of Bed?

The importance of managing physical energy seems obvious right? But, if you are working on defying OCD and bossing it back, then you’re probably focused on Exposure & Response Prevention(ERP) and barely thinking about your physical energy. Yet, without physical energy it’s difficult to think clearly, focus on the task at hand, or have enough wherewithal to face fears.

One of the keys to bossing it back is having enough physical energy—enough fuel. A car can’t run without enough fuel and neither can the human body.

Simply put, physical energy comes from a balance of glucose levels. The amount of energy we have depends on what we eat, what time we eat and how we breathe and sleep.

Are you someone who has no energy in the morning? When you wake up how long has it been since your last meal or snack? Possibly 12-16 hours! And the snack was probably sugar, like a bowl of ice cream!

Do you skip breakfast or grab a quick carb as you’re heading out the door? It’s actually recommended that to balance glucose levels we “graze” by eating 3 meals and 2 snacks a day.

Ask a “go-getter” about his or her diet and they’ll tell you they avoid carbs and sugar and eat plenty of almonds, apples, avocados, bananas, beets, blueberries, broccoli, cashews, cherries, eggs, wild-caught fish, kale, and pumpkin or sunflower seeds. Foods that are low glycemic or high in L-Tryosine slowly release glucose. Slow release prevents the crash and burn you get from sugar spikes.

Do you overeat? Recently I was on a cruise and one of the waiters at dinner asked if he could surprise my table with a 12-course IMG_1295-1meal. We felt adventurous and said sure! We had no idea what he would bring us. I must say it was glorious! So yummy. But, by 7:30pm we were all ready for bed! We were unable to enjoy any of the night time activities. This is an example of too much fuel!!!

This is day 20 of a 30 day challenge. Consider your diet. Accept the challenge of being mindful of what you eat and when you eat.

How to Build Your “Boss it Back” Toolbox in One Day: Tool #6 Most Recommended by OCD Experts

In the heat of the moment it’s so easy to forget everything you’ve ever learned about bossing back OCD. Here are 8 essential toolbox must-haves!

emptytoolbox

Tool#1

Make a collage of what you are fighting for. If you weren’t feeding OCD, what would you be doing? Get pictures from the Internet or magazines that reflect your values, hopes and dreams and make a collage for inspiration. In the heat of the moment, especially when anxiety is at its highest, refer to your collage. Remember what you are fighting for and resist feeding OCD!

Tool#2

Find an object that symbolizes the patience, energy, and time needed to master the ability to defy OCD. Defying OCD doesn’t happen overnight or in one week. A symbol that signifies kungfuiachievement through hard work and long practice is captured in a Chinese term: Kung Fu. Use something like a stone, piece of jewelry or decal to remind you that defying OCD is mental Kung Fu—it takes hard work and time.

Tool#3

Replace compulsions with healthy habits. Many people report a loss of identity and purpose when they stop filling up their time with feeding OCD. You can recreate personal satisfaction and personal meaning by creating healthy habits. Since checking off a habit each day and keeping a log of progress improves motivation consider using an app to keep you on track. Siri will gladly remind you about the healthy habits you are working on. If you want to get more in depth coaching, get an online or smartphone habit App. Some of the best apps include: Nozbe, LifeTick, Strides, Coach.Me, Habit List, irunurun, Goals on Track and Daily Goals. I also offer Healthy Habits private Facebook groups and personal recordings.

Tool #4

Create “Boss it Back” statements that address your cognitive errors.

“If I’m not 100% sure of safety, then there is absolutely 100% certainty of danger.” “I’d rather take the risk than live like this.”
“If I think bad thoughts, bad things will happen.” “If something bad happens, I will pay the consequences.”
“I’ve got to do everything perfectly.” “I’d rather be imperfect than live like this.”

Tool #5

Get some juggling balls or coloring books and practice focusing at least 5 minutes every day. This will help restructure your brain and activate other parts of your brain besides the amygdala. Meditating or focusing exercises will help you develop the ability to focus on what you choose to focus on. We can’t stop obsessions from happening, but can certainly learn how to simply notice these obsessions without analyzing them and focus rather, on the task at hand.

Tool #6

facefear

Write down a hierarchy of your fears and prepare to gradually climb that hierarchy from easiest to hardest. This is widely recognized by OCD exerts and researchers as the most effective way to boss OCD back. Click Here for a description of Exposure & Response Prevention and ideas for building your hierarchy. This self-help book will also help you build a hierarchy.

Tool #7

Celebrate! So that you always have an idea how to recognize your hard work, put a list of ways to celebrate your victories in your Toolbox. OCD hates it when you celebrate and will try to tell you not to do it after you win a battle. Strike a Superman pose, fire up some happy music, do a happy dance or do something nice for someone. Celebrate the fact that you just took a step in the right direction.

Tool #8

Identify an Accountability Partner and put the contact information in your Toolbox so that you always remember this is a tool. Include the reasons why you chose this person as your accountability partner. Share the contents of your Toolbox with your Accountability Partner. When you are struggling go to your Accountability Partner to remind you to use one or all of your tools. Don’t go to some random friend or family member who knows nothing about your Boss it Back Toolbox. They’ll most likely end up reassuring you and feeding your OCD.

There are many other tools for your toolbox but these are some of the top ways to Boss it Back. Get proactive and make your Boss it Back Toolbox today! Don’t waste time! OCD has robbed you of enough!

Three Habits You Should Ditch in the New Year

Around this time of year we tend to think about what to change in the New Year. And what I know for sure is that many people with OCD are thinking about bossing it back faster and smarter than ever before. But, some people with OCD aren’t really thinking about bossing it back. They’re thinking about how to make unwanted intrusive thoughts stop.

baby girl crying from ear ache

Bossing it back means letting those unwanted intrusive thoughts exist in your mind without doing anything to get rid of them. (Like performing physical or mental compulsions, seeking reassurance or avoiding triggers.) Think of bossing it back like this: You’re on a plane with a screaming baby sitting right next to you. You don’t try to make the baby stop screaming because that only makes her scream more. You don’t talk to her. You don’t play with her. You don’t yell at her. You don’t judge her. You don’t try to figure out what’s wrong. You don’t ask the mother any questions. There is nothing you can do to stop the baby from screaming. You pick up your book, shrug and read just as you intended before you met the screaming baby. The screaming baby has no effect on your ability to read. That’s bossing it back! The screaming baby is your OCD. Let it scream!

But, OCD is a trickster and can talk you into bad habits to try and stop the screaming. Are you guilty of any of these bad habits?

  1. Thinking a compulsion is no big deal

Well I hate to break it to you but it is. Compulsions keep OCD alive. When you perform a compulsion it’s like paying attention to the screaming baby. She only screams louder. There is no such thing as a good compulsion. They are all a big deal. Don’t get tricked into a compulsion when OCD says, “Just this one time.” Or “Do it and get it over with.” “You won’t be able to get this off your mind unless you do this compulsion.” You know these are lies. I know you fear harm will come if you don’t do what OCD says. Your fear is not the greatest fear ever experienced. There is always someone with OCD who fears harm much more than you. And that person with more fear than you has bossed it back. Don’t use fear as an excuse.

Break the old habit of thinking compulsions are no big deal. They rob you of your life and waste so much time. People who boss it back realize compulsions are a huge deal. No matter how afraid they are, they resist the urge to do a compulsion. They reach a point where they’ve had enough of the lies. They know that one compulsion leads to another. In many cases, their fear is more intense than yours, and the risk feels far more real than your risk, yet they take the risk anyway and boss it back. Remember this;  there is always someone more afraid than you, who is bossing it back.

  1. Not scheduling time to boss it back

If you don’t set your intentions to boss it back, you won’t. When you’re caught in the OCD trance, you’re on automatic pilot and doing whatever OCD tells you to do. To boss it back faster and smarter than ever, put your plan in writing and use notifications to remind you to execute your plan. There are many user-friendly apps for your smart phone or PC to help you schedule your boss it back plan and you’ll even get daily reminders. Apps that I have used and like are: HabitBull, HabitList, and GoalsOnTrack.

Break the old habit of winging it and flying by the seat of your pants. Start a new habit by scheduling time each day to boss it back. Maybe this means setting aside time to conduct exposure experiments and doing at least one thing every day that scares your OCD. I’ve included a link that will give you worksheets to help you formulate your exposures. How about scheduling time each day to listen to your loop tape for a week?  Read more about loop tapes here. If you need additional help let me know! There are also detailed scripts for loop tapes in the back of Jonathan Grayson’s book. (See my Resource page @ bossitback.com.)

  1. Not celebrating your victories

How can you rewire your brain if you don’t let it know when something great just happened? No matter how little you think the victory is, celebrate it. If your brain exaggerates threats it can also exaggerate victories! Happiness can be taught! OCD can be fought! If you resist a compulsion or face something you’ve been avoiding, CELEBRATE!!! Be proactive and make a list of all the many ways you could celebrate. If you’re having trouble thinking of ideas, how would you tell a friend to celebrate? Ask a friend for ideas. Make it fun and put each different way to celebrate on a separate slip of paper. Put all the slips in a jar and pick one when it’s time to celebrate. Check out this playlist of celebratory songs here.

Break the old habit of failing to recognize your victories. Your brain needs positive feedback when you break bad habits. If you give it negative feedback, “Oh I’m not celebrating something I should have been able to do a long time ago,” then you’re brain can’t rewire! Sing, dance, laugh…Here’s that video of me dancercising that I promised you. Sorry, it’s kind of blurry!

Why Accountability is the Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

accountability

One of the most effective ways to gain power over OCD and get super determined to “Boss it Back” is to get an Accountability Partner. Accountability breeds determination!

First figure out who you want to be, and what it is you want to change or achieve. In 2016, I’m going to try out something new. Instead of setting New Year’s resolutions, that I end up drifting from, I’m going to use this blueprint and review it every 90 days with my Accountability Partners:

DESIGN YOUR LIFE BLUEPRINT

  1. The Purpose of my life is…
  2. My outer mission is…
  3. My inner mission is…
  4. The highest values I live and make decisions by are…
  5. My top goals for the next 90 days concerning health, spirituality, relationships, business and adventure….
  6. Books or podcasts I will use to enrich my life…
  7. Morning and evening habits I will stop or start.
  8. Daily routines will include…(e.g., Gratitude exercise, meditation, physical exercise.)

SHARE WITH AN ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER

Once you have the details of your blueprint it’s important to share it with someone. That person is called an Accountability Partner. When choosing a partner or partners:

  1. Look for someone who will challenge you but not condemn you. Accountability is not forced but chosen.
  2. Pick someone who is emotionally resilient and positive. You want someone who won’t accept excuses, will ask hard questions but won’t belittle or give up on you.
  3. It’s helpful to pick someone who has had some success in the areas you are working on. You want someone who can help problem-solve.
  4. It’s actually a good idea to find more than one partner.
  5. As a team or individually talk at least online weekly and meet every 90 days.
  6. When you talk with your Accountability Partner, BE HONEST!

Cheers to “Bossing it Back” stronger and faster than ever before!