The First Step to Overcoming OCD and Obsessive Thoughts is Developing the Right Mindset:
When it comes to beating OCD you really have to view the process like fighting a battle or a war. And Ironcially, I was very surprised to learn that one of the earliest uses of the word obsession has to do with warfare. Now, I found this to be quite fitting because when I was dealing with obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, it literally felt like there was a war going on inside my mind.
In 2008, author Lennard J. Davis, through his book Obsession: A History, provided the public with a very thorough history of obsessions. In his book, Davis informs the reader that in the Latin language, the words “obsessio” and “possesio” were actually two phases of sieging a city. Here is a quick look at how the process would unfold. First, an army would “obsess” a city by surrounding it. Surrounding the city would prevent any people or supplies from coming in or out of the city. When the city became depleted of supplies, the army was able to breach the walls and overtake the city. Once they had control of the city, they would “possess” it.[i] [ii]
So what can we draw from this?
Well, if overcoming Obsessive thoughts & OCD is like fighting a war. Then it is important to develop the appropriate mindset to win that war. If you want to Overcome OCD then you have to decide that you are going to do it….No Matter What! Don’t listen to other people who tell you that it is impossible….don’t listen to people who tell you that OCD is a condition you are going to have for the rest of your life. Make the decision that you are not going to “deal with OCD” for the rest of your life. Make the decision that you are going to overcome it. Make the decision that you are going to achieve a complete Victory.
Here are Four Tips that will help you not only develop that Mindset, but also Maintain it.
Exercise and Maintain a Healthy Diet
For some reason people insist on separating physical health and mental health. But the fact is that your physical health and your mental health are just different aspects of your overall health. The two are interconnected and often work off one another. Therefore if you are working to improve your “mental health”…you need to take your physical health into account.
You can’t honestly expect your mental health to improve if you are completely neglecting your physical health.
What do I mean by neglecting your physical health?
Well, if you are stuffing your face with cheeseburgers and fries on a daily basis. Or if you are slamming down soda and energy drinks and lying on the coach all day watching re-runs of Jerry Springer….that’s neglecting your Physical Health!
If you are putting a bunch of crappy fuel in your system… you will not have the necessary means to fight the battle with Obsessive Thoughts.
Remember that everything is connected in your body. You need to fill your body with fuel that will give you the strength to wake up every morning ready to take on OCD.
Dietary Suggestions –
Regarding your diet, comfort foods, or foods high in sugar and fat, lead to a temporary sugar high. While this sugar high can improve self-control temporarily, it can also lead to serious health conditions like Type II Diabetes. Therefore, it is better to consume foods that provide long-term energy and help balance your blood sugar. Some of these foods could include: proteins (i.e. chicken, fish, beef, beans), grains that are high in fiber (i.e. whole-wheat pasta and oatmeal), and a good balance of fruits and vegetables.
I personally have had great success using the Slow Carb Diet by Tim Ferris
Physical Fitness –
Regarding physical exercise, the benefits are almost endless when it comes to your health. When you are in the middle of battling OCD, you should try to workout at least three or four times per week. It’s actually not a bad idea to try doing some kind of physical activity every day of the week during this process. Even a twenty minute walk can help relieve stress and increase your blood circulation. Really you can pick any type of physical exercise….hiking, swimming, biking, tennis, surfing….it doesn’t matter just go out and do something active several days per week.
Realize That You are Not A Victim
I often hear people that suffer from obsessive thoughts (as well as other mental illnesses) complain about their personal situation. Generally, these complaints are a cry out for help, or even the person seeking sympathy for the pain they are experiencing. But I will rarely respond to them with a sympathetic gesture, as this only feeds into the thought that the person is a victim. Instead, I generally respond with words of encouragement and empowerment.
Think about it, would you ever tell someone facing a different challenge, such as an amputated leg or a birth deformity, to dwell on the belief that they shouldn’t have to experience fighting through their handicap? Of course not, because you realize that this victim mentality is sure to get them nowhere. In the same way, dwelling on the idea that you “should not” have to deal with obsessions will also get you nowhere.
Sometimes, depending on my relationship with the person, I actually even take it one step further and tell people they are lucky that this is their challenge because things could be much worse. If you don’t believe that things could be worse, go and visit hospitals where people suffer chronic pain, severe burn wounds, or terminal illnesses such as cancer. After you take some time to see some people dealing with these types of challenges, reflect back and ask yourself if there is actually a valid reason for you to ever feel sorry for yourself.
Developing a Desire to get Better backed by Realistic Expectations and Persistence
Dr. David Burns, who authored the book Feeling Good, had some very interesting insight on desire. Some of his key findings were that Desire combined with effort was one of the largest predictors of successful patient recovery. This seems pretty obvious. However, it was also shown that desire without effort actually leads to negative results for patients. He found that people who wanted to get better but were unwilling to put forth effort into their recovery, actually became worse off. [iii] [iv] What’s more, this lack of effort led people to experiencing self-pity and hopelessness.
While getting your life back from obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, it is important to remember that Desire can either work for or against you. Desire if not backed with motivation and effort can make you seek out momentary relief and engage in compulsive behaviors. I acknowledge that desire is important, but it must be paired with Expectation and Persistence to be truly effective.
Expectation plays a huge role in a person’s success over the obsessive cycle. Having both realistic and positive expectations on your path to victory is going to be extremely influential in your progress and success. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was your obsessive cycle. So, there is no reason to expect that breaking free from the cycle can be done overnight.
Additionally, Persistence is extremely important to overcome OCD. Persistence, stated another way, means ‘Do Not Take No’ for an answer. It means to never stop until you achieve your desired outcome, in this case, a victory over OCD and Obsessive Thoughts.
Each Day is an Opportunity
Finally, I want you to try and adopt the following mindset during your path to victory over your obsessions. Each day, each obsession, is an opportunity for you to get better or worse. That’s right, it is an opportunity. Try to frame it that way for yourself. When you are battling your obsessions, try to view each obsession as an actual opponent to be defeated.
You know that by not giving into the demands of obsessions, you are taking away their power. The more you forego your compulsive behaviors and begin facing your fears; you will virtually suck the life out of your obsessive thoughts. That is why each day and each thought is important in achieving victory over obsessive thoughts. This literally is a battle you have to show up for every day
[i] Davis, L. J. (2008). Obsession: a history. (pp.31) Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
[ii] Christian Renous, “Possession and Obsession in the XVIIth Century: Diagnosis and Treatment,” Healing, Magic, and Belief in Europe: 15th-20th CenturiesNew Perspectives (Zeist, Netherlands: Conference Centre Woud-choten, 1994), 208.
[iii] Burns, D. D. (1980). Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. New York: Morrow.
[iv] Burns, D. D. (1999). The Feeling Good Handbook (Rev. ed.). New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Plume.