To get started with something is often the biggest hurdle of all. Lets say that perhaps you want to start a new hobby, for example painting. You go out and buy yourself all of the materials you’re going to need, but then day after day, week after week they just sit there on the side unused and collecting dust. Our intentions are often very good, but something seems to come up and get in the way of us getting started.
The author Stephen Pressfield talks about this in his book the war of art. He believes that whenever we sit down to do something meaningful and important to us we feel a sense of resistance to doing it. This is also certainly the case when it comes to OCD. We may sit down with the best of intentions to do the exposure activity or to complete the meditation, but there is something that seems to hold us back.
Before we know what is happening we find an excuse for not doing it and get on with something else. As far as I can tell, this is one of the biggest barriers for people in overcoming OCD and it is very much tied up in fear. As much as your obsessions might haunt you, there’s another fear that is sometimes just as compelling or if not more and that is actually being successful.
The Fear Of Getting Better
One of the things that seems to hold us back is the fear of getting better. As ridiculous as that might sound, there seems to be some truth to it. It’s perhaps not that we don’t want to get better, but rather that we are so used to being in the habit of performing compulsions, that when we don’t, when we choose to take healthy action instead, we are stepping into very unfamiliar territory and this can be incredibly anxiety inducing.
I like to try and turn this fear on it’s head though and instead of experiencing it as an impassable boundary, see it for what it truly is, a pointer to what I need to learn, to where I can grow. We tend to always see fear in a negative light and to not pay attention to it for long enough in order to learn from it.
As Stephen Pressfield says “Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
So often with OCD people are paralyzed by fear and it can be incredibly hard to get started or even to know where begin. Perhaps you have your art supplies all out on the table, paint brush in hand, but you can’t bring yourself to take the first stroke.
This is why with OCD it’s so important to break things down into simple and achievable steps. You don’t have to paint that painting in one day and in fact if you try, you are likely to run into all sorts of problems. It’s so much better if you can start off small.
Find something that you can do, but still don’t want to do. Try to make sure it’s something that only gives you a small amount of anxiety, something that you know you can do with a bit of effort. If you can allow yourself to feel the fear that this activity, place, or person gives you. Stay with that feeling and do the thing you set out to do. Try your best to not perform any compulsions that might dampen the anxiety you have about it.
The ideal scenario is that you start finding small, achievable challenges like this on a daily basis, building up your confidence and a sense of momentum and change. At times it will be challenging, but living in this way will open you up to life again. If you can, working with someone to help you with this is how you can get the most out of this approach.
It can be incredibly challenging to know where to get started when struggling with OCD, but remember you are not alone. Millions of people around the world are struggling in a similar fashion. Try to be gentle with yourself and seek out those achievable daily challenges and you may be surprised with the progress that you can start making.