A Simple Motivation Trick: This Before That

It’s easy to procrastinate on things like exposure and response prevention (ERP) exercises for OCD. Doing ERP now will likely make you feel better in the long run, but that truth is overshadowed by the fact that it’s not fun, it makes you feel anxious, there are more interesting/urgent/enjoyable things you could be doing right now, etc…

This year I’ve faced a motivation issue with meditation. I went from meditating almost every day to meditating a few times a month, and nothing I tried seemed to get me back into the habit.

Sometimes long-term benefits aren’t motivating enough

Meditation is an important part of my OCD recovery for various reasons, but most importantly because it gives me more time between being triggered and my response to that trigger. A study of seasoned meditators discussed in Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body found that they had stronger “operative connectivity” between the prefrontal cortex (the thinking part of the brain) and the amygdala (the emotionally reactive part of the brain and the center of the fight or flight response). The book states “…the stronger this particular link in the brain, the less a person will be hijacked by emotional ups and downs of all sorts” (p. 107). I’ve found that the more I meditate, the more I am able, in the moments after my OCD has been triggered, to use my Shoulders Back! technique successfully and redirect my attention back to whatever it was I’d been doing.

In other words, the more I meditate, the more I can feel that “operative connectivity” between my prefrontal cortex and my amygdala working because it makes me better at redirecting my attention to what I care about versus what OCD is worried about. And when I’m able to do Shoulders Back, I’m acting both mentally and physically like what OCD is saying is irrelevant, and OCD’s reaction to the trigger fades pretty quickly as a result.

But even knowing how important meditation was for my recovery, I still couldn’t get myself to sit down and do it consistently.

Pair something you want with something that is good for you

Motivate yourself with this simple yet effective trickThat is, until I tried this trick: I committed to myself that I could not read the news until I’d meditated. I was only able to do something that I wanted to do (know what was going on in the world) after I’d done something that was good for me (meditating). “This before that.”

The results were remarkable: I started meditating on a daily basis. I also found that I stopped checking the news as much, sometimes going for days at a time without seeing any news. I can get a little hooked on technology in a way that’s likely influenced by OCD, and by delaying my news checking until after I meditated I found that many times, I really didn’t need to check news at all. This had the secondary side effect of making me feel less anxious and distracted, because I wasn’t feeling these ill effects from over-checking the news.

So if you’re having trouble motivating yourself, try “this before that:” Find something you want to do that’s rewarding (watching a show on Netflix, checking your phone, looking at email, doing some online shopping, etc…) and only allow yourself to do it after you’ve done that thing that’s good for you (such as ERP, exercising, meditating, etc.). You’ll hopefully feel more accomplished and empowered, which lays the foundation for more success going forward.

For more about how I incorporated meditation and mindfulness into my OCD recovery, see pages 242-243 of  Is Fred in the Refrigerator? Taming OCD and Reclaiming My Life. For more about motivation, please see the Foreword of Fred.

Learn more about taming OCD

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FredTalks are not a replacement for therapy, and I encourage all readers who have obsessive compulsive disorder to find a competent ERP therapist. See the IOCDF treatment provider database for a provider near you. And never give up hope, because you can tame OCD and reclaim your life!

One Comment

  1. Helen Mcclymont December 15, 2020 at 10:28 pm - Reply

    Hi Shala
    Have read your e-mail and it was exactly what I needed. What with Lockdown etc, it has been difficult. Have also not been doing Meditation recently but will get that started as it really does work.
    Hope you are well?

    Kind Regards


    Helen Mc Clymont
    Glasgow Scotland????????????????????????????????

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