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
That 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.”
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.
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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!