Obsession, Stop Commands and Breaking Non-Productive Patterns
Not a Diagnosis
One of the functions of your brain is to think. However, there are times that you will think about something, and then begin to dwell on, ruminate about, ponder, mull over, or reflect on for longer than you would like. Obsessive thinking is exhausting.
It drains you of mental energy that you could spend in finding solutions from people who are more knowledgeable or doing something that is more productive, satisfying, fun or relaxing.
It becomes time-consuming, as additional unstated fears fuel the intrusive thoughts, leaving you over-stressed and still uncertain about what if anything to do with a person or situation.
This article is not a diagnosis of, nor advice on living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It is an article on managing the obsessions and time spent for individuals who are bothered by the amount of time they spend thinking, or obsessing about life issues, but do not carry the diagnosis of OCD.
National Institute of Mental Health or NIMH describes OCD as, people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) feel the need to check things repeatedly, or have certain thoughts or perform routines and rituals over and over. The ideas and rituals associated with OCD cause distress and get in the way of daily life. For those meeting the description for OCD, there are qualified therapists who specialize in this diagnosis.
Have your Obsessive Thoughts Alone Ever Changed a Person or Situation?
Obsessing Does Not Resolve or Change People or Situations
Ask yourself if you have ever changed a person, situation or experience by merely thinking or obsessing about it? You may reflect and wish you had said, done or felt different, but to affect the outcome doesn't happen from obsessing.
Granted, attitudes may change perceptions of situations with reflection, but to change an outcome or to change a past situation is unrealistic, time-consuming, and draining. So, how can you spend less time obsessing and more time being productive?
Productive Interruptions: A Stop Command
Redirecting your brain is sometimes as simple as using a Stop Command. A Stop Command alerts your brain that you do not want to think about a particular person, situation or experience now.
Stop Command is a technique used with Panic Disorders; however, the principle of a Stop Command will work for obsessions or intrusive thoughts as well.
When you consciously and intentionally tell your brain to “Stop”, it intervenes in the thought process, allowing you to refocus your mind. You then re frame or redirect your thoughts from the unwanted subject.
Redirecting your thoughts with a simple statement like, " I will not think about this now" moves your thoughts to something more productive, or you may take actions that genuinely alter the outcomes.
For instance, a relationship has recently ended. You obsess about the beginning, middle and end of this relationship, replaying all of your experiences. You intellectually understand that dwelling on these experiences will not change the outcome, yet you spend hours thinking about and replaying the relationship in your mind.
You Replay the Experience and Ask Yourself Questions
- What went wrong?
- How could it have been different?
- What actions of mine caused this; what could I have done differently?
- Why did I do or not do something?
While asking questions about you may give you some insight, obsessing tends to include questions about the actions of others when clearly, you will not obtain answers for the actions of others by your obsessing.
- Why did they do that?
- Why didn't they do something else?
- Why did they have to talk that way?
- Why did they have to behave like that?
- Why didn't they. . .?
The questions and the amount of time you spend obsessing about their actions, behaviors and thoughts are endless as well.
Now You Have Your Brain's Attention
If you think of the line from Gone with the Wind (1939) Scarlett: "I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow", is reinforcing of, not obsessing.
Practice using a Stop Command for a few days. All changes take practice and using a Stop Command seems uncomfortable for many people in the beginning.
Use this command for a day or two until you are used to intervening on your obsessive thoughts. When you have gotten comfortable interrupting your thoughts, move to the next stage of change.
Week 1 - Create your Obsession List and decide your Obsession Time for the following week.
An Obsession List isolates those people, situations, or problems that you know you would obsess about if you allowed yourself to do it at the time of the original thought. There is not a lot of detail in this list as you can make it more complicated than it needs to be with the details.
A simple one or two-word descriptor of the person, issue or situation is enough. It is okay to note if it is a particular aspect of an individual, as in the example of “John/work habits” to help you be clear on what you would be obsessing about, specific to him.
Starting your Obsession List
Pick the day that you are going to incorporate a Stop Command with particular people or situations from your life. In the morning, list, briefly each person or situation that you know you would obsess about if you allowed yourself to obsess. Add to it the following day; repeating people and situations if you are still inclined to obsess about them.
Deciding an Obsession Time
Once you have your Obsession List, set up a particular time where you are going to obsess, called your Obsession Time. Make this a week later than your Obsession List start date. Obsession Times have three primary objectives and outcomes:
1) When you allocate a specific time – Tuesday evening from 9:30 PM – 11 PM for instance, you then can tell yourself, “I won’t think about this now, but during my Obsession Time.
Or I’ll think about it on Tuesday, and then go about your business, think about something or someone else unless they are also on the list.
2) Often, when your Obsession Time comes, the situations have resolved themselves, without any thoughts that you had that influenced, altered or corrections you made to the situation.
3) You are having different feelings or thoughts about the subject and do not have to spend time obsessing about it.
The first time you create your Obsession List/Obsession Time, having your Obsession Time a week later means that people, situations and circumstances from your Obsession List have an opportunity to change. After that, continue using that allotted time as your usual Obsession Time.
Weekly Obsession List Recap
Can you see where a Stop Command, Obsession List and Obsession Time would benefit you
A completed Obsession List's Columns will have:
- Person or Situation
- Did Not Obsess (DNO)
- Obsessed Anyway (OA)
- Resolved Date: if the situation changes before your Obsession Time
- Outcomes, Thoughts and Feelings
Using an Obsession List/Obsession Time
After you have created your Obsession List/Obsession Time, then each morning make a short list of what you would dwell on; if you let yourself. After completing your list, you make a commitment not to dwell on the situations or people listed for that day, so you can be more productive in your thoughts and actions.
When you find yourself thinking about anything that is on your list, say to yourself, “I am not going to think about that now because my Obsession Time is Tuesday nights from 9:30 PM – 11:00 PM”.
Then think about something else. It will take some practice on your part, but you will find that you not as mentally drained when your thoughts are productive rather than counter-productive with obsessions.
Week Two: 15 Minutes Before Your Obsession Time
Fifteen minutes before your Obsession Time, cross off the situations/people on your Obsession List that have been resolved, fixed, or changed since you included them on your list. Anything left on your list is what you will obsess about during your Obsession Time. By setting aside an hour and a half per week where you will obsess about the people and situations on your list that were not resolved, fixed or changed, you will see how counterproductive obsession is.
While others are having fun, watching TV, or doing something worthwhile, you are to sit and only think about your obsessions.
For others, knowing that their families, friends or co-workers are doing something productive or fun while they are sitting there obsessing, helps them see that obsessing is counter-productive. In addition, it also demonstrates that obsessing takes time, energy and effort that they could be using more effectively in their lives.
It takes three to four weeks of this exercise to help people quit obsessing. Identifying obsessing as non-productive helps you see where you had an opportunity to let either the situation resolve itself or do something differently than just think about it.
This seemingly simple strategy works incredibly well for two very specific reasons:
1) Tracking the progress and deciding how much time you had to do something productive because you did not obsess, can be eye-opening.
Even if you only give yourself, an hour per situation you did not obsess about, you can easily see where you would have 5-6 hours per week to be more productive if you do not obsess daily.
Increasing the times that you do not obsess means that you are increasing the amount of time you have to be productive or simply have fun.
2) Tracking also helps you see if there are patterns of your obsessive thoughts.
When you track how many situations resolved themselves without thinking about them, it demonstrates that obsessing about people and situations is counter-productive. At this point, many people become willing to stop obsessing.
Reinforcing Productive Thinking
Even when you no longer make an Obsession List or follow through with your Obsession Time, continue using the Stop Command and re-frame your thoughts.
You can do this daily when you tell yourself, “Obsessing was counter-productive and I don’t think it will solve anything now.”