To do this you will need to consider what successfully conquering this looks like. If it was a fear of touching doorknobs perhaps your ultimate success, that final stage of being free from this fear, is when you no longer wash your hands after opening a door. Instead, you wash your hands only before meals or after using the bathroom.
Do you see how that sort of description of success gives you a crystal-clear goal upon which to take aim?
7. The final step is to move on and repeat this same process with the next fear on your list, and then the one after that, and the one after that, and so on.
You’ll find that the practice of confronting these modest fears makes it much easier, later on, to face more intense fears.
A Short Illustration
Imagine fear #TEN was the anxiety triggered by thoughts of contamination from touching doorknobs. Let’s also imagine that this fear was driving you to wash your hands every time you touched a doorknob.
No fun. Talk about bogging down your day.
You practice using coping skills for a week or so – long enough that they have become easy to perform.
During that week you have given a lot of thought as to what small steps you will use to gradually but surely put a stranglehold on this fear of touching doorknobs. You decided to begin the process by waiting a full minute to wash your hands after touching a doorknob. This will be hard, that much is certain. But you feel confident that you can wait that long. After all, you sometimes wait that long to wash your hands simply because there are no sinks with soap nearby every doorknob you touch.
Taking control, however, making the delay intentional, feels good. You’re surprised to learn that even such a small step as waiting to wash your hands for a minute gives you a sense of control.
The next step you decided upon was to push the delay of handwashing from one minute to five minutes. When first writing this step down you could feel your throat tighten with anxiety.
“Five minutes sounds like forever when germs are crawling all over your hands, seeping into the pores of your skin and …” You stop yourself mid-thought.
Taking a deep breath, you redirect your thinking. “No, the germs are not sneaking into my blood system through the pores on my skin. I’ve got to stop being so dramatic. This is a perfectly good goal. I can do five minutes.”
At this point, you move on to write down several more steps you’ll need to take to get over the contamination fear. But only as it pertains to touching doorknobs. Other forms of contamination can be tackled after you have this victory under your belt.
The next step you wrote down was to limit yourself to ten hand washings a day no matter how many doorknobs you had cozied up with.
Three more steps after that were then put on the list. The final step, the biggest challenge, would be to touch a public bathroom doorknob AND NOT WASH YOUR HANDS until just before your next meal.
That was a really tough one. A lot of thought went into identifying that goal and deciding to put it on the list. At first, it seemed extreme, but you soon realized that if you really wanted to be free from this contamination fear you had to go the extra mile. Once you were able to successfully complete this step you would be in control.
And when that happened, you were not about to give away the freedom you fought so hard to win.
PRO TIP This same system can be used on most fears, not just those related to OCD.