Breaking Free Of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

3. Strategic Brief Delay

When you are aiming to disrupt the OCD cycle (worry/compulsion/relief) a delay in responding is your friend. The longer you wait to respond to worry the stronger you become, and the OCD impulse grows weaker.

It is similar to developing greater willpower. Let’s pretend you wanted to lose a few pounds to get ready for summer. Let’s also pretend that it has been difficult to make progress because every time you go into the breakroom at work, you pick up a small snack. People are always bringing cakes and cookies to work, so the temptation is constantly in front of you.

One way to break this habit is to disrupt the immediacy of your response to seeing the tempting treats. You can do this by injecting a delay between the time that you experience the “I want a cookie” urge and the moment you pick up the cookie.

In this instance, you could insert a delay between the urge and the response by making a plan. Something simple. For example, you could write out a list of reasons you wish to lose weight. These might include: better health; fit into some clothing that is a bit too snug right now; looking slimmer for an upcoming event; being better able to compete in an upcoming 5K race, and so forth.

Then, when you are at work and go to the break room only to be blindsided by a plate of your favorite cookies, you have a plan. You trot back to your desk, fetch the coveted list from your drawer, read through the list, and then make a decision. “Shall I return to the breakroom, that culinary den of inequity, and indulge my cravings? Or do I stay the course, moving forward toward my health goals?”

Although this whole process just described may only take 60 seconds, the disruption it creates will often be sufficient to derail the habitual snacking cycle. It does two things that are very helpful.

1. It dials down the sense of temptation (by removing you from its source… the cookies in the breakroom)

2. It also enhances motivation by reminding you of the importance of not giving in to the urge to snack.

You can apply this same principle to OCD. Whether your urge is to double-check the locks on your front door, wash your hands, perform a ritual, or something else, add a hurdle to that process.

For example, “I can go back and check the front door again once I’ve gotten a mile away from the house on my way to work.”  Or, “I can wash my hands again after I finish writing myself a note about how much I want to be free from this compulsion.”

Many times these small delays create enough emotional distance to make it fairly easy to resist the compulsion. Even in those instances when the urge is acted upon, one’s sense of control begins to grow stronger as a result of having forced yourself to delay responding.

Seven Steps To Beating OCD

Now let’s go over the seven steps you can take to overcome OCD fears and win your freedom. I will begin by giving a description of each step, and then move on to a brief illustration of what this looks like in real life.

1. When choosing where to start you want to write down ten fears that keep you trapped in OCD. This list might include:

“I need to disinfect all the kitchen counters again or someone will get food poisoning and die.”

“The bathroom really needs a good disinfecting. Especially the sink. It may look clean but it’s so gross – people spit in it whenever they brush their teeth.”

“How disgusting. Everyone touches the light switches in the house and who knows where their hands have been.”

“The Tupperware should really be disinfected before we get food poisoning. I just don’t think the dishwasher can kill all the bacteria that might grow on them.”

And on and on the list could go. Try and write down at least ten fears, all of the same type (that is, fears related to contamination, or fears related to intrusive thoughts, or to imperfection, and so forth (see the infographic above on Types of OCD).

2. For each fear write down the mental and/or physical compulsions you use to tame the anxiety

3. Assign each fear a number with ONE being the most difficult to face and TEN being the least difficult to face.

4. For the fear labeled TEN write down your entire thinking process and carefully chart how the fear progresses from the moment it first enters into your mind, to the point that you are able to move on (brace yourself, this could take some time).

Read What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and How To Overcome It

5. For each assumption you make in that charting process, consider alternatives that might also be true. For example, you may worry that touching the doorknob will contaminate your hand and make you sick if you do not immediately wash your hands.

A reasonable alternative is to think “Perhaps, but I have a healthy immune system and that should keep me safe. Also, almost no one else washes their hands whenever they open a door. The whole world is not sick and keeling over, so it must not be as dangerous as it feels.” Highlight each of these alternative explanations. You will be referring to them later.

6. Now it’s time to consider the specific steps you need to take to overcome the fear you’ve decided to tackle first (the one you labeled #10). What we want to do is break the process down into three, four, or even more small steps.

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.

Breaking Free Of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

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.

Breaking Free Of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

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 times 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.


To win the fight against OCD you must punch back against the fear. Giving in to the fear only makes it stronger.

OCD is a thief that robs you of happiness. It creates obstacles making it nearly impossible for you to reach your potential. OCD is your enemy. Treat it that way and punch back against the fear – as hard as you can. Keep punching until you’ve beaten it, and won the freedom from fear that you’ve desired all of these years.

And don’t forget… no giving up. Never ever give up. I know, you will have setbacks. There may be times when you feel defeated. When you momentarily back away and don’t face your fear.

That’s not the end of the world. Pick yourself up. Dust yourself off, and charge forward another time. And as many times as it takes after that as well. Continue to do this and you will ultimately prevail.

So, what are you waiting for? You have a happier, fuller life waiting. Go get after it.

If you want to read more blogs by Forrest Talley, then visit his website, Forrest Talley.


“This Way Up” OCD Course

For Children

Up And Down The Worry Hill   Aureen Wagner, Ph.D.

What To Do When Your Brain Gets Stuck  Dawn Huebner and Bonnie Matthews

For Teens

Talking Back to OCD: The Program That Helps Kids and Teens Say “No Way” — and Parents Say “Way to Go.” John S. March (Author), Christine M. Benton  (Contributor)

For Adults

The OCD Workbook: Your Guide to Breaking Free from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Bruce M. Hyman (Author), Cherry Pedrick (Author)

Brain Lock, Twentieth Anniversary Edition: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior.  Jeffrey M. Schwartz  (Author)

Written By Forrest Talley
Originally Appeared In Forrest Talley

OCD can be a hard thing to live with, but the good news is that you can beat it. With the right guidance, you can let go of the constant anxiety, worry, and fear. Take control of your life, and live it without a sense of consternation and perpetual distress.

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Breaking Free Of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
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Forrest Talley Ph.D.

Forrest Talley, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist with a private practice in Folsom California. Prior to opening this practice, he spent 21 years working at the University of California, Davis, Medical Center. During that time he supervised MFT and SW interns, psychology interns, and medical residents. In addition, he was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at UCDMC. He worked in several capacities at the UCDMC CAARE Center. These include Co-Training Director of the APA approved psychology internship program, the Individual and Group Therapy Manager, primary supervisor for interns and staff, and the main supplier of bagels/cream cheese for all souls at the UCDMC CAARE Center.View Author posts