How to Postpone Your OCD Obsessions

How to Postpone Your OCD Obsessions

Let’s start with how to work with the technique of postponing. If you respond to your obsessions by attempting to get rid of them instantly, to have them gone now and forever, you will probably fail at the task. It’s just too big a change to make. Instead, take a smaller, more manageable step. Let yourself have the obsessions. Make a commitment to pay attention to your worries. Simply take control of when you worry. The essence of this technique is to stall the obsessions. You decide not to ignore your worries. However, you are simply going to postpone attending to them for a bit.

Postpone Your Worries

  1. Mentally agree to pay attention to your worries
  2. Choose a specific time in the future when you will return to them
  3. As that time arrives, either start obsessing or consider postponing the worries to another specific time.  Whenever possible, choose to postpone

This is like making a mental agreement with your fear. There’s a part of you that really believes that you need to pay attention to these worried thoughts. You are not about to say “no” to them. Your fear is there because it thinks it’s taking care of you. So you’re going to say, “OK, I’ll pay attention to you, just not now.” You’re going to keep the idea that you’ll actually worry. You’re going to change the idea that you have to instantly respond every time it beckons you.

So here are the specific steps to take. First, mentally agree to pay attention to the obsessions. But, second, choose a specific time in the future when you’ll return to them. That time in the future is chosen based on your ability. For some of you, and for some obsessions, you can postpone for 1 1/2 hours or more. For others of you, waiting 30 seconds will be a significant challenge.

It really doesn’t matter how long you pick to start with. It’s relative to your capacity. As soon as you postpone even for 10 seconds, you’re taking voluntary control over an involuntary process. So start wherever you can, and support yourself in the effort. Use a stopwatch if you need to.

Here is the third step. When that agreed upon time arrives, then either start obsessing, or consider postponing for an additional time. Whenever possible, keep postponing.

OK, got it?

Now, why use postponing? What are the benefits? The most important is that you let time pass between your impulse and your action. You don’t instantly begin that vicous cycle that stems from fighting it. The more time that passes, the more potential for control. You put a wedge between the impulse and acting on the impulse, so that you might get enough perspective to say, “Naah, I don’t really need to worry about that.” At 8:15AM the worry may feel strong, but when you come back to it at 10AM, it just doesn’t feel as compelling. The more time that passes between the initial obsession and your attention to it, the greater chance your anxiety will diminish. As it lowers, your need to obsess decreases, and you gain more mental control.

So consider starting your program with postponing. And let yourself move one step at a time. Don’t say, “Oh, well, if I postpone, and then I worry, that’s bad, I’ve done this wrong.” Give yourself a chance to learn from postponing before you move on to other skills.