You don’t have to have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) to benefit from this plan. You just need to have a sticky brain. A brain that tends to get stuck. Perseverates. Ruminates. Obsesses. Fixates. Iterates. (Aaaugh, it just happened to me!)
This can be used for kids and adults. Feel free to modify the language, though some explanation of the brain is important. This was written as a favor for a kid friend of mine, not for a student in my practice. The more you modify it to appeal to the person you’re writing it for, the better it will be, in my opinion. (If you do reuse this, please mention my name somewhere, and definitely give credit to Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz.)
Background: There are three parts of the brain recognized as playing a part in OCD or OCD-ish sticky brains. We detect mistakes or problems with our orbital frontal cortex. This area is typically more active in people with OCD, who more vigilantly scan for problems. (Sounds like you, right? :)) It sends a signal to the cingulate gyrus, whose job is to trigger a feeling or physical sensation of dread, that something bad will happen if we don’t fix the problem. Then after we fix the problem, the caudate nucleus acts like the “automatic gear shift,” like in a car, shifting us smoothly to the next thought. Because your “automatic gear shift” sometimes malfunctions, you can learn to use a “manual gear shift.”
Even if you don’t have OCD, you do have some brain glitches that are bugging you at times and causing you problems. Most adults I know can describe weird stuff they did as kids that sounds like their brains were maturing through some glitches. But since this is bothering you, try this experiment and see if you can rewire your brain.
The following method, developed by Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz at UCLA, works more than 80 percent of the time with severe cases – adults who have been disabled by full-blown OCD for a long time, giving in to their brains’ obsessions and reinforcing and deepening those neural ruts for years! So this should be a snap for you, with your slightly sticky brain.
- Teach yourself to NOTICE when you have an episode of an obsessive thought like, “I have to check my phone and Kindle to make sure they are turned on, or else…” Write it down in a little notebook you keep in your pocket and note the time.
- Put a LABEL on it in your mind like this: “This is just a brain glitch. My brain is stuck. This is not ABOUT electronic devices being drained of their batteries and terrible things happening as a result. That is just the content of what is going on. My brain could just as easily be stuck on a different idea. The content of the idea is not important; what is important is for me to recognize that this is just a case of sticky brain!” You can keep this printout in your bed or backpack or in the car so you can read it to your brain.
- Teach your brain not to get stuck in the content, but to work around it. To work around it, your brain will need some dopamine. Your brain needs this natural chemical, which is released by pleasure, in order to loosen the nerve bundles that form the circuit “overconnecting” those three brain parts, creating your brain glitch.
As soon as you recognize that you are having a brain glitch, you can give yourself a dose of dopamine by focusing, for example, on a daydream of being recognized as Math Student of the Month next month, and how great that would feel – you can even play it like a movie on your head! Or you could think back to your best memory of feeling loved, or the most fun time you ever had with a friend. Play your favorite game on your phone, talk to someone you like. Pet your dog or cat. Anything pleasant and positive is OK, as long as you do something that bathes your brain in feel-good dopamine. Just be sure to vary your technique so your sticky brain doesn’t think it has to do that one thing!
- Build up your brain’s time in the dopamine bath to 15-20 minutes if you can. If you delay the checking for a while, but then the anxiety feeling gets to you, and you end up checking, it’s OK. Immediately write down the length of time you were able to do something pleasant to shift out of sticky brain. Use the notebook and pen by your bed to write down your dopamine time, and then try for two minutes longer the next time.
- Show your parents the notebook every day so they can help you stay on track!