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Practice 1: Postpone Ritualizing to a Specific Later Time

We have already discussed how to postpone your obsessions. Many of the same principles apply to compulsions as well.


Postpone Your Ritual

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

If you have more than one ritual, select one you think might be the easiest to postpone. Then the next time you feel compelled to ritualize, delay it for a specified length of time. This is a mental ploy that will help you resist the ritual successfully because it requires resistance for only a short period of time. How long you postpone the ritualizing is a judgment you make based on what you think you can accomplish. Sometimes waiting thirty seconds is all you can tolerate. Other times, postponing for half a day is possible.

But please remember: that urge is just going to grab you. It's going to hit you instantly, and all you will be able to think about is ritualizing.

You've got to drive a wedge between your urge and your action. Even stopping for thirty seconds is a worthwhile effort. Thirty seconds! It's not that long! Really focus on getting any length of time to pass before you impulsively ritualize.

This practice will help in two ways. First, you will begin to tolerate longer periods of distress instead of instantly reducing the discomfort through ritualizing. Second, successful postponement will enhance your sense of control.

Like anxiety and distress, urges to ritualize decrease on their own over time, as long as you don't act on those urges. If you succeed in postponing the compulsive actions for several hours, you might discover that you no longer feel so compelled to engage in them when your selected time to ritualize arrives. Through this experience, you begin to believe that there may be other ways besides ritualizing to reduce your distress. Letting time pass and becoming distracted by other thoughts and feelings can decrease the urge to ritualize. As time goes by and your urge to ritualize diminishes, you will gain a sense of perspective, and with that perspective comes a greater sense of self-control.

If you postponed ritualizing from, say, 8:00 A.M. to 10:00 A.M. and you still experience the urge, try to postpone it again. Say to yourself, "I'll wait until noon and see how I'm doing then." If you can continue postponing, your urge will eventually fade away. If you cannot postpone again, apply one of the following two practices: either think and act in slow motion during the ritual, or change some other aspect of your ritual. We'll talk about these choices next.