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Practice 4: Add a Consequence to Your Ritual

Sometime you will find that you have just performed your ritual without any conscious expectation.  In those situations it is impossible for you to postpone or change the ritual, because it's already done!  In other times, you know you are about to ritualize, but you feel helpless to postpone or change the pattern.

In these situations, one simple change that can greatly increase your awareness is to add a consequence every time you ritualize.


Add a Consequence to Your Ritual

  1. Select one ritual that has been difficult to interrupt through postponing or modifying.
  2. Commit yourself to performing  a specific consequence after each time you ritualize
  3. Select a consequence (put $1 in a jar, walk 30 minutes after work, call a support person, etc.)
  4. As your awareness increases prior to the ritual, practice postponing or changing some aspect of the ritual
  5. When ready, let go of the ritual completely and tolerate the distress that follows

With this practice, you need not change how or when you ritualize. But each time you do ritualize, you must then perform some additional task. Choose a task totally unrelated to any of your compulsive tendencies and also something that requires you to disrupt your normal routine. Decide to drive to a park and pick up trash for an hour, do some kind gesture for someone you are angry with, practice the piano for forty-five minutes, or hand-copy ten poems from book. Ideally, the consequence you choose will also be one that has some redeeming value. One we use often is exercise - such as taking a brisk walk for thirty minutes.

If these sound like disruptive, time-consuming tasks it's because they are supposed to be! But don't consider them as punishment; they are simply consequences you have added to your ritual. To be effective, the consequences must be costly.

Because they are costly in time and effort, after some practice you will become aware of the moment you are about to ritualize, and you will hesitate. You will pause to think about whether it is best to start ritualizing, because if you do ritualize, you'll also have to start in on this not so pleasant consequence. This moment of hesitation gives you an opportunity to resist the compulsion in order to avoid that costly consequence.

For example, let's say you must check the stove every time you leave the house for work in the morning. You tend to get stuck touching each knob six times before you walk out the door. Later, when you are on the front porch, you doubt whether the stove is off, and back you go for another round of checking. Several weeks ago you began to use the slow-motion practice every time you checked. This has worked so well that now you check the stove only once and never touch the knobs. But each day, standing out on the front porch, you still become doubtful and must return to the stove for a second quick check "just to be sure."

This would be a good time to implement a consequence. Decide that, starting tomorrow, each time you check the stove again, touch a knob while checking, or even glance at the knobs again while walking through the kitchen, you must take a brisk thirty-minute walk as soon as you come home from work. This means you take a walk before doing anything else: no stopping at the store on the way home; no having a snack after you get home. Just put on your walking shoes and go, regardless of whether it's hot and muggy, raining, or snowing. Soon you will be thinking twice before stepping back inside from the porch "just to make sure."

This technique will work in the same way whether you are a washer who wants to stop washing your hands an second time, a hoarder who wants to stop collecting meaningless materials, or and orderer who wants to stop straightening up repeatedly. If the consequence you choose does not have this intended effect after numerous trials, then switch to a consequence that seems a little more costly.