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Practice 5: Choose Not to Ritualize

This, of course, is the option you will continually take as you gain full control of your rituals. Yet it requires determination. You must have a long-term commitment to overcome your problem in order to counterbalance the immediate urge to ritualize. You must be willing to suffer short-term distress in order to achieve your goal of freeing yourself from your symptoms.


Choose Not to Ritualize

  1. Expose yourself to the object or situation that stimulates your urge to ritualize
  2. Choose not to perform the ritual
  3. Practice tolerating the distress until it subsides

All of the previous techniques in this section promote your ability to refrain from ritualizing and help prepare you for this option. Each aids in developing the important position of choice. Working with any of the other options first - postponing, going in slow motion, changing some aspect of the ritual, or adding a consequence - helps you choose this last option with less anxiety, stress, and effort than if you used it first. Instead of saying, "I have to stop this," you are much more likely to feel, "I'm ready to stop this."

To decide not to ritualize is to decide to face your anxiety directly, to stop protecting yourself from your distressful feelings through your compulsive behavior. You are willing to feel anxious if that's necessary. In fact, that is a lesson you will learn through your practice of this option. You will discover you can manage your discomfort. To find this out, you will go toward your anxiety instead of away from it.

The best way to do this is to voluntarily initiate contact with whatever it is that brings on your urge and then withhold your rituals. If you have an irrational fear of contamination, touch things you believe are contaminated. If you are afraid you might leave the stove on accidentally, then purposely turn it on and leave the house for half an hour. If you have to have a perfectly clean house, then mess up several rooms and leave them that way for several days at a time. Only through this practice can you discover that your distress passes and so does your urge. Chapters 7 and 8 of Stop Obsessing! provide specific instructions on how to stop your rituals.

But you don't simply have to grit your teeth and bear your distress. Remember to practice relaxation techniques. Use the Calming Breath and the Calming Counts to help let go of your tension. In The Stop Obsessing! Tape Series we provide you with our tape called "Generalized Relaxation and Imagery". This tape will help you let go of your tensions and enjoy twenty minutes of peace and quiet. Because this is a generalized relaxation tape, some people listen to it every day. But another good time to listen to it is when you are resisting your rituals and noticing that you are feeling anxious. Following the tape will help you calm down.

Relaxation is not your only option during these times. In some of these situations, when your tension is high, you won't feel like sitting quietly and listening to a tape. During those times, be sure to refocus your attention on some other task that will hold your interest, like talking to a supportive friend or taking a brisk walk.