Good exposure and response prevention is like the fun and playful part of childhood. What comes to mind for you?
Young kids practice winning. Try playing cards with a four-year-old. They can’t wait to show you what they can do. First, they change the rules. Then, they change the game. It’s always fun because they always win.
As an adult in the external world, you will make mistakes and you won’t always win. Pursuits you attempt may not work out. You can still win on the inside. You can change your game if you change your rules.
Here is the new game: Internally, always ask for whatever is happening.
Here are the new rules:
- Commit to the smallest next step towards what you value.
- If you want more, do more.
Here is how this might sound internally when you are moving towards what you value:
“I feel anxious. Great! I was hoping for that… There’s shame. thank u, next.I feel angry. Also, great! I need more practice with that one… Oh, sadness. It was under the anger… The sadness makes me long for connection. Interesting. Hm… I feel peace… How can I get more peace?”
So, you’re setting up your formal exposure and response prevention practice, which I (per Sally and Marty) call intentional practice. A major difference between intentional practice and incidental practice is creativity. Intentional practice is our creative attempt to trigger what you fear on purpose so that you have the exact opportunity you need to face your fear. You don’t have to be creative for incidental practice because life gives it to you. We’ll talk more about this next week.
Let’s use our creativity together to set up your intentional practice. What’s the best way to trigger your anxiety in a way that is challenging, but manageable at the same time? Remember your strategy is: Practice winning. Make your commitments small,frequent, and willing.
Small and frequent
Like any effective behavior change, you need to commit time to this. You’ll undermine the process if your commitment is too big, you try to commit in a perfect way, or you beat yourself for any part of what happens when you try. You’ll dread your commitment and it will be another reason to be disappointed by yourself. Commit to what is reasonable for you for who you are today. Own that commitment until you’re ready for more. Small commitments will build over time. You will start to understand what’s happening and how to relate more effectively when you prepare for and own your small victories. Once you master the core skills needed to relate to anxiety well, you will naturally be able to take more anxiety-provoking challenges in your life. We discuss small, frequent, and reasonable commitments in every group and group is a great place to discuss this in greater detail.
It’s important that your attitude is “I’m practicing to learn more about how my anxiety operates and to relate to it more flexibly” rather than “I must do these exposures perfectly to cure myself from OCD.” Sometimes when you do something anxiety-provoking with a willing attitude, it will be empowering and you will feel great. Other times you will get new thoughts and feelings and have the chance to observe and relate effectively to those. All of this is great. You get to learn from all of it.
Here’s some examples from group:
If someone fears certain words, we all say the first three letters of that word together. It’s funny! Most people in the group have a similar fear and they know that the small, frequent, willing exposures are the way through.
We can touch our phones and then lick our fingers. Or just lick our phones. That’s dirtier than a toilet! FUN!
Opportunities for exposure are everywhere when you are looking for them. This is called intentional practice because you’re doing it on purpose, rather than it showing up without your creativity.
This week in Community time, we’ll discuss your small, frequent, and willing practice.
Next week, we’ll talk more about how to prepare for incidental practice.