Breaking Up With OCD
For a long time now I’ve been identifying myself as being and having OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) although I’ve never been clinically diagnosed with it. To be honest, I can’t remember if I started identifying myself as such, or if family and friends assigned me the label and I just accepted it. Either way, it’s been with me for a long time.
Reading about the disorder’s symptoms (Mayo Clinic) I can clearly see that I fit quite a few of them:
- Needing things orderly and symmetrical
- Doubts that you’ve locked the door or turned off the stove
- Intense stress when objects aren’t orderly or facing a certain way
- Following a strict routine
- Demanding reassurance
I think that in some ways my acceptance of this label originates, at least in part and however unfortunate, from the culture inculcated by Silicon Valley and startup lore (and industry that I’ve been part of for almost 20 years now) where labels such as: OCD, Type-A/ADD, Ninja (whatever that means), workaholic or hustler (and its many unhealthy manifestations: 80+ hrs work weeks, 24/7 availability, sleep under the desk, no vacation or time off, etc.), and others, are wore as badges of honor (they are NOT!) where they should be considered badges of horror.
I’ve known, for a long time, that the words that we use to describe how we see and do things in life have a direct and measurable impact on how we perceive and feel about ourselves. This also applies to the labels that we use to describe others.
- Tell yourself that you are not good at math (here’s another label that I’ve self-applied since high school) and you won’t be good at it.
- Describe yourself as klutzy, uncoordinated and non-athletic and chances are that your tennis game will never improve.
- Call yourself a natural-born procrastinator and watch your to-do list grow ad infinitum.
And so it goes with every other single label that you apply to yourself and others.
One crucial element that must be present at a conscious or subconscious level, and this is really where the power of labels comes from and where they are formed or destroyed is: the need, again… consciously or subconsciously (and most of the time this happens at the latter one) to believe them to be true and for us to identify with them and in them.
Because this process of believing in these labels tends to happen at a very subconscious level, it’s is very hard to become aware so that we can start questioning their validity. But until you don’t become aware of what these labels are you won’t be able to start questioning and understanding the impact that they have in your everyday life and discern whether or not they have a positive influence in, not only how you see and perceive yourself but most importantly, how you value yourself and how they disempower or empower you to live a purposeful life.
Last week I read this post from Nir Eyal and all of the sudden things started to finally click — I had an epiphany of sorts.
The epiphany was very quick and simple, yet so powerful as to throw a lot of my personal believes about the many labels that I’ve been carrying for so long into disarray.
The though was very clear: if “negative” labels can have such an adverse effect on our psyche which has such a direct influence over our lives, could it work the other way around?
Can something as simple as changing a negative label into a positive one start creating a new perceptions of ourselves and others which in turn will create a newer and better reality and better relationships?
So today, I’m trying a small exercise (new habits are best implemented in small, easy to execute steps): I’m replacing the label “OCD” with the following four labels:
- Efficient (< is >).
Now, I could tell you that I use these four nouns to describe some aspects of my personality and you may reply: “Clearly you are OCD.” But that would be your negative view of me. That will no longer by my view or perception of myself.
With one label down, I move on to the next one.
Now is your turn. Pick one label that you feel has been holding you down or back, turn it around and restate it with one more more positive nouns and commit yourself, for the next year, to use these new terms to think and describe yourself every time you feel that you are about to think or say the old one.