You never know who you’ll run into on a bus. Fireworks crackled in the night sky, splashing our bus in red and blue halos on a crisp November evening in Sydney, Oz. My Scotsman friend and I bantered with the American beside us. When asked what brought him to the land downunder he noted: speaking engagements.
For the scientists amongst you, Jeffrey needs no introduction. He’s a leading expert in neuroplasticity and a research psychiatrist at the University of California, School of Medicine. For film buffs, he’s best known as Leonardo DiCaprio’s consultant for the role of Howard Hughes on The Aviator.
Jeffrey’s breakthrough work with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder patients made him the ideal consultant for the Howard Hughes role, the real life Howard Hughes being assumed to have suffered from OCD. With OCD, patients are relentlessly hounded with the same thoughts or images, causing immense anxiety in the sufferer.
Home sweet home in Canada, months after my initial introduction to Jeffrey, I caught up with him over the phone to talk about the 4-Step Solution he developed for OCD patients. I wanted to know how it could help high-aspiring individuals like myself overcome the inhibitors that hold me back from my goals.
The four steps are Relabel, Reframe, Refocus, and Revalue.
Since procrastination is something I struggle with and I know many other writers do also, I offered it to Jeffrey as our case scenario.
“Procrastination is a very common thing and I certainly have a lot of it,” remarks Jeffrey. “For people with OCD, [it] has a lot to do with always feeling like you [need] to do things perfectly. [And that] becomes an excuse [for] putting things off.”
I’m not OCD, but perfectionism is definitely a major motivator for my procrastination. As mentioned in an earlier post I put off writing the end of my novel for years, because if I never wrote it I could never get it wrong.
For OCD patients, and very much true for non-OCD individuals, Jeffrey explains, “There’s always an overriding feeling that it’s not good enough and then it becomes overwhelming.” He gives the example of how people with bad OCD often end up living in a mess because any type of cleaning becomes obsessive and out of control, so they don’t clean at all. “People who feel satisfied by small degrees of progress don’t have nearly as much [of] a problem with procrastination as people who feel like it [has to] be right and feel an inner pressure when it’s not right. Then they just don’t do anything.”
So how do we make use of the 4-Steps? “The four steps are [an] applied form of mindfulness,” says Jeffrey. Mindfulness being “A third person perspective on first person experiencing … it’s being aware of what you’re experiencing.” One of the things Jeffrey says you become aware of through mindfulness is that your mind is not entirely in your control – allowing it to become distracted and unproductive, and must be followed by practice to gain more control.
Relabeling is the first step. It’s identifying the unhealthy thoughts when they happen – e.g. if I write the end of my book I’ll mess it up – and label them for what they are: unhealthy thoughts. “Any target goal that you have,” says Jeffrey, “can be helped just by [the] awareness that comes from knowing whether you’re going toward that goal or away from that goal.”
Previously, I was going away from my goal of finishing my novel because of my unhealthy thought. I had to identify this inhibiting idea in order to move to step two: Reframe.