What do OCD, addiction and self-discipline have in common?

What do OCD, addiction and self-discipline have in common? They all involve some form of repetition compulsion. At first glance, it looks as if self-discipline involves using self-control to benefit oneself while addictions and other OCD behaviors look as if someone is out of control. But, as you will see, the essence of all three is the same.

I know it’s a bit of a stretch to imagine that something as beneficial as self-discipline could be similar to addiction or obsessive compulsive disorder, but it is.

In its own way, each one is soothing, comforting and supportive. The only question, if you see yourself in any of these three categories, is: Am I using my innate tendencies to help me or harm me?

It’s amazing how you can take the exact same internal tendency, the desire to be in control, and express it in such radically different ways.

I believe one of the reasons we choose something self-destructive over something helpful has to do with our childhood, biology and peer group influences during adolescence.

No one sets out to become an addict, hoarder, overeater, or anything else self-defeating. Thankfully, the exact same mechanisms that perpetuate those issues can be turned around and used to one’s advantage.

It’s not quick or easy, but it can be done. Think of all the people who once were addicted to alcohol, drugs, pornography, gambling, etc. who turned that same underlying energy into exercise, saving money, vocational fulfillment, humanitarian causes, etc.

In 12 step programs, one of the first things they suggest is to attend 90 meetings in 90 days. Cultivating this new habit invites you to shift your OCD tendency from a substance or other harmful addiction to a life enhancing behavior.

Extreme sports, even healthy daily exercise regimes like yoga, qigong and Tai chi can stand in for unhealthy expressions like obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviors.

We have all seen OCD behaviors in their positive, or socially sanctioned, forms. Obsessed with eating healthily? Super ambitious and obsessed with climbing the career ladder? Keep an immaculately clean house? Love routines and rituals? All could be classified as OCD to some degree.

Self-discipline, the lauded twin of addictions and negative behaviors, merely requires a shift in focus? Yes, it’s a 180° shift, but it can be done. Your ego will thank you. Your family, friends and co-workers will thank you, and you will feel in control instead of out of control. It’s crucial to recognize that the very same things that kept you habituated or addicted to something unhelpful can be used to forge a better life. It’s truly incredible how the exact same strategies that made you a successful addict, or got you to wash your hands 50 times a day, can be used positively to create a life of purpose, connection and self-compassion.

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang 

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Nicole Urdang

Nicole S. Urdang, M.S., NCC, DHM is a Holistic Psychotherapist in Buffalo, NY. She holds a New York state license in mental health counseling and a doctorate in homeopathic medicine from the British Institute of Homeopathy.