Articles by Carol Edwards
Checking: A Way To Build Confidence In Your Memory
TWO-DAY CHECKING TECHNIQUE
When people repeatedly check, it can have a negative impact on memory. According to Professor Adam Radomsky, a two-day checking experiment can help.
Whatever it is that you check (doors, health, grammar, etc.) you would force yourself to check your memory once on day one of the experiment. And on the second day, you would check frequently.
So let's say you have a fear of burglars breaking into your home while you're at work. You would lock the door before you leave for work once only. Later that day, on a scale of zero to one-hundred, you would rate how confident you are in your memory of locking the door. After that, you would not recheck your memory.
The next day, however, you would lock the door as you did the day before. This time, you would rate how confident you are in your memory of doing it every hour throughout the day.
The point in the experiment is to spot how the urge to repeat a checking behaviour occurs the more times you monitor your recall. It's because you become less sure about whether you did or didn't lock the door or whether you did it correctly. It becomes a what-if scenario of Did I or didn't I? Did I do it right, or didn't I? I'll do it again, just in case.
Adam Radomsky says the more you check something, the less confident you are in your memory. In other words, checking, which is supposed to make you more convinced that you did something, actually makes you less sure because the action of doing it becomes sketchy or feels incomplete.
So when double-checking reduces your confidence, the problem gets worse and you get the urge to do other checking behaviours, which spiral out of control. For instance, calling a neighbour to check your door is locked, seeking reassurance from others or leaving work to go back home to check eventually gets out of hand and becomes a vicious circle.
Exposure-response prevention can help you manage uncertainty by directly forcing yourself to lock the door once without checking (or whatever it is that you check). It's what leads to weakening the obsessive fear, and subsequently, the urge to check diminishes. Click for more advice on checking.
Three Ways to Help With Mental Checking
1. PREVENT DEFENCE BEHAVIOURS
If you want to stop mental checking, you first need to learn how not to do it. You can do that by discovering how to prevent defence behaviours, which basically means resisting the urge to check. The important thing is to catch any opening that invites you to check. By being mindful of that, you set yourself up to be more combat-ready to resist the urge before you fall into its trap. It might be that you're sitting alone in the quiet. You suddenly think, "That's strange, OCD hasn't been bothering me so much today with intrusive thoughts about XY and Z." Notice how this is an opening to start checking why OCD is less bothersome, today? This is the time to identify that you must resist checking why OCD is less bothersome, right now. In other words, when an obsession appears nonexistent, recognise that it is NOT an invitation to ruminate yourself into figuring out why that's the case.
2. INTERRUPT MENTAL CHECKING
The second thing is to learn how to interrupt mental checking. For example, suppose you're wondering why that particular obsession is no longer active, and you're trying to locate it to work out the reasons for that. Let's now suppose the obsession has woken up due to all that mental searching. In this situation, your job is to identify that the obsession and ruminating are now in sync. When you can spot this sync up, you can learn to disrupt the process. You can do this by shifting state. This technique means moving mind and body onto something else, mindfully. It helps you sit with the intrusive thoughts while simultaneously resisting the urge to continue checking for further information about the obsession.
3. RESIST CHECKING THOSE CHECKS
Later, and this is the third thing, you might fall into a further trap of reflecting on your previous ruminations, which is checking those checks. For instance, suppose an opportunity to revert back to obsessing about the lost obsession and searching for a resolve pops up again. But instead of resisting obsessing, you opt in one more time. This time, you want to try pinpointing something more about the lost obsession, to try to make more sense of it or to prove it isn't really about you. It's all pointless because the obsession will always be invalid, but you cannot resist. The point, therefore, is to notice when you're checking those checks and then resist.
First, prevent defence, second, interrupt mental checking and third, resist the impulse to engage in post-review. Each is an opportunity to redirect your attention to use ritual prevention. In short, it is the goal of exposure-response prevention, which weakens the obsession and keeps it that way.
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