How to control an obsession when something is driving you crazy

Is something driving you crazy? Is there something that is bothering you so much that you can barely think of anything else? Human beings have an amazing power to obsess over things. For example, even David Beckham has said that he likes to make sure his fridge is so organised that all his soft drink and soda cans need to be lined up and in order.

“I’ve got this obsessive compulsive disorder where I have to have everything in a straight line or everything has to be in pairs,” says Beckham. “I’ll put my Pepsi cans in the fridge and if there’s one too many then I’ll put it in another cupboard somewhere.”

When does something become an obsession?

When something is driving you crazy – you may be getting obsessed with it. When does enthusiasm shift to obsession? John Hagel has written a great post on this subject called, “Passion Versus Obsession” where he mentions that he used his obsession with chemistry to escape a difficult childhood. He says, “People said I was passionate about chemistry, but they were wrong – I was obsessed.”

Have you noticed that there are some times when you simply can’t let go of a particular thought or problem? Perhaps you are just letting the problem circle around and around in your mind – which does you no good.

Why we obsess

Children often become obsessed with things. “Serious fixations and obsessions are most common with toddlers ages 2-4,” says Yahoo Parenting blogger Unwirklich Vin Zant. She goes on to say that this can often be for reasons of security. Toddlers latch on to a particular piece of clothing, a toy or a food to make them feel that their world has order that they can control.

“For a toddler the world is just changing everywhere and while that may be exciting it’s also terrifying. In reaction the toddler will pick one thing that just MUST be and build it into routine,” says Vin Zant.

Sometimes people become obsessed with things they are trying to control. The urge to control our environment is very strong in humans – effectively because we really have very little control over anything. Even our greatest plans and attempts at organisation can be derailed easily – setting us on a path to uncertainty.

An obsession is an unhealthy attachment to something

When we become obsessed with something – we are forming a strong attachment that can be hard to break. Like a toddler clinging unnecessarily to a toy – we also need to give up our obsessions – not our passions. If you have become obsessed with something or someone – or even some outcome – there are things you can do to combat this and learn to let it go.

Therapist Ayana Rose-Williams has written a post called How to Control an Obsession. I like her ideas and think that they are spot on. To summarise her advice:

Tips on controlling an obsession:

Tip #1: Use a “thought-stopping technique” – she suggests consciously thinking of something else rather than your obsession. Another writer I have come across suggests thinking of the obsessive thought as a “hot potato” and “dropping it”.

Tip #2: Blank your mind out – as if it was a TV screen. I have another friend who visualises static from a TV – both the noise and the appearance to block out a repetitive thought. Another way is to think of a song or TV theme.

Tip #3: Spend some time with your thoughts – I like this idea. Often if you are really obsessing about something – meditate upon it. Find a quiet spot and spend 5 minutes with the issue/problem/thought and sit with it. Set a timer and when the time is up – let the thought go.

Tip 4: Keep a to-do list – this could be a good suggestion if you have lots to do. Or try making yourself very busy. Yesterday when I was obsessing over something, I began a long, boring, repetitive and tedious work task (compiling a dull but necessary spreadsheet) and even though it wasn’t fun – it kept my mind off the problem.

If you are really struggling

As Rose-Williams suggests – see a therapist. If this is too extreme, I would recommend trying meditation to give yourself some tools for quietening the mind. My recommendation would be Vipassana – which is not for the faint hearted. It is an involved practice but if you ever come across a centre that offers it – look into it. In Sydney where I live, courses are by donation, meaning that cost is not a factor – you can volunteer your time if you cannot afford to donate.

A final thought on obsession

“Obsession is the single most wasteful human activity, because with an obsession you keep coming back and back and back to the same question and never get an answer.” — Norman Mailer


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