Sabbath Ramblings: Control.

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control issues
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I'm going to come right out and admit it…

…I think I have OCD.

No, no, no, I haven't actually been “officially diagnosed” with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It's nothing that dramatic.

But I'm pretty darn sure I certainly have grown significantly in the past several years in certain OCD-like tendencies, which I've found seems to be quite common amongst my peers as we age and develop distinct habits, rituals, and routines that—while lending stability, control, and productiveness to one's life—can reach a certain point to where those same habits become almost too rote and non-negotiable, often to the detriment of social life, family life, personal progression, exploration, creativity, and learning; experiencing new things in a free, fun, flowing manner; and simply being instead of doing.

For example, when I step back and analyze my own daily routine, I've noticed the development of several OCD-like tendencies, including:

  • Feeling “less-than-myself” unless I fully complete a morning self-care and spiritual routine that includes strategies such as meditation, journaling, face-washing, oil-pulling, tongue-scraping, nutritional supplements, foam-rolling, stretching, breathwork, etc. Should I miss any component of this established routine (which seems to have grown quite elaborate in recent years) I simply feel a bit “off” the rest of the day, with a nagging worry at the back of my mind that I didn't “stick to my morning routine” or didn't do everything I could have done to optimize my body and brain for the day. Are these type of morning or evening rituals bad? Absolutely not. As I write about here, I don't know any successful, productive people who do not have some kind of a relatively structured and occasionally elaborate morning routine, but when that routine dictates zero allowance for more free-flowing activities such as random fun family breakfast outings or occasionally sleeping in to snuggle in bed with my wife, or that routine interferes with work obligations by causing me to show up late for a call or be inadequately prepared for a meeting or writing session because I was “checking all my boxes,” it becomes obsessive, problematic, and selfish.

 

  • Extreme rigidity with workouts and exercising to the extent to where if I do not do the exact workout that I have planned for the day, for the exact amount of time I have scheduled for that workout, with the exact exercises I have programmed, I become annoyed and anxious. If a social event my wife has planned or an outing with the kids suddenly, at the last minute, interferes with that workout, it significantly rubs me the wrong way, even if it's something as simple as cutting a stretching session five minutes short or going on a family hike instead of doing my planned kettlebell or weight training workout. I'll also often become anxious if I look at my wearable tracker results and see that I haven't reached my allotted 15,000-step count for the day, and even go on random walks that tear me away from social events just so I can “catch up.”  I'll sometimes find myself checking my continuous blood glucose monitor, sleep tracker, or activity tracker nearly as often as some people check their social media accounts (meaning, more than once per hour, which I don't think is a healthy and productive use of time). Again, these are the same types of physical disciplines that have kept me extremely fit and healthy, but increasingly seem to threaten my very sanity should they ever be altered by something outside my control or some “annoying” obligation that is actually more important than adhering to my planned workout. Of course, this should all be viewed in the light of the fact that these habits developed when I was a pro athlete, but now that I'm not a pro athlete anymore seem to have stuck around in near full amounts.

 

  • Intense control of food and meal composition and timing, including: painstaking analysis of packaged food labels to ensure not even the slightest semblance of anything I perceive as unhealthy to be present in even the most minuscule amounts; refusal to eat a meal until the exact amount of time has arrived I have planned on eating it (e.g. ensuring an intermittent fast lasts at last 12 hours, and refusing to eat even if I'm hungry but it's only been, say 11.5 hours, or refusing to go to a lunch meeting at 12:30 because I hadn't planned on eating lunch until 1 pm); putting off family meals or dinners until the exact time that they fit into my own personal schedule; resistance to allowing others to cook for me unless I know the exact list of ingredients they are putting into my meal, hence some amount of low-level anxiety at any restaurants; and a near-obsession with tracking parameters such as blood glucose and ketones to ensure I'm constantly staying within my targeted range.

 

  • Sacrificing anything to ensure my circadian rhythm and sleep/wake times are optimized, including: not going outside to star-gaze with my kids if it's too close to the beginning of my bedtime rituals; refusing to splurge on a late-night dinner date with my wife if it doesn't allow me to adhere to my normal evening sleep time; avoiding social events that may put me in a scenario in which I'm “out past my bedtime;” refusing to sleep in a bed unless it has exactly three pillows (one for under my head, one for on top of my head and one for between my legs); and becoming anxious and borderline insomniac if I I'm ever unable to go to bed without my sleeping mask, foam earplugs, lavender essential oil, blue light blockers, etc., etc., etc.

 

  • Most notably, an ever-increasing lack of fun, free, flowing play, which has instead been replaced by strict scheduling, order, checklists, habits, rituals, disciplines, and a distinct and significant lack of spontaneity that also often serves as work or habit-based escapism that distances me from the needs of my loved ones.

These are just a few examples I've identified from my own life, but I hope you get the idea.

So…

…have you ever struggled with the same issues?

If so, do you, like me, wonder how these kinds of extreme control issues gradually develop?

Which ingrained habits, tendencies, or inherent genetic predispositions does all this stem from?

And most importantly, is there a solution?

After all, I know for a fact that I'm not the only health enthusiast that deals with OCD-like tendencies. I have many, many friends and acquaintances who are biohackers, nutritionists, personal trainers, exercise enthusiasts, and the like who all seem to face similar uphill battles of control. So I think it's high time that— particularly in this article—I put all the cards on the table and talk openly about my own issues, the underlying causes, and the solutions I've personally found so that I can hopefully help you out just a bit with any OCD or control issues you may have and also generate a proactive discussion about OCD and control in the comments section below this post. 


What Is OCD & What Causes It?

We all have our own little quirks, habits, and behaviors that we know we might be better off without, or at least may be better off being more flexible with. Sure, many of us could use more self-control and order in our lives. But when habits and thoughts spin out of control, becoming so intense and intrusive that they seem to take over against our will or what we know would be a more sane and normal approach to routine, they can turn into all-consuming rituals that are irrationally and often selfishly performed to rid us of an overwhelming sense of fear, dread, and anxiety. This signifies that we may be on a slow slide towards excessive control tendencies or mild OCD.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines OCD as “…a common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and/or behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.”

People with OCD can have symptoms of obsessions, compulsions, or both, and these symptoms can interfere with all aspects of life, such as work, school, and personal relationships.

Obsessions are defined by the NIMH as “…repeated thoughts, urges, or mental images that cause anxiety,” including:

  • Fear of germs or contamination
  • Unwanted forbidden or taboo thoughts involving sex, religion, or harm
  • Aggressive thoughts towards others or self
  • Having things symmetrical or in a perfect order

Compulsions are defined as repetitive behaviors that a person with OCD feels the urge to do in response to an obsessive thought, including:

  • Excessive cleaning and/or handwashing
  • Ordering and arranging things in a particular, precise way
  • Repeatedly checking on things, such as repeatedly checking to see if the door is locked or that the oven is off
  • Compulsive counting, counting things for no reason, or not being able to finish activities until you've counted to a certain number.

Other common characteristics of OCD-like tendencies include uncontrolled eating or drinking, nail-biting, compulsive shopping and gambling, substance abuse, impulsive sexual behaviors, and excessive ruminating about relationships, self-image, and self-esteem.

Now there is one important caveat here: People often tend to confuse OCD with a far less disabling issue named obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD), and it's actually a bit more accurate to describe my own OCD-like tendencies—and the tendencies of many people who suspect they may have OCD—as OCPD, and not true OCD.

So what sets these two apart?

Basically, when obsessions and compulsions are significant enough to cause significant functional impairments, it's usually OCD. In contrast, in OCPD, obsessions, and compulsions are more like slight personality quirks or idiosyncrasies. For example, a person with OCPD may hang on to some object because they believe they may need it someday, but a person with OCD may, in a sort of hoarding compulsion, fill every square foot of their house with worthless trash they know they'll never need.

People with OCPD tend to have trouble “seeing the forest for the trees” and are typically list-makers who get so hung up on minute details that they don't see the big picture. In a classic case of the “best” being the “enemy of the good,” their quest for perfection often interferes with their getting things done. People with OCPD tend to mess up things that are good enough in their quest to make everything perfect in every detail. They are relatively set in their ways and habits, inflexible, and unwilling to compromise. In the view of someone with OCPD, if a job is to be done right, it must be done exactly their way. Because of this, they tend to be checklist-driven micromanagers who are unwilling to delegate. (Interestingly, this personality type is twice as common in males than females.)

However—although I imagine this may be much to the chagrin of a dyed-in-the-wool psychiatrist or personality disorder specialist—for the purposes of simplicity and clarity, for the remainder of this article, I'm simply going to use the term OCD as a catch-all phrase to describe both OCD and OCPD. Hopefully, that's OK with you.

So with that quick clarification, let's move on: What causes OCD in the first place?

Researchers have offered a variety of explanations. For example, there is a link between OCD and unbalanced levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that relays messages between neurons. There are also significant genetic factors at play. For example, if you listen to my intriguing podcast with Dr. Mansoor Mohammed of TheDNACompany, you'll hear Dr. Mohammed explain how my own serotonin pathways (and interestingly, those of my twin boys)—specifically those related to the COMT and 5-HTTLPR genotypes—result in decreased expression of serotonin transporters and dysregulated serotonin secretion and reuptake, resulting in a strong tendency towards reward and pleasure-seeking behavior, a propensity to addictive, binge, or manic behaviors, propensity to endlessly ruminate on worries and tasks, and proneness to—you guessed it—OCD-like tendencies.

This neurotransmitter and genetic hardwiring, while allowing one to be a highly productive and organized individual, can also cause a bit of a glitch in a section of the brain called the caudate nucleus, basically causing the frontal lobe of the brain to become somewhat overactive. This allows the brain to become flooded and often overwhelmed with many thoughts, impulses, anxieties, and worries that enter their mind. (Incidentally, one of the most meaningful tips Dr. Mohammed gave to me during that podcast was to ensure that I write down any to-dos, tasks, or notes that enter my brain as soon as possible after I think of them because otherwise, my brain will grab onto those thoughts like a bulldog and cause me to become hyperfocused and anxious that I may forget or lose track of them.)

But while genetics and nature can certainly play a role in OCD, there are also environmental factors and nurturing factors that can also contribute. For example, in the past two decades, as a former bodybuilder, then a serious Ironman triathlete, then a professional Spartan competitor—all while acting as a family man, CEO, and founder of a variety of businesses in the health, nutrition, and fitness sector—I've had to set up robust planning and organizing mechanisms in my own environment that have required me to become a creature of habit who relies upon a strict, nearly obsessive, schedule to simply keep track of and accomplish everything I need to do in any given week. Throw hefty bouts of speaking, biohacking, and immersive journalism into the mix, and I've also got tons of toys to try, books and research papers to read, books to write, and habits to pile on already existing habits, resulting in many, many things to “do” each day that tend to, especially after years and years, stack on each other to create an incredibly complex existence that necessitates even more OCD and control.

As you can imagine, this can become a bit of a vicious cycle.

In addition, childhood experiences can play a role in the development of or tendencies towards OCD. Many people with control issues or OCD grew up in households headed by either a very rigid father or a dominating mother, which can result in low self-esteem and the subsequent development of controlling compulsions. These types of folks, early in life, were often given the impression by their parents that they need to be perfect, and hence, develop a tendency to try to control their social environment. They build up their own safe, little perfect world that they can easily control, and, as a result, family, friends, and social obligations are often pushed outside this world due to the relatively spontaneous nature of these relationships.

In my own case, I was both raised in a very rigid and controlling home and was also often given the impression that much of my personal value was determined by how perfect I was or how perfect I appeared to be to the outside world, which you can learn a bit more about here.

Ultimately, I'm not really a “label” guy. I'll admit that I often have a bit of a visceral reaction when I hear people blame their personal issues on past trauma, or the way their mother and father raised them, or biochemical imbalances and the like. I often feel as though these labels or reasons for personal faults can take too much precedence and can be used as a crutch to shame others or blame experiences for what is truly a personality or character fault that someone simply needs to turn over to God, repent of, and then do the hard work to fix. Yet, at the same time, I think we all have inherent tendencies towards certain sins, and in my own case, the genetic, environmental, and deeply-rooted “blessing” of being a creature of habits, rituals, routines, order, and systems has gradually become a “curse” of being a creature void of creative, spontaneous flow.

The question is, what does one do about these tendencies? I'll now share with you what I have been finding helpful over the past several weeks as I have identified control issues in my own life and set about to fix them.


Three Ways To Release Control Issues & OCD Tendencies

Before I explain the three strategies I have personally found most helpful to release control and OCD tendencies, I must first emphasize that I am not encouraging or endorsing a chaotic, unscheduled, free-wheeling existence with no scheduling, control, organization, or routines. Allow me to repeat and re-emphasize what I wrote earlier in this article: Things becomes problematic when habits and thoughts spin out of control, becoming so intense and intrusive that they seem to take over against our will or what we know would be a more sane and normal approach to routine, because they can turn into all-consuming rituals that are irrationally or often selfishly performed to rid us of an overwhelming sense of fear, dread, and anxiety.

So do not be ashamed or embarrassed if you are a somewhat controlling and orderly Type-A individual (like me). The world needs those types of people, especially due to the great deal of stability they can lend to society, just as much as the world needs creative, free-flowing artists (like my wife) for healthy doses of joy, inspiration, and spontaneity. But do indeed guard against control and identify when it, or OCD-like tendencies that accompany it, threaten to produce excessive anxiety, selfish habits, social isolation, or lack of creative, free play.

That being said, the first realization that has helped me is to recognize and acknowledge that the Creator of this universe is a God of both order and spontaneity. 

1 Corinthians 14:33 tells us: “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.”

For example, God’s created universe is orderly. It was created in a sequenced six-day span, with sun, moon, and stars to regulate time, seasons, and circadian rhythmicities of earth's inhabitants, and heavenly bodies that operate with clock-like precision and predictability.

Your body is another example of God’s orderliness. As I explained in great detail here, biological mechanisms such as the complex cardiovascular system that snakes miles throughout the body, a supercomputer brain that fires thousands of neurotransmitters per second to regulate breath, heart rate, pain, temperature, respiration, thought, and more, symmetrical patterns such as Pi and the Golden Ratio that are symbolized in elements of nature such as fingertips and leaves and millions of other chemical and physical reactions occur nearly ever second of the day. If one of these factors falls out of order, creation slowly begins to crumble.

God also created and scheduled orderly and sequential time variations as a way for earth to mark changes, including the rising and setting of the sun, the perfectly timed rotation of the earth upon its axis, the waxing and waning of the moon, and many others. Hebrews 1:3 and Colossians 1:17 tell us that everything in the universe was created by God to be good and perfect, and for millennia, it has remained in working order based on these built-in laws of time. Throughout the Old Testament, God continues to lay down order with specific laws, customs, and rituals such as Passover, sacrifices and anointings, days of atonement, symbolic clothing and lists of rules such as the ten commandments. God's Church has continued to reflex this order with practices such as celebrations of religious holidays, dedicated prayer times, a liturgical calendar, and weekly taking of the sacraments.

Yet while God is a God of order—and while Paul tells the Corinthians, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40)—God is also a fierce, wild, and spontaneous God, and Paul also tells the Corinthians “where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17). In this article about union with God, I cite an intriguing essay that describes a fitting description of God's fierceness, wildness, dangerousness, and spontaneity:

“…God is dangerous, wild, and unpredictable. He is dynamite and a kidnapper. That’s the God of Abraham…the God of Abraham does not pen Hallmark cards. He is not a corporate risk manager. He is not a cruise director aiming to make our trip as pleasant and comfortable as possible. He is here to overturn tables and create people who can run alongside Him. “If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses?” (Jeremiah 12:5). He wants a people like horses, people whose necks are “clothed with thunder,” “mock at fear,” and do not stop at the sound of the trumpet. It’s not about power; it’s about character and tension and Trinity.” 

Throughout history, the same God who freely paints splatters of yellow, orange, and red across a sunset and sunrise, fashions and forms the funkiness of the hippopotamus, platypus, and giraffe, and coordinates miracles that can often defy the laws of the order of nature (such as talking donkeys, burning bushes, and floating axes) has also inspired great works of poetry art, fiction, architecture, and many other creative forms of human expression. God is a Creator who takes joy in our own human creations, and creation, of course, often requires a certain deal of creativity and release of tidy, predictable control.

The trick is to use wisdom, discernment, prayer, and understanding to know how to weave into your own life both order and spontaneity. Think about it this way: Water is free, flowing, playful, and unpredictable, yet a series of intricately ordered and well-arranged hydrogen and oxygen molecules are what actually comprise the mass of waters that boundlessly lap across our planet. A dark and wild forest is broad-sweeping, unconstrained, and borderless, yet upon closer inspection can be comprised of row upon row of ordered trees consisting of atoms, electrons, and protons that operate according to specific laws of chemistry and physics. Earth itself, if a person attempted to walk its circumference, would appear to be a creative, variable, and oft-erratic conglomerate of random deserts, lakes, rivers, oceans, mountains, and valleys, yet if that same person were suddenly swept into space to peer at earth from above, it would appear to be a tidy and symmetrical orb rotating at a perfectly predictable rate.

So, aim to arrange your own life similarly: Create calendars, systems, habits, rituals, routines, and organizations, but use these structures as the foundation for a life that is creative, flowing, and playful. Work hard and play hard. Research scientific papers, run on a treadmill, and speak systematically, but also read fiction, dance, and sing. Go out to the garage to do your end-of-the-day planned 30-minute bike ride, but simply smile, dismount, and don't let smoke come out your ears if your spouse pops their head out the garage door at the 26-minute mark to announce that dinner is ready.

And don't chew too much off at once. I recommend you begin with a Sunday. Take that single Sabbath day of the week and schedule (perhaps aside from visiting church at the proper time or setting a time to have a dinner party or something like that), absolutely nothing.

Try it. Just once. See how it feels. Personally, I'd categorize it as glorious.

Second, trust in God and turn your anxious thoughts over to Him. I talk plenty about trust in this article, but allow me to expound upon what I wrote there just a bit more.

Philippians 4:4-9 tells us to:

“⁴Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. ⁵Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. ⁶Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. ⁷And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. ⁸Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. ⁹Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.”

Verses four and five build upon what I noted earlier regarding a healthy mix of both joy and spontaneity along with control and order. Those verses tell us to rejoice in the Lord always, but also our “moderation” be known to all men because the Lord is at hand. If you have trusted in God and allowed His Holy Spirit to fill you with the peace that comes through salvation in Christ, you enable yourself to both live a life with self-control and playfully rejoice all the time.

In verse six, we are told to “be careful for nothing.” This translates literally to “be anxious for nothing.” We are then instructed to submit our requests to God with a grateful heart and then to allow God to guide our hearts and minds. Verse seven tells us that the result of that gratefulness will be both peace and protection, which are, of course, the opposite of anxiety.

Verse eight then tells us to dwell upon things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. I can think of no better way to do this than to steep ourselves daily in the Bible—through hearing, reading, memorizing, singing, praying, and meditation (all of which I teach in great detail how to do here). As you crack open the Bible daily, you may also find these Bible verses about anxiety and OCD quite encouraging and helpful. Finally, verse nine tells us that when we do all these things, God will give us (and here is that word once again) peace. 

In summary, have self-control and engage in moderation, then rejoice in all things, be constantly grateful, pray to and trust God to give you wisdom and discernment over what is a useful habit and what is not, and read the Bible daily.

Finally, I read a fantastic book entitled Brain Lock. In it, Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz lays out four key and scientifically proven steps to manage OCD and OCD-like tendencies, showing before-and-after PET scans of actual changes in the hardwiring of controlling brains when these steps are taken:

  • First, you relabel, which means you train yourself to identify what’s real and what isn’t and refuse to be misled by intrusive destructive thoughts and urges. This includes full presence and awareness to be able to recognize when a habit, routine, or ritual has become selfish, harmful or distracting, then labeling it as an obsession and/or compulsion. One especially helpful component of relabeling includes brining into play the “Impartial Spectator,” a concept that Adam Smith used as the central feature of his book The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Smith defined the Impartial Spectator as the capacity to stand outside yourself and watch yourself in action, which is essentially the same mental action as the ancient Buddhist concept of mindful awareness or the modern psychological practice of trying to step outside yourself and view yourself as the leading character in a movie or book, then assessing how you would feel about that character if they were displaying the same harmful habits you are currently engaged in.
  • Second, you reattribute, meaning that you understand that those thoughts and urges are merely mental noise and false signals being sent from your brain—neurochemicals and neurotransmitters that may be biological blessings in some regards, but are ultimately holding you back from happiness. Obsessions and compulsions can simply be your brain doing “funny things,” and you must simply recognize that.
  • Third, you refocus by learning to respond to those false signals in a new and more constructive way, working around the false signals by refocusing your attention on more constructive behavior that can serve as a replacement or modification to your existing harmful habit, for example, by adapting a sixty minute daily workout to instead be a thirty minute workout, followed by thirty minutes of creative, free play with your children, reading fiction, or tinkering around on a piano. This step is where Dr. Schwartz has noted the most significant changes in brain chemistry to take place.
  • The final and fourth step is to revalue, or to place value on the positive change in habit or new replacement activity for that habit, value on the joy and freedom that pours into your life as a result of release of control, and recognition of the little or no value you actually found in the initial unwanted thought or urge. At this point, Dr. Schwartz describes that the automatic transmission in your brain officially begins to start working properly again.

Biblical counselors John and Janie Street, authors of The Biblical Counseling Guide for Women, have actually developed a Christian method based on Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz’s four steps described above. Below are two of the foundational verses they utilize for the four steps they adapted from his book:

“Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

“…put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Based on these verses, the Streets adapted Schwartz's four steps to the following:

  1. Repent: Identify and confess all obsessive thoughts that control you as sinful habits because they assume you are able to thrive and live by rigid rules of thoughts and behaviors, based on your own works, rather than by faith and trust in God.
  2. Relabel: Similar to Schwartz's step, simply relabel the recurring thoughts and behaviors—even those you feel could be helpful but are ultimately manifested fruits of selfishness in your life—as anxious and fearful tendencies. Do not fear loss of control. Fear God only.
  3. Replace: Substitute those anxious thoughts with trust in a good and loving God who loves and provides for you no matter whether you are perfect or fully in control—in any state of messiness and sinful tendencies. You don't control problems out of your life—only God does.
  4. Refocus: Focus upon the two greatest commandments: loving God and loving others. Release self-focus and shift the focus instead to your Creator, to friends, and to family.

Both books cited above, Brain Lock and The Biblical Counseling Guide for Women (yes guys, you can read it too) will be helpful for anyone who has control issues or OCD. Read them if you can for more detailed instructions and clarity related to the steps I've cited above.


Summary

Paul says in Colossians 3:9–10, “You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

There is hope. Your old self can become a new self. You can release the shackles of control, fear, and shame and replace them with the flowing robes of faith, trust, peace, love, and joy. Science has even proven that the renewing of one’s thoughts can create real, measurable, and observable changes in the brain, based on the same cellular mechanisms behind the biology of belief that I describe here.

So, in summary:

  1. Recognize and acknowledge that the Creator of this universe is a God of both order and spontaneity, and weave healthy doses of both order and spontaneity into your own life, especially if you're currently skewed towards the former.
  2. Trust God, rejoice in all things, be constantly grateful, pray to and trust God to give you wisdom and discernment over what is a useful habit and what is not, and read the Bible daily.
  3. Read Brain Lock, or at least follow the four steps from it that I have described above (relabel, refocus, reattribute, and revalue), or use the steps from The Biblical Counseling Guide for Women (repent, relabel, replace, and refocus).

Now, it's your turn. I have a hunch that the thoughts I have presented above will allow for a healthy discussion in the comments section below that I hope and pray will help many others with OCD, OCPD, or other control issues. But I want to hear about you. Have you struggled with these same issues? What have you found to be helpful? What advice do you have for me or others? Share your thoughts, questions, tips, and feedback in the comments section below. I read them all!

Update: after publishing this article, a few people have asked me whether plant medicines or so-called “psychedelics” may help break the type of OCD or control “loops” that the ego can become reliant. Joe Rogan recently discussed this for the 3-4 minutes following timestamp 1:01:49 in his interview with professor Gary Laderman (below). Long story short is that I certainly think there can be some efficacy to these type of compounds for dissolving the ego and releasing control, but if you find yourself relying upon such substances to “reboot” your system over and over again, it is, in my opinion, indicative of the need to fix the issue with a more permanent solution, such as those I've presented above.

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21 thoughts on “Sabbath Ramblings: Control.

  1. Anna says:

    Thanks for this Ben, I can relate to so much of this. I love how you invoke the nature of water here.

    Bruce Lee’s famous “Be Like Water” quote, the Tao Te Ching’s verses on water and comparison of the Tao to water, and also great little books like “Be Like Water: Practical Wisdom from the Martial Arts” (by Joseph Cardillo) are all beautiful expressions of this idea/guide, that I’ve likewise found extremely helpful. Keep flowing!

  2. Laine says:

    Ben, it’s so beautiful to watch how you’re growing in awareness of yourself and ultimately in consciousness and being the most needed change in the world that has the capacity to shape the evolution of humankind for the better! Thank you so very much for that!

    If not us, who? And if not now, when?

    Much love

  3. Carla says:

    I thoroughly enjoy these Sun. ramblings. This one was truly an eye opener. I’m sure it hits home for many others as well. Keep up the great work & thank you for sharing.

  4. Paul says:

    .I know you’ve done a lot of self qualification. Have you ever thought of getting a brain scan at the Amen Clinics?

    Dr Amen, a fellow Christian, says that looking at the brain, changes the whole discussion about good and evil. https://www.amenclinics.com/blog/the-most-important-lesson-from-160000-brain-scans/

    I’ve been in the addiction recovery field for over 30 years. It’s a graveyard of hopes and dreams and hard work. I’ve seen too many people do work similar to the repent, relabel, replace and refocus work, and burn out because they haven’t looked at their biology, particularly brain health.

    I’ve seen people abandon life-long faith because ultimately they were just trying harder, and they burn out through lack of energy or brainpower. Getting a brain scan was a turning point for me and others.

    I always appreciate your raw honesty and the way you share your personal journey.

  5. So so timely as I asked myself this very question early last week as I started to notice the unexpected irritations over items out of alignment for “optimal and tidy” use…. I unraveled and reraveled this question a few times last week.
    It is all too easy to take comments from others thinking “you have it all so well managed and under control” in an out of control world. I work as a holistic health counselor who helps people make plans/get organized/make routines…. it is a blessing and a curse! and whats more, is it is great if I am alone, but add in teens and a husband and my “skills” are a pain in the ass.
    Your podcast is a retreat for me all week as well as being a wellspring of info that I draw upon. This Sunday writing is just another well timed pondering…
    Maybe we are all there at this point of 2020 as helpers to the community we live among. It is a strange juxtaposition that our skill is also our curse. (on my personal note, I keep a very healthy diet and I dont think it is orthorexic, BUT, as someone who was anorexic for about 5 years, it is a fine line I can cross into. The view from outside in my career is positive, the view from within can be dangerous from time to time. Lately has been one of those times and I am blaming 2020 for it.)
    so thanks. this is a great letter and I am reading it as though it was written for me.

    as a side note, the pods you put out with the Wizard of Essential oils and meditations on being a boy/man (I am a mom of all boys) were a deviation for you and I LOVED THEM. thanks for tapping into your spiritual side. It is good for us all!

    In the season of thanksgiving, I am thankful for you, your team, and your guests on the show.
    M

  6. Matt says:

    Great topic Ben! I’ve gotten better about letting the schedule be more flexible. When you have success and achieve results you’ve worked hard for, it’s tough to risk altering things. What has helped me is choosing what is most critical to my health and well-being. For me, it’s the HIIT workout on my stationary bike. Even if I have to sacrifice all my other daily health tasks, I still feel like I did something to stay alive for my family. Keep sharing your amazing insights, love the new book!

  7. Byron Smith says:

    Have you looked into DNRS? I believe you will be fascinated and Dr Swartz is referenced in one of the videos. We met and at PaleoFX and you were incredibly generous, so I hope this may be interesting and a blessing. :)

    1. Thanks, yes familiar with DNRS. Will look into it more!

      1. virg says:

        https://www.virology.ws/2020/09/02/trial-by-error-what-is-the-dynamic-neural-retraining-system/
        enlightenment on this topic, cuts to the chase. A study was completed w/ results from use of DNRS for 12 months.

      2. Byron says:

        It made the most significant change in me over the last few months than anything else (went thru covid too and lost 25 lbs- any suggestions on getting the weight back?), so highly recommended. Thank You again for being so generous at PaleoFX when I asked about cancer/autoimmune etc.

  8. Rita Mastrovito says:

    Oh boy this was a perfectly timed piece from you, Ben! I know that it’s hard to believe that anyone could be as dedicated (aka OCD) about this stuff as you but believe me everything you described is me to a tee. And if you consider the difference in age, I’m 58, you might understand it’s even more of a problem. The people around me (mostly my age) are initially amazed and then ultimately annoyed by these habits. I thought that it would make me a better person but it has only made me a pariah! I’ve vacillated between giving up and just becoming like the others my age or just becoming even more focussed and just being alone. Both options terrify me — I know that I have to trust God and it will be ok.
    Thanks for this post; you put into words the reasons for my excessive habits and given me some resources to help!

  9. Brent lee says:

    I can relate and often analyze my motives. On one hand, I want to maintain consistency in my positive health routines. I do not allow myself to give in to peer pressure on pre determined convictions. I say no to unexpected offers of cookies, brownies etc. but try to adapt when family or friends invite me to a social event with food. If it involves low quality food it is easy to enjoy the company without eating. I see it as a selfishness issue as I prefer to keep my workout schedule rather than being available for another person who is hurting and needs encouragement. I like my alone time a little too much and am hesitant to just hang out with people as I have a perceived need to be productive

  10. Jackie says:

    Wow! Without feeding your ego, I just can’t say enough about how much I appreciate all you do for your followers. I admire how knowledgable you are about so many things. This article was so raw and transparent and helped us see things in ourselves that you, who we think is perfect, also suffer from. I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder. I spent a lot of time worrying about my health. Deep down I feel that the stress and anxiety that I experience will erase all the good that I do for myself. I’m grateful everyday for my family, my friends, the wonderful life I have lived, without God leading me everywhere in my life I’m not sure where I would be.
    ”Trust God, rejoice in all things, be constantly grateful, pray to and trust God to give you wisdom and discernment over what is a useful habit and what is not, and read the Bible daily.”
    Thank you, Ben.

  11. Adele Engel says:

    I have been diagnosed and have ongoing treatment to assist with my OCD. I am a Pure O…ha! That means I have obsessional thought patterns but very few compulsions. For decades, these thoughts have had the steering wheel of my life.

    I have had 65 years on the planet and have meditated, medicated, contemplated, distracted, interrupted, been taken over by, prayed, have had battles with, done extreme breathwork, work in all aspects of the healing arts, and on and on!

    Obsessive thinking has created issues on every level of existence: illness and discomfort and near death on the physical level, chronic anxiety and depression, spiritual exhaustion, chronic insomnia….. I think you get the picture.

    I am also a generally happy, kind, generous creative unique individual, who loves being at one with all the gifts provided for us through God and the mind blowing natural world that is our playground.

    So….the past 7 years have offered up pathways to relief. After a very long relationship with THC, caffeine and alchohol , I have moved into different realms to cope. I have completely given up any THC, which once was a rather awesome distraction and then became an anxiety creating substance. I drink organic decaf and I enjoy a little wine….but often boil off the alcohol (a method I created 10 years ago when I had very fragile health…a long story). I left the remnants of my 70’s formative years and became driven (one can’t help but see a pattern here) to learn all I could about nutrition supplementation, breathwork, yoga, meditation, biofeedback,plant medicine, shamanic journaling…..I am certified in so many modalities that I am “certifiable”. Always an academic spiritualist by nature, I live a rich but internally hectic existence.

    I just had 2 knee replacements in july and thus have been forced into accepting that rest is a highly under rated thing in our society. I don’t freak out if I “miss out” any more. I have posted on my fridge ” it is ok to rest”.

    Breathwork, yoga, spirit, music, art, nutrition, hydration, supplementation, sleep, detoxing, and letting go of a need to do it all , have all contributed to finding more peaceful thought patterns. Challenging my thoughts and questioning through different means is very helpful. One way is through the 4 questions found in Byron Katie’s work.

    Medication has been used in the form of clonazepam at its lowest dose combined with CBD oil. Clean food and clean environment are at the forefront of what I purchase or use to put in my body and in my environment.

    Well, Ben, I could easily write a Masters dissertation on this but I think this is plenty. I will end with what the Dalai Lama gave me in a meeting with him 8 years ago……strive to keep your life as simple as possible.

    1. Great insight. Thanks for sharing your personal experience.

  12. travis says:

    The flesh is weak. The spirit is willing I know God is in control. But I have fears,worries, and anxieties.I think alot of christians believe that God will deliver them in perfect and safe way. But what if He doesn’t ? Daniel still had to go to the lions den. Daniel’s 3 friends still went in the fiery furnace. And then there is me with my worries of the ” what ifs” what if I have to wear a muzzle on my face just to go in a store(even though I think that its a violation of my constitutional and civil rights)? The mandatory vaccines? I have come to realise that trusting in God means willing to die for what you believe.

  13. Brad says:

    I have a similar personality.

    It may be healthy to make both planned and unplanned infrequent deviations from a set of good habits to develop flexibility. Being mentally flexible itself is a strength.

    As long as you’re able to return to your healthy habits in a quick and fastidious manner, minor infrequent deviations will not matter. They may even provide some positive insights into your existing regimen.

  14. Ken Reiners says:

    Another great article Ben. I would love to hear your thoughts similar to this on tackling addictions, particularly nicotine and caffeine. I’m an all or nothing kind of person, and struggle greatly with moderation. I want caffeine and nicotine all day, every day. I know you periodically take breaks to keep your brain in check, but for me, making the choice to quit even for a short period is a monumental effort. I’m curious to hear how you combat this?

  15. pei says:

    A few years ago, I found out I have borderline autism which its symptoms include repetitive behaviour like ocd. Looking back all the miss opportunities I had, wasting time worrying too much of the future is an indicator I am having the condition without knowing it. Although I can never get rid of autism, but there is hope when there are many techniques out there which will help to live with these conditions without having to deny that they exist. Recent years have shown that progress been made successfully in addressing learning disabilities and difficulties issues globally in many aspects of society today.

  16. Justyn Wazynski says:

    I can relate to this. Honestly, show me what consumes your thoughts and emotions, and I’ll show you your true god.

    Thank you for these ramblings Ben. Lots to chew on.

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