In this episode, Carrie explores how compulsions can evolve into habits and routines, especially within the context of OCD. She shares insights on how these patterns can impact daily life and offers practical advice on breaking free from their grip.

  • The progression of compulsions into habits and routines.
  • The impact of compulsive behaviors on various aspects of life.
  • Strategies for identifying compulsive behaviors and understanding the motivation behind the desire for change.
  • Techniques for developing awareness of compulsive actions and acknowledging engagement in rituals.

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Welcome to Hope for Anxiety and OCD episode 124. I am your host, Carrie Bock, a licensed professional counselor in Tennessee. Today, we’re talking about when compulsions become habits and routines. 

If you’ve been dealing with OCD at all, you may notice that compulsions start out a certain way, but then they just develop once you do them so often, or you do them in certain situations or scenarios so often then, they eventually become routines, rituals, habits, however you want to say it. For example, people may have certain things that they feel like they have to do before they can lay down and go to sleep at night. Here’s the problem with OCD, it’ll start out with like,” Ah, just do this one or two things before you go to bed, and you’re like, “Okay, that’s not that big of an ask,” and next thing you know, you’re doing this.It’s like 15 to 30-minute routine and ritual stuff, and it’s all OCD functionally related. I’m not talking about normal things that people do to get ready for bed. It’s like checking the locks a certain number of times or making sure all the windows are closed and the doors and that the oven’s off and all of a sudden it becomes this whole thing.

There may be some similar rituals that people have about leaving the house. I have to do these specific things before I can leave the house. The problem is that it may interfere with getting you to work. It may interfere with getting to social functions or other things that you need to be at because you keep going back and keep checking and looking at things.

Your rituals may involve things like cooking, cleaning, or the trash, and maybe washing your hands a lot during those types of rituals. First, I would say, if you notice, “Okay, Carrie, yes, what you’re talking about, I’m dealing with some of those things.” The first thing I would say to you is don’t beat yourself up. You didn’t get here overnight. OCD probably was like a little demanding, and then a little more demanding, and then a little more demanding, and next thing you know you have this whole giant ritual. You Just to take out the trash. It happens. It’s sneaky like that. We don’t want to beat yourself up or be in a place of shame.

If you’re identifying like, “Oh, I have these things that I need to change because now it’s gotten to a level that feels out of control for me.” What I would say is to identify the compulsive habit, routine, ritual, whatever you want to call it that you want to change and why you want to change it. It’s important to know why you want to change it. Maybe there’s something that you want to use that time for instead. You realize I’m being robbed of time that I could be connecting with other loved ones in my life.

I’m being robbed of time that I could be using to for self-care exercise. Maybe your why is that you realize OCD is taking way more control in the reigns over your life than you want to give. And you say, “You know what? I don’t want to fulfill OCD’s demands anymore. I can’t stand this no more.”

Now, if you recognize yourself in the middle of this routine. You develop awareness even over that you’re doing it. Some of you may just kind of check out and you’re just going through the motions and that’s what you don’t want. You don’t want to check out and go through the motions.

You want to recognize like, “Okay, I am thoughtfully choosing to engage in this compulsive ritual right now.”  Instead of just it being like muscle memory for you, we all have that if we do things over and over and over again. Eventually, we don’t have to think about that we’re doing it. There are many tasks involved in driving that you don’t think about just because you’ve driven so much and it’s become a routine.

You know when to check your mirrors, when to push the gas, when to push the brake. When you’re going through this compulsive ritual, you’re going tell yourself, “Okay, I’m choosing to engage in this right now.” Maybe you can’t stop it right away and that’s okay so that you step by step know what you’re doing.

The first step is to really even recognize and slowing down. “This is what I’m doing and I’m identifying to myself, even if to no one else, I’m identifying to myself that this is a compulsive ritual. 

Now, like I said, number one was, you’re not going to beat yourself up for it, but then when you get to the next kind of phase, You can plan to somehow mess it up. If you are telling yourself you have to do something a certain number of times, maybe you start by doing it. The ideal is that you wouldn’t engage at all, but that feels really hard or too big. You say, “Okay, well, I’m going to do this maybe one less time. If I normally do it three times, I’m going to intentionally mess it up and do it twice.”

Also know that OCD is going to be really irritated about that. It’s probably going to be disruptive and tell you it’s not going to feel right, and it’s not going to feel okay, and you have to be able to tell yourself that that’s all right, that this is part of the process of saying no to OCD, is that it’s going to get upset, just like boundaries with anyone.

You set your boundary with OCD, it’s going be mad, it’s going to push you back, and it’s going make you feel uncomfortable. Let’s say, it’s okay, this is how I’m getting out of this brain obsessive compulsive loop. That somewhere in that process, I have to intervene and mess that, that loop up. Every time I go around the loop, it gets stronger. And because that’s ingrained in your brain, You can’t just say no once or twice and expect it to be gone. You have to consistently be able to work through that in a way. If you usually say your part of your ritual is pulling on the doorknob, maybe you leave that part out. Maybe you make sure the door is locked, but you don’t pull on the doorknob.

If you have mental compulsions, make an intention to not do them perfectly like you would normally do, or not doing them until they feel right. Subtract something until you get to a point where you say, “Okay, I’m going to completely disengage from this activity. I’m not going to do this anymore.” 

Make that an experiment, maybe see, so if I don’t do my entire ritual before I leave the house, are things still going to be okay? I may not feel like they’re okay, but are they still going to be okay? You’ll probably find that nothing bad happens that day if you don’t do it. It’s okay, but the idea is that if you can’t stop the compulsion right away, try to see if you can somehow mess it up or delaying the compulsion. Maybe you tell yourself this is not really as workable for bedtime or something like that, but if there’s something that you’re doing immediately, like A lot of times I’ll have clients who are confessing many, many times throughout the day.

They’re confessing stuff. They’re not even like taking a pause to know if it’s a sin or not. It’s just like, “Oh, I had a thought. I must confess that. Oh, I had an experience that maybe might have been a sin and I’ve got to confess that.”

One of the things I’ll tell people to do in terms of delaying is say, okay, why don’t you take some time either in the morning or at night and be intentional instead of just repeatedly confessing everything, be intentional about what do I need to confess today? Stick it to that time period. If you don’t even remember it, or the Holy Spirit doesn’t bring it to your mind, it probably wasn’t important enough for you to confess. That’s okay, you can let those things go and not have to be stuck up on them. You’ll probably find that you’re confessing a whole lot less. Does that mean that you’re less spiritual? No, it means that you’re being present and intentional with God with your spirituality to be able to say, okay, like I want to have a relationship with you. I don’t know if you could imagine having a relationship with anybody else where you were constantly saying that you’re sorry. That does happen sometimes with people and usually they’re saying sorry unnecessarily after a while. Pretty soon people aren’t really hearing the apology anymore. All I’m hearing is I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. It’s like wait a minute do you even know what it is you’re sorry for anymore? 

Think about that relating that over to your relationship with God you want those times where you are confessing To be meaningful for you, I hope that this clarified some things of if you’re going to get out of something like an obsessive compulsive loop, you have to be so aware of it and so aware of the trickiness that OCD gets you wrapped into.

If you’re not aware of those things, it’s really hard to intervene and make changes. So many of the times we’re going through life, we’re just going through the motions, we’re just doing things, we’re not thinking about it. Mindfulness is something that I teach my clients that really helps you to be able to slow down, be intentional, be in the moment, be present, to be aware of what’s going on.

For those of you who are trying to make some intentional changes to your routines. I hope that this information was helpful for you. You can always find us on You can click on courses to find out more about the mindfulness course there. We are winding down on time to sign up for the OCD summer sessions that you can find at my counseling practice, That’s an opportunity for you to learn this summer. You don’t have to be in Tennessee to participate. We’re going to have some webinar series to cover a variety of issues. I hope to see you there. 

Hope for Anxiety and OCD is a production of By The Well Counseling. Our show is hosted by me, Carrie Bock. a, licensed professional counselor in Tennessee.

Opinions given by our guests are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of myself or By The Well Counseling. Our original music is by Brandon Mangrum. Until next time, may you be comforted by God’s great love for you.