Monday, October 6, 2014


This past weekend I attended the wedding of my very dear friends, Shawn & Kathleen, in Los Angeles. After I’d arrived, Shawn asked me, “So how was your trip from Minnesota?” “Well, it was actually a bit challenging,” I replied. “First, I forgot your wedding present in the airport bathroom; then I left my phone on the plane in Phoenix; and when I arrived at LAX, I wasn’t even out of the Hertz parking lot when I got in an accident with the rental car. But other than that, I’m doing well!” As you could imagine, Shawn’s face was frozen in state of surprise, and all he could say was, “WHAAAT??”

Yes, “a bit challenging” would have been an understatement if I hadn’t been so calm. How could I be calm? Because I practiced what I affectionately call, the “New OCD”.  Allow me to explain.

With all of the distractions of our mainstream culture via social media and the explosion of technology, the clinical term OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) has become as common as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)—words that have now entered our social vernacular. Although OCD refers to extreme activities or excessive behaviors that are based in “intrusive thoughts” that produce fear and worry, it is more serious than just a personality quirk. People with OCD often need medical and psychological help.

Our thoughts and feelings can rule (and ultimately, "ruin") our lives. The only way to transform our automatic programming—which comes from years and years of our own experiences—is to release the connections to our triggers and patterns by releasing the belief that we are the thoughts and feelings that we experience. The largest part of this process includes becoming the "observer" or our fears rather than allowing them to trigger us into unconscious, and often destructive, behaviors. There are only two responses you can have to your thoughts and feelings: resistance or allowance. When you resist something, it continues to exist. But when you learn to allow things to come up and pass through you, they will eventually fade away. In his book, The Untethered Soul, Michael Singer does an extraordinary job of explaining this. I highly recommend the book if you’re ready for real change.

So in my life, I decided to learn how to manage my thoughts and feelings in a way that felt healthy to me. Now, whenever my emotions are triggered, I think a different OCD:   

1)  Observe. Step one is to observe what's happening. Be conscious. Be awake. Pay attention to what triggers your emotions. It may be a person, a smell, or even something simple like a song, but notice your immediate reactions. What just happened? What thoughts or feelings came up? What is happening when you are suddenly feeling anger? Sadness? Confusion? Stress?

2)  Contain. Step two is to contain the situation. Hold the event as a single moment, whether it has triggered something from the past or the present (or even the future if it’s something you’re worrying about that hasn’t happened yet). Treat the event as exactly what it is. Avoid connecting it with anything or anyone else. Just hold it right there.

3)  Detach. The third and final step is to detach from the thoughts or feelings. Know that even though you are experiencing them, THEY ARE NOT YOU. Become the detached observer of the event. Through your observation, quickly notice your reaction and then stop and carefully choose your response. Resist the temptation to let the emotion take over your power of choice and send you “off and running”.  Emotions are very melodramatic. Can you stay present and not allow this energy to take you away? Can you open your heart and allow yourself to face this fear? Can you walk through it instead of avoiding it?

Some Tips:

  • Time is critical. When something comes up, you need to immediately implement OCD—the sooner the better. Stay conscious. Focus. Breathe.
  • Practice OCD. How does it work for you? What comes up? When do you stay focused and when is it more difficult?
  • Make it a game to see if you can do it! Challenge yourself to see if you can get better at it each time something comes up.
Remember that reacting is natural, but responding is thoughtful. A deliberate response can be much healthier than a reactive one. Take the time to choose your responses wisely and see the results. With some practice, you will find that practicing OCD will allow you to move through any type of crisis quickly and seamlessly. It will take some work at first, but you will get better with time.

So what resulted from my “challenging" day? Minutes after I realized I’d lost the bag containing Shawn’s wedding present, I heard an announcement on the airport PA system, “If you are the owner of a gray Johnston & Murphy bag, it was found in the Men’s restroom and can be claimed at Gate 21”; as for my phone left on the plane, the Gate Agent was happy to go back onto the plane and find it for me so I could make my connecting flight; and the fender bender? Ah, that’s why we have insurance. I filled out an accident report and 15 minutes later I was on the 405 with my new rental car. No drama. No stress. I just breathed and practiced OCD. Worked for me. And it could work for you, too.

To Your Better Balance!

Michael Thomas Sunnarborg

Find better balance in your life, relationships, and work. 
Visit and learn more. And look for the new trilogy book, 21 Days, Steps & Keys... coming November 1, 2014. Get all three books in one!

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