Your Anxiety Toolkit - It's a Beautiful Day to Do Hard Things

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Your Anxiety Toolkit - It's a Beautiful Day to Do Hard Things







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Now displaying: June, 2022
Jun 24, 2022

In This Episode, we discuss:

Is it important that you stop doing all your compulsions?
How can I practice Self-Compassion as you move through recovery?
How can you balance facing fears and also being gentle on yourself?

Links To Things I Talk About:

ERP School:

Episode Sponsor:

This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.  Go to to learn more.

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If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).


This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 290. 

Welcome back, everybody. 290, that sounds like a lot of podcast episodes. It’s funny. Sometimes I don’t think of it. If you have asked me on the street, I’d say, “Yeah, I’d have about maybe 110 in the can.” But 290, that is a lot of episodes. I do encourage you to go back and listen to them, especially the earlier ones. They’re my favorite. But no, go back, play around, check out the ones that you love. There’s probably some things there that you could probably go back and have a good giggle at.

All right. We today are talking about a question that came from a student in one of my courses. I’ve found this question to be so important. I wanted to bring it in and have it be a podcast episode because I think this is a very important question and I think it’s something we can all ponder for ourselves.

Now, before we go into it, I would like to give you the “I did a hard thing.” This is a segment where someone shares a hard thing that they’ve done. And I love the “I did a hard thing” segment probably as much as anything.

This one is from anonymous and they said:

“I have contamination OCD. And one thing I’ve avoided for a very long time is raw meat and eggs. Over the winter, I discovered that ERP is so much EASIER (and I use this term very loosely in capital letters) if my exposures are value-based.” This is so good, Anonymous. “So I decided that I wanted to be the mom that baked with her kids, anxiety be darned. I wanted my kids to have warm memories baking in the kitchen with their mom as the snow fell. So each week over the winter, we picked a new recipe, and over the weekend we made it as a family. The first time I cracked an egg, my husband took out his phone and took a picture. He was so proud. The exposure was still hard and I didn’t feel calmer at least while baking, but I tried my best to present and enjoy the time with my kiddos. Later, my son brought home A Joy Is book made at his school. Each page had something on it that brought him joy – fishing with dad, some are vacations. And there on the page.” Oh my God, Anonymous, I’m getting goosebumps. “There on a page was ‘making cookies from scratch with mom.’” Oh my God, I think I’m crying. Oh my goodness. I have goosebumps everywhere. “It is so hard to measure success with ERP sometimes, but that gets real, tangible evidence that I had accomplished something and it felt so good.”

Holy my stars, Anonymous. This is incredible. Wow. This is what it’s all about, you guys. This is what it’s all about. For those of you who are listening, I don’t read these before the episode. I literally read them as just I pull them up and I read them. This one has taken my breath away. I just need a second. Oh my goodness, that is so beautiful. So beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. Oh my gosh, that is so perfect for this week’s episode. All right, here we go.

Do I have to stop all of my compulsions Your anxiety toolkit


This week’s episode is about a question, like I said, is it okay to keep doing some of my compulsions? Again, this came from one of the courses that we have. We have two signature courses for OCD. One is ERP School, and then the other one is this Mindfulness School for OCD that teaches mindfulness skills.

Now, the reason I love this question is, they’re asking me as if I am the expert of all things, OCD. And I want to let you in on a little truth here – I am not. You’re probably like, “What is happening? She’s been telling us that she’s an OCD specialist all this time. And now she’s telling me she’s not the expert.” I am not the expert of you. And I want to really make sure that is clear. Anytime someone says, “What should I do? What’s the right thing to do for me?” I try my best not to tell them that is best for them because I’m only telling them what I think is best for them. That doesn’t mean it’s the facts. So, I want to be very clear. I am not the expert in you. You are. You do get to make choices of your own.

That being said-- and I’ll talk more about that here in a second. But that being said, let’s look at the question and just look at it from a perspective of just general concepts of OCD.

Now, in the beginning of ERP School, we have a whole module that explains the cycle of obsessions and compulsions. I draw it out on a big sheet of paper, like this huge sticky note. And it’s actually really funny because I’m trying to squeeze myself into the frame of the video with this huge sticky note. When I think back to it, it makes me giggle. But here let’s take a look.

The thing to remember here regarding this question is, if you have a fear and the fear is what we call egodystonic, meaning it doesn’t line up with your values, you know it’s a fear, and you know it’s probably irrational. If you have this fear and you respond to the fear as if it is dangerous and important and urgent, you actually are keeping your brain afraid of the fear. And you’re continually keeping your brain stuck in a cycle where your brain will set off the metaphorical fire alarm every time it has that fear. When you have fear and it doesn’t line up with your values and you have the insight to see that it’s irrational or that it’s keeping you stuck and it’s not effective for you and not responding anymore, your job is to practice changing your behaviors and your reaction to that thought so that you can train your brain not to set the fire alarm off next time. It may take several times or many times. But again, if you have a fear and you respond to it like it’s important, your brain is going to keep thinking it’s important. If you have a fear or an obsession and you keep responding to it with urgency, your brain is going to keep interpreting that fear as urgent, serious, dangerous, scary things.

So, I’m always going to encourage my patients and my students to always check in on this one golden question, which is, what would the non-anxious me do? Or what would I do if I weren’t afraid of this thought? Or another question is, am I responding from a place of fear, generally? And if that’s the case, then I would encourage my patient to really work at reducing that compulsion because the compulsion keeps the cycle going.

Now, that being said, still, again, I’m going to say, under no circumstances do I get to tell you what to do. Only you will know what’s right for you. And I have had clients, I will say, I’ve had clients where they’ve written out their hierarchy. They’ve gone all the way to the top. And there’s several things at the top where they’re like, “No, I’m actually going to keep these ones. These ones are ones that don’t interfere with my life too much. I’m comfortable. I’m not ready to face them yet. And so, no, I’m going to keep doing them.” And I respect that. Again. I am not the expert on everybody. Everyone gets to make their own value-based decisions. That’s entirely okay.

I always say to them, going to the top of your hierarchy and cutting back on all of the compulsions is, think of it like an insurance policy on your recovery. It’s not going to completely promise you and guarantee that you won’t have obsessions in the future or you won’t have a relapse here or there. No. And that’s okay. That will happen. We’re going to actually have a conversation about that here in the next few weeks on the podcast. But you can help train your brain by marking off all those compulsions.

So, what I’m going to leave you here with-- this is actually not going to be a long podcast, but what I’m going to leave you with is the actual answer to the question. Is it okay if I keep doing some of my compulsions? Yes, it’s okay. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to win all the challenges. And for reasons that are yours, you get to make those decisions. And really that’s your personal decision as well, and-- we don’t say “buy,” we say “and.” And just keep in mind the nature of compulsions. Compulsions keep the cycle going.

Just keep that in mind gently, in a tender place. Put it in your back pocket. And here is the question I’m going to leave you on, is ponder why you don’t want to stop this compulsion. What’s getting in the way? If you’re really honest with yourself, what’s the reason you want to keep doing it? Does doing it keep you aligned with your values? Is there a way to be creative and strategic in this situation where you can slowly reduce the compulsion, even if it’s a baby step? It’s so important just to be pondering and asking yourself questions. I have to always stop and say like, “Okay, Kimberley--” I call myself KQ. Everyone calls me KQ. “KQ, let’s get real. What’s really happening here.?” And I’m not doing it in a mean way. I’m having a heart-to-heart. What’s really happening? What’s really getting in the way? Are you being honest with yourself? And sometimes you have to have really honest conversations to be like, “Oh, I know. I’m totally giving myself stuck here.” And it might take some time before you’re ready, and that’s okay too. Okay?

So, I want you to think about those things. Maybe even write the questions down. Go back and listen, or you can go to the transcript of this podcast. Write those questions down and go back and review them every now and then, because those are questions I ask my patients every single day. Every single day. And the questions I ask myself and the questions I ask my patients are often what defines how successful they are because we’re questioning the status quo. And that’s what gets them better.

Before we finish up, let’s do the review of the week. This is from Robyncox and they said:

“Thank you, Kimberley. I’m not sure how to condense all of my happiness and thanks but I’ll try. I was recommended to listen to your podcast by my therapist (who is just superb and I’m grateful she exists) and I instantly fell in love with your genuine desire to help which seeps through the sound waves.” I love that. “I am hooked on the real-life stories that I can connect to my own experience and have gotten my sister hooked as well who struggles with anxiety as I do. Thank you for your tools and support!”

Thank you, Robin. Again, I love hearing your reviews and I just love hearing that I can be of service and help you and be a part of your day. I love knowing that people are like taking walks, listening to me and we get to have chats together. It’s beautiful. It’s really, really such an honor.

All right. That’s it for Episode 290. That’s a lot of episodes, but I think we’re doing well. I will see you next week for Episode 291 and we will go from there. Oh, one thing to note. By the time you talk to me next time, I will be in Australia. We are going to spend the summer there this year and I could not be more excited. I’ll send you my love from there. Have a great day.

Jun 17, 2022

In This Episode:

  • What is whack-a-mole obsessions? 
  • Why do my obsessions keep changing? 
  • What is the treatment for fears that keep changing? 

Episode Sponsor:

This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.  Go to to learn more. 

Spread the love! Everyone needs tools for anxiety...

If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).


This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 289. 

Welcome back, everybody. I am so happy to be with you again. I won’t lie. I’m still on a high (that rhymed) from the managing mental compulsion series. Oh my gosh, you guys, I am so proud of that series, that six-part series. If you didn’t listen to it, please do go back. I’ll probably tell you that for the next several podcasts, just because I am really still floating on the coattails of how amazingly, so wonderful that was. And it really seemed to help a ton of people, which is so fulfilling. 

I do love-- it’s not because of the ego piece of it, I just do love when I know I’m making an impact. It’s really quite helpful to feel like you’re making an impact. And sometimes when I’m putting out episodes, I really don’t know whether they’re helpful or not. That’s the thing about podcasts compared to social media, is with social media, if you follow me on Instagram @youranxietytoolkit or Facebook, I can get a feel based on how many comments or how many likes or how many shares. But with podcast, it’s hard to know how helpful it is. And the feedback has been amazing. Thank you, everyone who’s left reviews. What a joy, what a joy. 

What the cool thing is, since then, it’s actually created this really wonderful conversation between me and my therapist. So, for those of you who don’t know, in addition to me owning CBT School, I also own a private practice where myself and nine of my therapists were actually, now 10 extra therapists, in the process of hiring a new person. We meet once a week or more to discuss cases. And the cool thing about the mental compulsion series is it brought the coolest questions and conversations and pondering, what would this help this client? How would it help that client? These are the struggles my clients are having. Because as I kept saying, not every tool is for everybody. Some you’ll be like, “Yes, this is exactly what I needed,” and there’ll be other things where they might not resonate with you. And that’s totally fine. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong. That’s because we’re all different. But it’s really brought up a lot of questions. And so, now I’m actually going to hopefully answer some of those questions in the upcoming podcasts. 

Today, we’re actually talking about what to do when your obsessions keep changing. Because we’re talking about mental compulsions and reducing those, and that’s actually the response prevention part of treatment, what’s hard to know, like what exposures do you do for somebody whose obsessions keep changing or their fears keep flip flopping from one to the other? One week, it’s this. Next week, it’s that. And then it’s funny because a lot of clients will say, “What was a 10 out of 10 for me last week is nothing now. And now all I can think about is this other thing. I was really worried about what I said to this one person. Now, all I can think about is this rash on my arm. And the week before that, I was really upset that maybe I had sinned,” or there was another obsession. Again, it’s just what we call Whack-A-Mole. We’re going to talk about that today. 

But before we do that, we are going to do the “I did a hard thing” segment. This one is from Marisa. And Marisa is at the @renewpodcast. I think that might be her Instagram or their Instagram. Marisa said:

“Last week I submitted my dietetic internship applications. It was a long, stressful process and anxiety definitely came up during it. And I was able to move through and do the hard thing. I kept reminding myself that the short-term discomfort of submitting the application was worth the long-term reward of hopefully getting a step closer to my goal of becoming a registered dietician through completing the internship. Even though there is still uncertainty and the outcome that I have to sit with while I wait to find out the results of my application, I have learned through my ERP work that I can sit with the discomfort and uncertainty. Thank you, Kimberley, for reminding me that it is a beautiful day to do hard things.”

Marisa, I hope that you get in. I hope that you get all of the things that you’re applying for. This is so exciting. And yeah, you really walked the walk. This is exactly what we’re talking about when we do the “I did a hard thing” segment. It doesn’t have to be OCD-related or anxiety-related. It could be just hard things because life is hard for everyone. I love this. Thank you so much, Marisa. 

If you want to submit your “I did a hard thing,” you may go to my-- it’s actually my private practice website where I host the podcast. If you go to and you go to the podcast link, right there, there is a link that says “I did a hard thing.” It’s actually okay? But it’s easier just to go, and I will try to remember to put this in a link in the podcast. 

All right. One more piece of housekeeping before we get going is, let’s do the review of the week. This is from Sass, and Sass said:

“I have had an eating disorder for many years and I spent my adult life trying to understand my compulsions and obsessions. When I found your podcast last summer, everything started to make sense to me. You have given me an understanding and acceptance I couldn’t get anywhere else. I look forward to your weekly podcast and enjoy going back and listening to the earlier podcasts as well. Thank you for all you do.”

Sass, I get you. I was exactly in that position when I had my eating disorder. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t feel like people explained it in a way that made sense to me. And the obsessive and compulsive cycle really made sense to me. So, I am so grateful to have you, and I’m so grateful to be on this journey with you. Really, really, I am. Thank you for leaving that review. 

Whack a mole Obsessions Your anxiety toolkit


Okay, let’s do it. Today, we are talking about Whack-A-Mole obsessions. Now, Whack-A-Mole obsessions is not a clinical term. Let’s just get that out of the way. There is nothing in the DSM or there’s no-- it’s not a clinical scientific term, but it is a term we use in the OCD community. But I think it’s true of the anxiety disorder community. Maybe even the eating disorder community as well, where the fears flip flop from one thing to the other. This may be true too if you have health anxiety. It might be true if you have generalized anxiety, social anxiety, where one day everything, it just feels like this fear is so intense and it’s so important and it must be solved today. It’s so painful. And then for no reason, it goes. And then it gets overshadowed by a different fear or obsession or topic. 

And what can happen in treatment is you can start to treat one, doing exposure. This was actually one of the questions that came up through ERP School, which is our online course that teaches you how to create a plan for yourself to manage OCD. Some people will say, “Oh, I created a hierarchy. I followed the steps in ERP School. I started working on it and I did a few exposures and I did a few marginals. And boom, it just went away and then a new one came or the volume got turned down.” It could be that you addressed it a small amount, and then it went away and got replaced by another. Or it could be that you didn’t even get time to address it and it just went to a different topic. And this is really, really distressing for people, I’m not going to lie, because you’re just constantly whack-a-moling. You know the Whack-A-Mole game? You’re whack-a-moling things that feel super important, super scary, super urgent. 

And so, what I want to do first is just validate and recognize this is not an uncommon situation. If this is happening for you, you are definitely not alone. And it doesn’t mean in any respect that you can’t get better. In fact, there’s a really cool tool, and I’m going to teach it to you here in a second, that you can use. We use it with any obsession. This is not special to Whack-A-Mole obsessions, but you can use it with any exceptions or if things keep changing. But first of all, I just want to recognize it is normal and it’s still treatable. 

What do you do? The thing to remember here is, when you zoom out, and this is what we do as clinicians, our job as clinicians, and I say this to my staff all the time, is to find trends in the person’s behaviors and thinking. And what you will find is, when you’re having Whack-A-Mole obsessions, while the content may be different, when you zoom out, the process is exactly the same. You have a thought, a feeling, a sensation, or an urge that is repetitive, that is uncomfortable, that creates a lot of distress in your life. And of course, naturally, you don’t want that distress. That’s scary. And so, what you do is you do a compulsion to make it go away. It doesn’t matter what the content is. It doesn’t matter what the specific theory is. This is the same trend. And so, when we zoom out, we can see the trend, and then we can go, “Aha. Even though the content is the same, I can still intervene at the same point.” When we talk about this in ERP School, is the intervention point is at the compulsion. 

And so, the work here is the content doesn’t matter. Your job is to catch and be aware, like we’ve talked a lot about mindfulness, is to be aware and identify, “Oh, I’m in the trend. I’m in the cycle.” While the one content has changed, the same behaviors are playing out. So, you catch that. You then practice being willing to be uncomfortable and uncertain about the content, because that’s the same too. The same cycle is happening. The thought and the fear create some anxiety, some sensations, and so forth. 

And then we have an aversion to that. And then our job is to work at not engaging in that compulsion. So, that compulsion might be mental rumination. It might be doing certain behaviors, physical behaviors. It might be reassurance seeking. It might be avoidance. It might be self-punishment. It might be self-criticism. And your job is actually to go, “Okay, it really doesn’t matter.” And I really want to keep saying that to you. If the fear is, what if I have cancer? What if I’m going to hurt someone? What if I’m aroused by this? What if I have sinned? What if things are asymmetrical? What if I got some contaminant? What if I don’t love him enough? It doesn’t matter. What if it is not perfect? What if I fail? It doesn’t matter. I’ve just listed some, but if I didn’t list your obsession, please don’t worry. It’s for every one of these. The content for all of them are equally as important. 

Sometimes what we do is we go, “Oh, that one is okay. But this one is really serious, and we have to pay attention to it.” And so, we have to catch that and go, “No, it’s all content. It’s all--” you could say, some people say it’s all spam, like the spam folder. Because when we get an email, we have emails that we really need to see – events, meetings coming up. And then we always have spam, the stuff that’s like, “Please send me money for Bitcoin,” or something. So, we put that in the spam folder. And so, your job is to catch the trends here, the patterns, and learn how to put those obsessions in the spam folder, no matter what the content.

Now, this does require, and here’s the caveat, or I would say this is the deal-breaker, is it does require a degree of mindfulness in your part to be aware of what’s going on. And this is a practice, like a muscle that you grow. So, what it requires is you have to be able to catch that you are in the content. You have to be able to catch that you are in the cycle that keeps you stuck. And that does require you to be mindful again. And I get it. I’m not saying that you’ll ever be perfect at this because I don’t know anyone who is. There will be times when you’re so caught up in the content and you’ve been doing compulsions for an hour, two hours, two days, two months and you haven’t caught it. And you’re like, “Oops, wait. Oops, I didn’t catch that one.” That’s okay. We don’t beat ourselves up. Then we just go, “All right, I’m at the point where at least I’ve caught it. I’m aware that I’m in the content. I’m aware how this is playing out exactly the way that it played out yesterday, but with a different obsession.” And then you just move on from there. Don’t beat yourself up. But it does require you to strengthen the muscle of being able to catch that you’re in the content. And it’s what we call insight. It’s having the insight to recognize.

Now, insight is something we can strengthen with practice. It’s not just one and done. It’s practice. It’s repetition. I have to do this all the time for myself. While I don’t have OCD, I do have anxiety and I will catch myself going down the rabbit hole with something until I’m like, “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, you’ve been here before. It looks exactly like what you did on Tuesday where you’re trying to figure out something that’s not in your control. Kimberley, this is not in your control. You’re trying to control something that isn’t even your business.” And I’ve seen that trend in me. And so, my job is to catch it. Once I can catch it, then I know the steps. I know, “Okay, I got to let this one go. I got to accept the discomfort on this one. I’m going to have to ride this wave of discomfort. I’m going to have to radically be kind to myself.” We know the steps. And once we can get those steps down, it’s about catching it. But this is what we do when the obsessions do keep changing. 

Now, I’m not going to say this is easy because it’s not. And if you require help doing this, reach out to an OCD therapist or an anxiety specialist who knows ERP. Remember here, and I’m telling you this with the deepest, most absolute degree of love, is CBT School, the whole mission of CBT School is to provide you tools and resources for those who don’t have tools and resources. So, if you haven’t got a therapist and you’re finding this really, really helpful, but you’re still struggling, don’t be afraid. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you. It just means maybe you need some more professional help. Maybe you have a therapist and you’re listening into this just to get extra tools. Great. Take what you learn and then take what struggles you have and figure that out. 

I really want to stress here, and the reason I bring that up is, when I say this, it isn’t as easy as it sounds and it does require sometimes having somebody else, this is why I go to therapy myself, is even though I know the tools, it’s really nice to have a second set of ears just going, “Wait a second. Sounds like you’re caught up in the content.” If it’s not a therapist, maybe you could have a loved one or even journaling I have found is really helpful in that when you journal it down, and I do this regularly, I then read it, not to judge it, but just to see what trends. And I get a highlighter and I just highlight like, where are the trends? Where am I seeing the same patterns playing out? And that’s where we intervene. 

So, that’s Whack-A-Mole obsessions. That is what to do when your obsessions keep changing. I do hope that that was helpful, not just to validate you, but to give you some skills moving forward. I am so grateful to have you here. Don’t be afraid to let me know what you think. I love, again, getting your feedback via reviews. I urge you to join the newsletter. That will then allow you to reply and give me feedback that way. I love hearing from you all. 

All right. I’m going to sign off and I’ll talk to you very, very soon.

Jun 10, 2022


Today, I share what to do when you get “bad” news.  This episode will share a recent situation I got into where I had to use all of my mindfulness and self-compassion tools.  Check it out!

Episode Sponsor:

This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.  Go to to learn more. 

Spread the love! Everyone needs tools for anxiety...

If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).



This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 288. 

Welcome back, everybody. We literally just finished the six-week series on managing mental compulsions. My heart is full, as full as full can be. I am sitting here looking into my microphone and I just have a big, fat smile on my face. I’m just so excited for what we did together, and I felt like it was so huge. I have so many ideas of how I want to do something similar in the future with different areas. And I will.

Thank you so much for your feedback and your reviews. I hope it was as helpful as it was for me, even as a clinician. I found it to be incredibly helpful, even as a supervisor, supervising my staff. I have nine incredible staff who are therapists, who help treat my clients and we constantly keep referring back during supervision of like, “Do you remember what Lisa said? Do you remember what Reid said? Listen, let’s consider what Jon said or Jon Hershfield said, or Shala Nicely said.” It was just so beautiful. I’m so grateful.

If you haven’t listened, go back and listen to it. It’s a six-week series and ugh, it was just so wonderful. I keep saying it was just so wonderful. So, if you go back, I did an introduction, Episode 282. And then from there, it was these amazing, amazing experts who just dropped amazing truth bomb after amazing truth bomb. So, that’s that.

Today, I am going back to the roots of this podcast. And I’m sharing with you-- for those of you who have been listening for a while, we usually start the episode with a segment called the “I did a hard thing” segment. This is where people write in and tell me a hard thing that they’ve done. If you go to my website, which is There on the podcast page is a place to submit your “I did a hard thing.” And today’s “I did a hard thing” is from yours truly. I just had to share this story with you. I feel like it’s an important story to tell you guys, and I wanted to share with you that I’m not just talking the talk over here, I’m walking the walk.

So, today’s episode is called When You Get Bad News. I’m just going to leave it at that. Before we get started, I would love to leave you and share with you the review of the week. This is from hannabanana3131, and they said:

“Fantastic mental health podcast. Such an amazing podcast. I have learned so many useful tools for dealing with my anxiety and OCD. And Kimberley is such a loving, compassionate coach - I feel like she’s rooting for me every step of my healing journey,” and she’s left a heart emoji.

Thank you so much, hannabanana. I love, love, love getting your reviews. It does help me so much. So, if you have a moment of time and the podcasts are helpful for you, that is the most helpful thing you can do back. When we get reviews, then when people who are new come over and see it, it actually makes them feel like they can trust the information we’re giving. And in today’s world, trust is important. There is so much noise and so many people talking about OCD and anxiety, and it’s easy to get caught up in nonsense stuff. And so, I really want to build a trust factor with the listeners that I have. So, thank you so much for doing that.

Okay. It’s funny that hannabanana says, “I feel like she’s rooting for me,” because the “I did hard thing” is me talking about my recent experience of having a root canal. Worse than a root canal. So, let me tell you a story now. I’m not just telling you this story to tell you a story. I’m telling you this story because I want to sometimes-- when we do the “I did a hard thing” segment, it’s usually very, very short and to the point, but I’d actually like to walk you through how I got through getting some really bad news. So, let’s talk about it. And I’ll share. I’m not perfect. So, there were times when I was doing well and there was times when I won’t.

So, for those of you who don’t know, which I’m guessing is all of you, I have very bad gums. My gums, I inherited bad gums. It comes in my family. I go in every three months for a gum routine where they do a deep cleaning or they really check my gums to make sure there’s not receding too much. And because of that, I take really good care of my teeth. And because of that, I usually have very little dental issues. I never had a cavity. I’ve never had any cracks or any terrible swollen problems. That just isn’t my problem. My problem is gums and it’s an ongoing issue that I have to keep handling.

So this time, I go in, I get my x-rays, and the doctor comes in. And I have this really hilarious dentist who has not got the best bedside manner, but I do love him and he has been with me through some really tough times that when I found out I have a lesion on my brain, I fully broke down in front of him and he was so kind and gave me his cell phone number. He was just so lovely. But he comes in and he rubs his hands together and says, “What are we doing here today, Kimberley?” And he looks at the x-rays and I kid you not, he says, “Holy crap!” Literally, that was his response, which is pretty funny, I think.

From there, I proceed to go into some version of a panic attack. I’m like, “What? What’s wrong? What do you see? What happened?” And I think that was pretty appropriate for me to do that. So, I want to validate you. When you get big news, it’s normal to go into a fight or flight, like what’s going on, you’re hypervigilant, you’re looking around.

Now, he waited about 45 seconds to answer my question. I just sat there in a state of panic while he stared at the x-rays on the wall. And these 45 seconds, I think, was the longest 45 seconds of my life because he wouldn’t answer me. And I was just like, “Tell me what’s wrong. What’s wrong?” So, he turns around and he says, “Kimberley, you have a dead tooth.” And I’m like, “What? A dead tooth? What does that even mean?” And he says, “You have a tooth infection that is dormant. Do you have any pain? Do you have a headache? What’s going on?” And I’m like, “Nothing, nothing. I’m fine. Everything is fine.” And so, he proceeds to immediately in this urgent, panicky way, call in his nurses, “Bring me this, bring me that, bring me this, bring me that. Bring me this tool, bring me this chemical or medicine or whatever.” And they’re all poking at me and prodding at me and they’re trying to figure it out. And he’s like, “I cannot figure out what this is and why it’s here.” So, bad news. Just straight-up bad news.

Now, the interesting thing about this is, it’s hard to be in communication with someone, particularly when they’re your doctor and they appear to be confused and panicking. Not that he was panicking, but he was acting in this urgent way. That’s a hard position to be in. And if you’ve ever been in a position like that, I want to first validate you. That’s scary. It is a scary moment that your trusted person is also panicking. Just like when you’re on an airplane and it’s really bumpy. But if you see that the air hostesses are giggling and laughing, you’re like, “Okay, it’s all good.” But when you see their faces looking a little nervous, that’s a scary moment. So, first of all, if you’ve been in that position, that’s really, really hard.

What he then proceeded to tell me is, “Kimberley, this tooth has to come out. It has to come out immediately. We cannot wait. It’s going to cost a god-awful amount of money. And this has to happen right away.” Now in my mind, you guys know me, I am really, really strict about scheduling. I have a schedule. I’m not compulsive about it, but I run two businesses. I have a podcast, I have two children. I have a medical illness. I have to manage my mental illnesses all the time. So, I have to be really intentional with my calendar.

So, this idea that immediately, everything has to change was a little alarming to me. But what I remember thinking, and this is one of the tools I want to offer you for today, is being emotionally flexible is a skill. And what we want to do in those moments, and this is what I practiced was, “Okay, Kimberley, this is one of those moments where your skills come in handy. Thank God for them.” How can you be flexible here? Because my mind wanted to go, “You got to pick up the kids and you’ve got to do this and you’ve got to a meeting tomorrow and you’ve got clients and you can’t do this. This can’t happen this week.” But my mind was like, “I’m going to practice flexibility.”

In addition to that, when things change really quickly, we tend to beat ourselves up like, “Such and such is going to hate me. They’re going to be mad at me. They’re going to think I’m a loser for having to change the schedule.” And I just gently said to myself, “Kimberley, we’re going to be emotionally flexible here and we’re going to let everybody have their emotions about it.” So, the kids get to have their emotions about everything changing and my clients get to have their emotions about it too. And having to cancel the meetings, they get to have their emotions. Everyone’s allowed to have their emotions about the fact that many, many things are going to be canceled in the next few days.

And that has been such a work of art for me, but it has been so beautiful for me to say, instead of me going, “No, no, no, I can’t do this,” because I don’t want them to have feelings and I don’t want them to think this about me, now I’m just like, everyone gets to have their feelings. They get to feel disappointed. They get to feel angry. They get to feel annoyed. They get to feel irritated. They get to feel sad. Everybody gets to feel their feelings about it because that’s a part of being a human. That’s one of the tools I want you to think about. Just play with these ideas. You’ve just come off the six-week series. These are some more ideas to play with.

But then from there, I had about 36 hours where I had to wait for this surgery. And during that time, I had to have an x-ray where I was told, and this is the real bad news, is this infection, actually, this is gross. So, trigger warning, guys. The infection actually ate through a part of my jaw bone. I know. Isn’t that crazy? The infection was so bad and it was right at this area where I guess nerves come out of your jaw. There’s this tiny hole right at the front, around the sides where the nerves come out of your jaw and up into your lips and the infection spread and was all over that area. I know that is gross, but it’s also really scary.

So, not only did I have to think about all of the changes, but he, the doctor, the dentist had made me very aware that this surgery has to go really well, and that if he pushes too hard or he pulls too hard with a tooth or he had to put in a-- there’s these words I don’t even know, but like a canal, like some kind of fixture so that he can create a new tooth because I had to have a tooth completely pulled out. He was like, “If I push it in too far, I actually may hit this nerve, which could be very, very bad.”

So, this uncertainty felt horrible to me. And of course, I’m going to have these intrusive thoughts like, “What if I never get to speak again? What if I lose a feeling in my gums and what if he pushes hard and this is terminal? What if, what if, what if, what if?” And so, my skill here, and we’ve learnt this from managing mental compulsions, is bring it back to the present. Until there’s a problem, we don’t solve them. So, that’s what I kept doing. “It’s not happening now. Kimberley, it’s not happening now. It’s not happening now,” even though it’s a real threat, even though it’s going to be something I have to face, because sometimes our fears are like, “What if something happens?” But it’s just a what-if. There’s no actual event that you know for certain is going to happen.

This was like, “Yeah, you’re going to do this in literally 30 hours and all of these risks are here.” You guys have probably got stories like this, where you’ve gone in for some brain surgery or any surgery where there’s a risk, but this risk was pretty huge. He was very concerned. I think appropriately concerned.

So, here I am for 30 hours, managing this stuff where I’m like, “Okay, this could go really well or this could go really bad, like really, really bad.” I giggle just because it makes me nervous just to think about it. That’s a nervous giggle that you just heard me. I don’t know. I often giggle when I’m nervous. But it’s a big deal. So, I, in these moments, had to weigh up, go back to what Lisa Coyne was talking about. I was like, “Okay, values versus fear. Which one do I consult with?” I had reached out to the dentist to say, “You know what, let’s just not do this. I’m not in any pain. Let’s just keep it there. Let’s just not.” And his response was like, “That’s not even an option. If you’ve already got this much damage, this could get worse and be very, very problematic.” So, I didn’t even have the option to back out. I had to do this.

And so, as I proceeded forward, I had to keep being aware like what Jon Hershfield talked about and Dr. Grayson and Dr. Reid Wilson, and Shala. I had to really allow all the intrusive thoughts to come like, “Yup. Possible. Yup, that’s possible too. Yup, that’s possible too. Maybe it does. Maybe it will. Not going to give it my attention right now. I see you’re back again. Good one, bro. Hi there, I see you. I fully accept the uncertainty.” That was me for l30 hours, literally bringing in every tool I have.

The cool thing is it was a hugely busy week. And because I have been really doubling down on my mindfulness skills over the last few months, that actually really helped. Every time I noticed that I was getting anxious, I was like, “Okay, what does the keyboard feel under my fingers?” I have these fiddles that I play with and I’m like, “Okay, what does this feel like? This rubber feel like, or this metal feel like, and so forth?” So, that was really helpful.

The day of the surgery, I go in and I’m fully anxious. I’m going to the bathroom. I’m needing to pee. I feel dizzy. I’m not allowed to be on my medication. Oh, and that’s the other thing, is this maybe the-- what do you call it? The silver lining. Just a little update for you guys, is there is a small chance, because this infection has been here for a long time and we haven’t actually detected it yet, that it may be the reason for all my POTS symptoms. As some of you may know, I have postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. It is a chronic illness related to dysautonomia. It causes me to faint and have headaches and nausea and dizziness and blood pooling and it’s the worst. And there is a chance that that might be why. So, I’m half scared and half excited all day, which is a lot to handle.

But as the day is moving forward, I’m getting more and more nervous and I start to feel the urge to start to seek reassurance. I start to observe the urge to Google. I start to observe the urge to ask the doctors many, many, many, many questions. And when I say it, I’m saying that very intentionally. I observed the urge, which is I didn’t do those behaviors. I just noticed the urge that kept showing up. “Ooh, let’s try and get this anxiety to go away. Ooh, let’s try and get that anxiety to go away.” Knowing that when it’s my turn to sit in that chair, I will ask specific questions. So, I’m not saying you can’t ask your doctors questions, but that was key for me, was to observe the urge to seek reassurance, observe the urge to go into avoidance.

I’m not going to make this story too much longer, but what I will say, I want to tell you the funniest part of this story. I’m in the doctor’s office because I had to go in for this very fancy x-ray that does all your nerves because he was afraid he was going to hit one. He’s showing me the x-ray and I’m literally looking at it. He’s showing me cross-sections of my jaw. And you guys, it was so scary. You can see the hole that it’s created. You can see the infection and how it’s deteriorated the bone. It was so scary. And so, he puts his hand on my-- and I’m like, at that point, “Is there any way we could get away with not doing this? Because this is really scary.” He puts his hand on my hand, he says, “I’m going to go and take care of all of these last patients I have so I can give you 100% of my attention and I will be back.”

You guys, this is the funniest thing ever. So, the dental nurse is there watching me. My heart is through the roof. My blood pressure is all over the place. She stands in front of me and she says, “Miss Kimberley, don’t be worried. We’ve watched all the YouTube videos.” And I swear to you, every piece of panic that I had went out the window for that small second and I laughed so hard. She said, “In fact, that’s where the doctor is right now. He’s just going to watch the YouTube video one more time.” And I just died laughing.

Now for some of you, that may have actually been really anxiety-provoking. But for me, it was exactly what I needed. I needed someone to make this so funny. And it was so funny. I swear to you, every time I think of it, the way she says it in her accent was the most hilarious thing ever. It was so perfectly timed. The delivery was perfect and I burst out laughing.

He comes back in-- this is the end of the story. I’m not going to drag it out for too much longer. I promise. But he comes back in, and I just wanted to share with you, because I know last week with Lisa, I had a really emotional moment, and I think it was really tied to this. As he was putting in the IV – because I had to be knocked out. He said he couldn’t take a risk of me moving. So, he knocked me out for the surgery – tears just rolled out of my eyes. And I wasn’t going to be ashamed of it. And what came up for me was, I said, “Please, sir.” I said “Sir,” which I think is so funny, because I know him by his first name. “Please, sir. Please just take care of me.”

And for me, tears were rolling down my face, but that was an act of compassion for myself. Instead of me saying-- because I know two years ago, or even six months ago, I probably would’ve said, “Please, don’t kill me,” or “Promise me nothing bad would happen.” But there was this act of compassion that just flowed out of me, which was like, “Please, sir. Please take care of me.” And it was coming from this deep place of finally in my life, being able to ask to be taken care of. And I’ve been working on this, you guys, for about a year, is having the ability to actually ask for help has been something I’ve really sucked at and it’s something I’ve worked so hard at. And for me, that was groundbreaking, to ask for help.

Now you could say it was me pleading with him, but it wasn’t. It was me. It was an act of compassion. It was an act of saying, “I’m scared. I’m not asking you to take my fear away. I’m just asking you to hold me in a place of kindness and compassion and nurturing and care.” And that for me was profound.

So, I just wanted to share that with you. I know that it might not be as skills-based as some of the other episodes, but I love sharing with you hard things and I love sharing with you that I’m a human, messy human who’s doing the best they can and is imperfect too. But I just wanted to give you a step-by-step one. It’s okay if it’s hard and there are skills that you can use and we can get through hard things. It’s a beautiful day to do hard things, I always say that. And so, I wanted to just record this and share with you the ups and the downs of my week and help you maybe if there’s a time where you’ve gotten bad news on ways that you might manage it.

Now, what I do want to end here with is, I understand my privilege here. I understand my privilege of getting bad news and being able to get medical care and have a lovely dentist and a lovely nurse who makes funny jokes. And sometimes the news doesn’t end well, and I get that. I want to honor you that there is no right way to get bad news. And the grief process of getting bad news is different for everybody. This was more of an anxiety process, but I want to honor to you that if you’re going through some hard thing in your life where you’ve gotten bad news, I want to also offer you the opportunity to grieve that and I want to honor that this is really, really a hard thing to go through. So, I really want to make sure I make space for you with that because my experience is not your experience, I’m sure.

So, that’s it, guys. That’s what to do when you get bad news. That’s my experience of getting bad news and I hope it’s been helpful.

We are embarking on some shifts here with the podcast. I am so inspired to be more focused on just delivering the tools to you and being a safe place for you and being a bright, shiny light for you. And so, I’m doing a lot of exploring on how I can do that. So, if you ever-- again, please do feel-- if you want to give some thoughts, please do reach out, send me an email. If you’re not on my newsletter list, please do go and sign up. I’ll leave you a link in the show notes, or you can go to and sign up for the newsletter and you can reply there as well or you can leave a review.

All right. I love you guys. Have a wonderful day. It is a beautiful day to get bad news and do the hard thing. I love you. Have a great day.

Jun 3, 2022


In this episode, we talk with Lisa Coyne about ACT For mental compulsions.  Lisa Coyne addressed how to use Acceptance and Commitment therapy for overcoming mental compulsions. We cover how to identify your values using a fun little trick!

In This Episode:

  • How to use Acceptance & Commitment Therapy to manage mental compulsions
  • How to practice Willingness in regards to reducing mental rituals and mental rumination 
  • A fun little Value Based tool for identifying your values. 
  • How to be curious instead of thinking in a limited way. 

Links To Things I Talk About:

Episode Sponsor:

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Managing Mental Compulsions (With Lisa Coyne, PhD) Your anxiety toolkit



This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 287. 

Welcome back, everybody. I am so excited. We are at Episode 6 of this six-part series of how to manage mental compulsions. You guys, we could not end this series with anyone better than Dr. Lisa Coyne. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Lisa Coyne. I bet you, you probably have. She is the most wonderful human being. 

I have met Lisa, Dr. Lisa Coyne multiple times online, never in person, and just loved her. And this was my first time of actually getting to spend some really precious time with her. And, oh my gosh, my heart exploded like a million times. And you will hear in this episode, you will hear my heart exploding at some point, I’m sure.

I am so honored to finish out the six-part series with Lisa. This series, let me just share with you how joyful it has felt to be able to deliver this as a series, as a back-to-back piece of hope. I’m hoping it has been a piece of hope for you in managing something really, really difficult, which is managing mental compulsions.

Now, as we finish this series up, I may or may not want to do a recap. I’m not sure yet. I’m going to just see where my heart falls, but I want to just really first, as we move into this final part of the series, to remind you, take what you need. You’ve been given literally back-to-back some of the best advice I have ever heard in regards to managing mental compulsions. We’ve got world-renowned experts on this series. You might have either found it so, so educational and so, so helpful while also feeling sometimes a little bit like, “Oh my goodness, there’s so many tools, which one do I use?” 

And I really want to emphasize to you, as we finish this out, again, so beautiful. What a beautiful ending. I almost feel like crying. As we finish it out, I really want to remind you, take what you need, take what’s helpful, or – well, I should say and – try all of them out. Practice with each of the skills and the concepts and the tools. See what happens when you do. Use them as little experiments. Just keep plugging away with these skills and tools. Because number one, they’re all evidence-based. I very carefully picked the experts on this series to make sure that we are bringing you evidence-based, really gold standard treatment. So, that’s been a priority. Just practice with them. Don’t be hard on yourself as you practice them. Remind yourself, this is a long-term journey. These are skills I still practice. I’m sure everyone who’s come on the show, they are still practicing them. And so, I really want to send you off with a sense of hope that you get to play around with these. Be playful with them. Some of them will be we’ve giggled and we’ve laughed and we’ve cried. So, I want you to just be gentle as you proceed and you practice and remind yourself this is a process and a journey. 

That being said, I am going to take you right into this next part of the six-part series with Dr. Lisa Coyne. This is where we bring it home and boy, does she bring it home. I feel like she beautifully ties it all up in a ribbon. And I hope it has been so helpful for you. Really, I do. I want this to be a resource that you share with other people who are struggling. I want to be a resource that you return to when you’re struggling. I want it to be a place where you feel understood and validated. And so, thank you so much for being a part of this amazing series. That being said, let’s get over onto the show, and here is Dr. Lisa Coyne.


Kimberley: I literally feel like I’m almost in tears because I know this is going to be the last of the series and I’m so excited. I had just said this is going to bring it home. I’m so excited to have Dr. Lisa Coyne. Welcome.

Lisa: Thank you. It’s so nice to be here with you, Kim. Hi, everyone.

What is a Mental Compulsion? Do you call it a Mental Compulsion or a Mental Ritual? 

Kimberley: Yes. So, first of all, the question I’ve asked everybody, and I really am loving the response is, this is a series on managing mental compulsions, but do you call them mental compulsions, mental rituals, rumination? How do you conceptualize this whole concept?

Lisa: I would say, it depends on the person and it depends on what they’re doing. I call them any number of things. But I think the most important thing, at least for me in how I think about this, is that we come at it from a very behavioral perspective, where we really understand that-- and this is true for probably all humans, but especially so for OCD. I have a little bit of it myself, where I get caught up in the ruminations. But there’s a triggering thought. You might call it a trigger like a recurrent intrusive thought that pops up or antecedent is another word that we think of when we think of behavior analysis. But after that thought comes up, what happens is the person engages in an on-purpose thing, whatever it is that they do in their mind. It could be replacing it with a good thought. It could be an argument with yourself. It could be, “I just need to go over it one more time.” It could be, “I’m going to worry about this so I can solve it in advance.” And that part is the part that we think of as the compulsion. So, it’s a thing we’re doing on purpose in our minds to somehow give us some relief or safety from that initial thought. 

Now the tricky part is this. It doesn’t always feel like it’s something we’re doing on purpose. It might feel so second nature that it too feels automatic. So, part of, I think, the work is really noticing, what does it feel like when you’re engaging in this activity? So, for me, if I’m worrying about something, and worry is an example of this kind of doing in your mind, it comes with a sense of urgency or tightness or “I just have to figure it out,” or “What if I--” and it’s all about reducing uncertainty really. 

So, the trick that I do when I notice it in me is I’ll be like, “Okay, I’m noticing that urgency, that tension, that distress. What am I up to in my head? Am I solving something? Is that--” and then I’ll step back and notice what I’m up to. So, that’s one of my little tricks that I teach my clients.

Kimberley: I love this. Would you say your predominant modality is acceptance and commitment therapy? What would you say predominantly you-- I mean, I know you’re skilled in so many things, but what would you--

Lisa: I would say, it’s funny because, yeah, I guess you would. I mean, I’m pretty skilled in that.  I’m an ACT trainer. Although I did start with CBT and I would say that for OCD, I really stick to ERP. I think of it as the heart of the intervention, but we do it within the context of ACT.

ACT for Mental Compulsions 

Kimberley: Can you tell me what that would look like? I’m just so interested to understand it from that conceptualization. So, you’re talking about this idea. We’ve talked a lot about like, it’s how you respond to your thoughts and how you respond and so forth. And then, of course, you respond with ERP. What does ACT look like in that experience? I’d love to hear right from your mouth.

Lisa: Okay. All right. So, I’m going to do my best here to just say it and then we’ll see if it sounds more like ACT or it sounds more like ERP. And then you’ll see what I mean when I say I do both of them. So, when you think about OCD, when you think about anxiety, or even maybe depression where you’re stuck in rumination, somebody is having an experience. We call it a private event like feeling, thought, belief that hurts, whatever it is. And what they’re doing is everything that they can to get away from that. So, if it’s OCD, there’s a scary thought or feeling, and then there’s a ritual that you do. 

So, to fix that, it’s all about learning to turn towards and approach that thing that’s hard. And there’s different ways you can do that. You can do that in a way where you’re dialing it in and you’re like, “Yeah, I’m going to do the thing,” but you’re doing everything that you can to not feel while you’re doing that. And I think that’s sometimes where people get stuck doing straight-up exposure and response prevention. It’s also hard. 

When I was a little kid, I was really scared to go off the high dive. I tell my clients and my team the story sometimes where it was like a three-meter dive. And I was that kid where I would be like, “I’m going to do it. All the other kids are doing it.” And I would climb up, I’d walk to the end of the board, freak out, walk back, climb down. And I did this so many times one day, and there’s a long line of other kids waiting to get in the water. And they were pissed. So, I got up and I walked out to the end of the board and I was like, “I can’t.” And I turned around to go back. And there was my swim coach at the other side of the board with his arms crossed. I was like, “Oh no.”

Kimberley: “This is not the way I planned.”

How do you apply Acceptance & Commitment Therapy for OCD and Mental Compulsions? 

Lisa: And he is like, “No, you’re going.” And I went, which was amazing. And sometimes you do need that push. But the point is that it’s really hard to get yourself to do those really hard things sometimes when it matters. So, to me, ACT brings two pieces to the table that are really, really important here. You can divide ACT into two sets of processes. There’s your acceptance and mindfulness processes, and then there’s your commitment and valuing processes, which are the engine of ACT, how do we get there? 

So, for the first part, mindfulness is really paying attention on purpose. And if you want to really learn from an exposure, you have to be in your body, you have to be noticing, you have to be willing to allow all of the thoughts and sensations and whatever shows up to show up. And so, ACT is ideal at shaping that skillset for when you’re in the exposure. So, that’s how we think of it that way. 

And then the valuing and commitment is, how do you get yourself off that diving board? There has to be something much more important, bigger, much bigger than your fear to help motivate you for why to do this hard thing. And I think that the valuing piece and really connecting with the things that we most deeply care about is part of what helps with that too. So, I think those two bookends are really, really important. There’s other ways to think about it, but those are the two primary ways that we do ERP, but we do it within an ACT framework.

Using Values to manage Mental Compulsions

Kimberley: Okay. I love this. So, you’re talking about we know what we need to do. We know that rumination isn’t helpful. We know that it creates pain. We know that it keeps us stuck. And we also know, let’s jump to like, we know we have to drop it ultimately. What might be an example of values or commitments that people make specifically for rumination, the solving? Do you have any examples that might be helpful? 

Lisa: Yeah. I’m just thinking of-- there’s a bunch of them, but for example, let’s take, for example, ROCD, relationship OCD. So, let’s say someone’s in a relationship with a partner and they’re not sure if the right partner is. Are they cheating on me? Are they not? Blah, blah, blah, blah. And it’s this like, “But I have to solve if this is the right person or not. Am I going to be safe?” or whatever the particular worry is. And so, one of the things that you can do is once folks notice, they’re trying to solve that. Notice, what’s the effect of that on your actual relationship? How is that actually working? So, there’s this stepping back where an ACT, we would call that diffusion or taking perspective self-as-context, which is another ACT, acceptance, and mindfulness piece. And first of all, notice that. Second of all, pause. Notice what you’re up to. Is the intent here to build a strong relationship, or is the intent to make this uncertainty go away? And then choose. Do I want to work on uncertainty or do I want to work on being a loving partner and seeing what happens? Because there’s so much we’re not in charge of, including what we’re thinking and feeling. But we are in charge of what we choose to do. And so, choosing to be present and see where it goes, and embracing that uncertainty. But the joyfulness of it, I think, is really, really important. So, that would be one example. 

Kimberley: I love that example. Actually, as you were saying, I was thinking about an experience of my own. When your own fears come up around relationship, even you’re ruminating about a conversation or something, you’ve got to stop and be like, “Is this getting in the way here of the actual thing?” It’s so true. Tell me about this joy piece, because it’s not very often you hear the word joy in a conversation about mental compulsions. Tell me about it.

Lisa: Well, when you start really noticing how this is working, and if you’re willing to step back from it, let it be, and stay where you are in that uncertainty, all sorts of new things show up. Stuff you never could have imagined or never could have dreamed. Your whole life could be just popping up all of these possibilities. In that moment you stop engaging with those compulsions, you could go in a hundred different directions if you’re willing to let the uncertainty be there. And I think that that’s really important. 

I want to tell a story, but I have to change the details in my head just for confidentiality. But I’m thinking of a person who I have worked with, who would be stuck and ruminating about, is this the right thing? I could make decisions and how do I-- for example, how do I do this lecture? My slides need to be perfect and ruminating, ruminating, ruminating about how it works. And one day they decided, “Okay, I’m just going to be present and I’m just going to teach.” And they taught with a partner. And the person themself noticed like, “Wow, I felt so much more connected to my students. This was amazing.” And the partner teaching with them was like, “I’ve never seen you so on. That was amazing.” They contacted this joy and like, “This is what it could be like.” And it’s like this freedom shows up for you. And it’s something that we think we know. And OCD loves to know, and it loves to tell you, it knows the whole story about everything. And it’s more what you get back when you stop doing the compulsions if you really, really choose that. It’s so much more than just, “Oh, I’m okay. I noticed that thought.” it’s so much more than that. It’s like, yes, and you get to do all this amazing stuff. 

Kimberley: Right. I mean, it’s funny. I always have my clients in my head. When someone says something, I’m imagining my client going, “But like, but like...” What’s the buts that are coming?

Lisa: And notice that process. But see, that’s it. That’s your mind, that’s their minds jumping back in being like, “See, there it is again.”

Kimberley: Yeah.

Lisa: And what if we just don’t know?

Using Curiosity to Stop Mental Compulsions 

Kimberley: And this is what I love about this. I agree with you. There have been so many times when I’ve dropped myself out of-- I call it being heady and I drop into my body and you get this experience of being like, “Wow.” For me, I can get really simple on like, “Isn’t it crazy that water is clear?” I can go to that place. “Water is clear. That is incredible.” You know what I mean? It’s there to go to that degree. But then, that’s the joy in it for me. It’s like, “Wow, somebody literally figured out how to make this pen work.” That still blows my mind. 

Lisa: I had a moment. I started horseback riding again for the first time in literally-- I’ve ridden on and off once a year or something, but really riding. And actually, it was taking classes and stuff for the first time in 30 years. And they put me in this class and I didn’t know what level it was. I just thought we were just going to walk around and trot and all that stuff. Plus, she starts setting up jumps. And I was like, “Oh my God, this is old body now. This is not going to bounce the way it might have been.” It’s what means all these 15-year-olds in the class.

Kimberley: Wow.

Lisa: I’m third in line and I’m just on the horse absolutely panicking and ruminating like, “Oh my God, am I going to die? Should I do this? What am I going to do? Should I tell her no? But I want it and I don’t know what I’m going to--” and my head was just so loud. And so, the two girls in front of me go. And then I look at the teacher and I go, “Are you sure?” It’s literally the first time I’ve ever done in 30 years. She just went-- she just looked at me. And I noticed that my legs squeezed the horse with all of the stuff rolling around in my head. And I went over the jump and it was, I didn’t die. It was really messy and terrifying. Oh my God, it was so exciting and joyful. And I was so proud of myself. That’s what you get--

Kimberley: And I’ve heard that from so many clients too. 

Lisa: It’s so awesome. 

Kimberley: I always say it’s like base jumping. It’s like you’ve got to jump. And then once you’ve jumped, you just got to be there. And that is true. There is so much exhilaration and sphere that comes from that. So, I love that. What about those who base jump or squeeze the horse and they’re dropping into discomfort that they haven’t even experienced before, like 10 out 10 stuff. Can you walk me through-- is it just the same? Is it the same concept? What would you advise there?

Lisa: So, I think it’s important to notice that when that happens, people are not just experiencing physical sensations and emotions, but it’s also whatever their mind is telling them about it. And I think this is another place where ACT is super helpful to just notice, like your mind is saying, this is 10 out of 10. What does that mean to you? That means like, oh my gosh. And just noticing that and holding it lightly while you’re in that 10 out of 10 moment, I think, is really, really helpful. 

So, for example, I have a really intense fear of heights where I actually freeze. I can’t actually move when I’m on the edge of something. And I had a young client who I’ve worked with for a while. And as an exposure for her, but also for me as her clinician to model, we decided. She wanted me to go rock climbing with her, which is not something I’ve ever done, ever, and also fear of heights. So, I kept telling myself, “Fear of heights, this is going to suck. This is going to be terrible. This is going to be terrible.” And there was also another part of me interested and curious. 

And so, what I would say when you’re in that 10 out of 10 moment, you can always be curious. So, when you’re like, “Oh my gosh, I’m really scared,” the moment you’re unwilling to feel that is the moment it’s going to overwhelm you. And if you can notice it as a thought, “I’m having the thought, I don’t think I can handle this. I don’t think I’m going to survive this,” and notice it and be curious, let’s see what happens. And so, for me, I noticed interestingly, even though I’m terrified of heights, I wasn’t actually scared at all. And that was a shocker, because I was full sure it was going to be the worst thing ever. 

And so, notice the stories your mind tells you about what an experience is going to be and stay curious. You can always be curious. And that’s going to be, I think, your number one tool for finding your way through and how to handle those really big, unexpected, and inevitable surprising moments that happen in life that are really scary for all of us.

Kimberley: Right. And when you say curious, I’m not trying to get too nitpicky on terms, but for me, curiosity is, let’s experiment. I always think of it like life is a science experiment, like let’s see if my hypothesis is true about this rock climbing. Is there a way that you explain curiosity?

Lisa: Yeah. Well, that’s part of it, but it’s also part like what you were describing. Isn’t water cool? It’s more than, is this true or not true? That’s so narrow. You want, “No, really? What does this taste like?” And that’s the mindfulness piece. Really notice all of it. There’s so much. And when you start doing that, you’ll find-- even if you do it outside of exposure, for example, as practice, you start to notice that the present moment is a little bit like Hermione’s purse in Harry Potter, where you think it’s this one thing, and then when you start to expand your awareness, you notice there’s tons of cool stuff. So, in these big, scary moments, what you might see is a sense of purpose or a sense of, “Holy crap, I’m handling this and I didn’t think I could. Wow, this is amazing,” or “I’m really terrified. Oh my gosh, my nose itches.” It could be anything at all. 

But the bottom line is, our bodies were meant to feel and they were meant to experience all the emotions. And so, there is no amount of emotion or fear or anything that we are not built to handle. Emotions are information. And to stay in the storm when it’s such a big storm, when OCD is ramping you up, it teaches the OCD, “Actually, I guess I get to stand down here eventually, I guess I don’t need to freak out about this so much. Huh, interesting. I had no idea.” I don’t know if that’s helpful or not.  

Kimberley: No, it’s so helpful. It is so helpful because I think if you have practiced curiosity, it makes sense. But for someone who maybe has been in mental compulsions for so long, they haven’t really strengthened that curiosity muscle.

Mindfulness for Mental Compulsions

Lisa: That’s so true. So, start small. Don’t start in the storm. Start with waking up in the morning and noticing before you open your eyes, what do you hear? How do the covers feel? Do you hear the birds outside your window? Start with that. And start in little moments, just practicing during the day. Start a conversation with someone you care about, and notice what your mind is saying in response to them, what it’s like to notice their face. Start small, build it up, and then start practicing with little tiny, other kinds of discomfort. Sometimes we’ll tell people like impatience. When you’re waiting in line or in hunger or tiredness, any of those, to just bring your full awareness to that and be like, “What is it like inside this moment right now?” And then you can extend that to, “Okay. So, what if we choose to approach this scary thing? What if we choose to just for a few seconds, notice what it feels like in this uncertain space?” And that’s how you might begin to bring it to rumination, be curious about what was the triggering thought. And then before you start ruminating or before you start doing mental rituals, just notice the first thought, and then you don’t have to answer that question. And there’s different ways to handle that, but curiosity is the beginning. And then stopping the compulsion is ultimately, or undoing it or undermining it in some way is going to be the other important piece.

Kimberley: I’d love to hear more about commitment. I always loved-- when I have multiple clients, we joke about this all the time. They’ll say, “I had these mental compulsions and you would be so proud. I was so proud. I was able to catch it and pull myself back into the present. And yes, it was such a win. And then I had another thought and you’d be so proud of me. I did the same thing. And then I had another thought and...”

Lisa: You’re like, “Was that the show that you just did right there?” It’s sneaky, huh.

Kimberley: And so, I’d love to hear what you’re-- and maybe bring it from an ACT perspective or however you would. It’s like you’re chugging away. “I’m doing good. Look at me go.” But OCD can be so persistent.

Lisa: It’s so tricky. 

Kimberley: And so, is that the commitment piece, do you think? What is that? How would you address that? 

Lisa: So, if I’m getting your question right, you’re asking about, what do we do when OCD hijacks something that you should do and turns it into a ritual? Is that what you’re asking? 

Kimberley: Yes. Or it just is OCD turns up the volume as like, “No, no, no, no. You are going to have to tend to me or I’m not going to stop,” kind of thing.

Lisa: Yes. That is a commitment piece. And it’s funny because there’s different ways that I think about this, but it’s almost like a little child who has a tantrum. If you keep saying yes, every time they make the tantrum bigger, it’s going to end up being a pretty big tantrum. And OCD loves nothing more than a good tantrum.

Kimberley: So true.

Lisa: And so, the thing you have to do is plan for that and go, “Yeah, it’s going to get loud. Yeah, it’s going to say whatever it needs to say, and it’s going to say the worst thing I can think of.” And I have had my clients call this all sorts of different things like first-order thoughts, second-order thoughts, just different variations on the theme where it’s going to ramp up to hook you in. And so, really staying very mindful of that and making a promise to yourself. 

One of my clients who helped us a lot in teaching but also in writing stuff that’s loud, Ethan, I think said it in this really elegant way. He said, make a promise to yourself. That really matters, even if it’s small. It doesn’t matter how big it is. But one of his first ones was, under no circumstances, am I going to do X the compulsion? And keep that promise to yourself because if you-- anybody who ever woke up and didn’t want to get out of the bed in the morning because, “Ah, too tired, it’s too early. I don’t really want to go to the gym.” If you know you’re in that conversation with yourself about, “Well, maybe just one more minute,” you’ve already lost. And so, this is a good place again for that ACT piece of diffusion. Noticing your mind or your OCD or your anxiety is pulling you into, “Ah, let’s just see if we can string you along here.” And so, what needs to happen is just move your feet and put them on the floor. Don’t get into that conversation with yourself. And having that commitment piece, that promise to myself with the added value piece, that really matters.

And one other thing that’s sometimes helpful that I have-- I’ll use this myself, but I also teach my clients, remembering this question: If this is a step towards whatever it is that’s really important, am I willing to allow myself to feel these things? Am I willing? And remembering that as a cue. We’re not here. It’s never about this one exposure. It’s about, this is a step towards this other life that you are fighting for. And every single step is an investment in that other life where you’re getting closer and you’re making it more possible, and just remembering that. I think that that’s a really important piece.

A Values Tool YOU NEED! 

Kimberley: Yeah. It actually perfectly answered the question I had, which is, you’re making a commitment, but what to? And it is that long-term version of you that you’re moving towards or the value that you want to be living by. Would you suggest-- and I’ve done a little bit of work on the podcast about values. Maybe one day we can have you back on and you can share more about that, but would you suggest people pick one value, three values? How might someone-- of course, we all have these values and sometimes OCD can take things from us, or anxiety can take those things from us. How would you encourage someone to move in that direction?

Lisa: Well, actually, do you want to do a fun thing?

Kimberley: I do.

Lisa: Okay. So, let’s do--

Kimberley: I never would say no to that. I would love to. I’m really curious about this fun thing.

Lisa: All right. So, do you like coffee or are you a tea person or neither?

Kimberley: Let’s go tea. I’m an Australian. If I didn’t say tea, I would be a terrible Aussie. 

Lisa: They’ll kick you off. All right. So, Kim, think about in your life a perfect cup of tea, not just a taste, but a moment with someone maybe you cared about or somewhere that was beautiful or after something big or before something big, or just think about what was a really, really amazing important cup of tea that you’ve had in your life.

Kimberley: Oh, it’s so easy. Do I tell you out loud? 

Lisa: Yeah. If you want to, that’d be great. 

Kimberley: I’ll paint you guys a picture. So, I live in America, but my parents live in Australia and they have this beautiful house on a huge ranch. I grew up on a farm. And we’re sitting at their bay window and you’re overlooking green. It’s just rolling hills. And my mom is on my left and my dad is on my right. And it’s like milky and there’s cookies. Well, they call them biscuits. So, yeah. That’s my happy place right there.

Lisa: And I could see it in your face when you’re talking about it. So, where do you-- does that tell you something about what’s really important to you? 

Kimberley: Yes.

Lisa: What does it tell you?

Kimberley: Family and pleasure and just savoring goodness, just slowing down. It’s not about winning a race, it’s just about this savoring. And I think there’s a lot-- maybe something there that I think is important is the green, the nature, the calm of that.

Lisa: Yeah. So, as you talk about that, what are you noticing feeling?

Kimberley: Oh my God, my heart just exploded 12 times. My heart is filled. That was the funnest thing I’ve ever done in my whole life. Funnest is not a word.

Lisa: What if you could build your life around moments like that? Would that be a well of life for you?

Kimberley: I think about that nearly every time I make tea, actually.

Lisa: That’s how you would help your clients, and that’s one way to think about values.

Kimberley: Wow. That is so cool. I feel like you just did a spell on me or something.

Lisa: You just connected with the stuff that’s really important. So, when you think about if I had a hard thing to do, what if it was a step towards more of that in your life?

Kimberley: Yeah.

Lisa: You see? 

Kimberley: It’s so powerful. I’ve never thought that. Oh my God, that was gold. And so, that’s the example. Everyone would use that, coffee or tea.

Lisa: There you go. Just think about it. And it’s funny because we came up with this in our team, maybe three months ago. We keep piloting just new little values exercise, but it’s so funny how compelling it is. just thinking about-- gosh. Anyway, I could tell you about mine, but you get the point. 

Kimberley: And you know what’s so funny too and I will say, and this is completely off topic, there’s a social media person that I follow on Instagram. And every time she does a live-- and for some reason, it’s so funny that you mentioned this, I love what she talks about, but to be honest, I’m not there to watch her talk. The thing that I love the most is that she starts every live with a new tea and she’ll pause the water in front of you. It’s like a mindfulness exercise for me. To be honest, I find myself watching to see whether she’s making tea. Not that this is about tea, but I think there’s something very mindful about those things that where we slow down-- and the water example, she’s pouring it and she’s watching the tea. And for some reason, it’s like a little mini-break in the day for me. 

Lisa: I totally agree. It’s like the whole sky, the cloud, and the tea and the--

Kimberley: Like Thich Nhat Hanh.

Lisa: Yes. I can’t remember the quote, but exactly. 

Kimberley: Yeah. Oh my gosh, I love that example. So good. Well actually, if you don’t mind, can you tell us your tea? Because I just would love to see if there’s a variation. So, what would yours be?

Lisa: It was funny because I think I did coffee the first time I did this, but then recently I just did a workshop in Virginia and I was like, “Oh my gosh, tea.” And what came to mind was, when I took my 17-year-old daughter tracking in the Himalayas to Nepal, because I wanted her. She was graduating from high school and I wanted to show her that you could do anything and she really wanted to go. We both really wanted to go to Ever Space Camp. And every morning after trekking nine, 10, 11 hours a day where you’re freezing cold, you’re exhausted, everything’s hurting, and it’s also amazing and beautiful, the guides would knock at our door and there would be two of them. And one of them would have a tray of little metal cups. And then the other one would say, “Tea? Sugar? Would you like sugar?” And they would make you, they would bring you, and this was how you woke up every morning, a steaming cup of tea. Sometimes the rooms were 20 below zero. And you’d get out of bed and you’d be so grateful for that warm cup of tea. And that was the tea I remembered.

Kimberley: Right. And then the values you pulled from that would be what?

Lisa: That moment, it was about being with my daughter and it was about showing her, modeling courage and modeling willingness and just adventure and this love of being in nature and taking a journey and seeing, “Could we do this? And what would it be like?” And just sharing the experience with her. It’s just beautiful. And the tea is right in the center of that. So, it’s almost not even about the tea, but it’s that moment. It’s that time and that experience. So amazing.

Kimberley: So amazing. Thank you. I’m deeply grateful. That just filled my heart. 

Lisa: I’m so glad. I feel so honored that you have had experience. I love that so much.

Kimberley: I did. I always tell my clients or my kids or whoever is at-- when I was a kid, my mom, every afternoon when I came home from school, she’d say, “What’s the one thing you learn at school today?” And so still, there’s always one thing I learn and I always note it like that’s the one thing I learned today and that was it. What an amazing moment. 

Lisa: I’m so glad. 

Kimberley: Okay. I love this. So, we’ve talked about mindfulness and we’ve talked about commitment. We’ve talked about values and we have talked about the acceptance piece, but if we could have just one more question around the acceptance piece. How does that fit into this model? I’m wondering. 

Lisa: It’s funny because I always feel like that acceptance piece, the word, it means to so many people, I think, tolerance or coping or let’s just make this okay. And it doesn’t mean any of those things. And so, I’ve moved more into thinking of it and describing it as, it’s like a willingness. What is under the hood of acceptance and am I willing? Because you cannot like something and not want something and also be willing to allow it. And it’s almost like this-- again, it involves curiosity about it. It involves squeeze the horse with all the stuff. Get the feet on the floor, even though you’re having an argument that’s in your head. And so, sometimes people think about it as a feeling and sometimes it is, but a lot of times, it’s willingness with your feet. When you think about moms and infants in the middle of the night, I don’t think there was ever a moment when I was like, “Oh yeah, the baby’s crying at 4:00 in the morning. I’m so excited to get up.” I’m feeling in my heart, no. It’s like you’re exhausted and it’s like the last thing you want to do and 100% you’re willing to do it. You choose. And so, that’s the difference. And so, I think people get tangled up, not just thinking of it as tolerance, but also waiting for a feeling of willingness to happen. And that’s not it. It’s a choice.

Kimberley: It’s gold.

Lisa: Yeah, seriously. I mean, it’s the same thing. I learn it every day. Trust me, when I fall out of my gym routine or my running routine and I’m off the willingness, and then I’m like, “Yeah, that’s not it.” And I have to come back to it. So, it’s something we all struggle with. And I think that’s really important to know too, but ultimately, it’s a choice, not a feeling.

Kimberley: Okay. That was perfect. And I’m so happy. Thank you, number one. This is just beautiful for me and I’m sure the gifts just keep going and flowing from this conversation. So, thank you. 

Lisa: Thank you for having me.

Kimberley: Tell me where people can hear more about you and know your work?

Lisa: Well, we’re at the New England Center for OCD and Anxiety in Boston. We have recently opened in New York City and in Ireland. So, if anybody is in Ireland, call us, look us up.

Kimberley: Wow.

Lisa: Yeah. That’s been really fun. And there’s a few books we have. There’s Stuff That’s Loud written by Ben Sedley and myself. There’s our newest book called Stop Avoiding Stuff with Matt Boone and Jen Gregg. And that’s a fun little book. If anybody’s interested in learning about ACT, it’s really written-- the chapters are each standalone and they’re written so that you could read them in about two minutes, and that was on purpose. We wanted something that was really pocket-sized and really simple with actionable skills that you could use right away. And then I have a new book coming out actually really soon. And no one knows this. Actually, I’m announcing this on your show. And I am writing it with my colleague, Sarah Cassidy-O’Connor in Ireland. We are just doing the art for it now and it’s a book on ACT for kids with anxiety and OCD. 

Kimberley: When is this out?

Lisa: Good question. I want to say within the year, but I don’t remember when.

Kimberley: That’s okay. 

Lisa: But look for it and check out our website and check out Stuff That’s Loud website. We’ll post it there and let folks know. But yeah, we’re really excited about it. And it’ll be published by a UK publisher. So, it’s really cute. So, I think the language will be much more like Australia, UK, Ireland for the US, which is really fun because I have a connection to Ireland too. But anyway, there you go. 

Kimberley: It’s so exciting. Congratulations. So needed. It’s funny because I just had a consultation with one of my staff and we were talking about books for kids. And there are some great ones, but this ACT work, I think as I keep saying, there’s skills for life. 

Lisa: It really is.

Kimberley: So important. How many times I’ve taught my child, even not related to anxiety, just the ACT skill, it’s been so important.

Lisa: Yeah. Mine too. I think they’re so helpful. They were just really helpful with flexibility in so many different areas.

Kimberley: Right. I agree. Okay. This is wonderful. Thank you for being on. Like I said, you brought it home. 

Lisa: We’ll have our cups of tea now.

Kimberley: We will

Lisa: So nice to talk to you, Kim. 

Kimberley: Thank you.

Lisa: Thank you.