Elder Ballard’s talk from the April 2017 General Conference discussed goals and planning and was titled “Return and Receive.” It had some great life tips, as well as advice that we can apply to our OCD “progress” too.
One of the very first things that Elder Ballard noted was “that those who accomplish the most in this world are those with a vision for their lives, with goals to keep them focused on their vision and tactical plans for how to achieve them.”
Of course Elder Ballard focused on spiritual goals primarily, but I think this idea of having a vision for our lives and a plan on how to make our way toward (and hopefully eventually to) that vision is so useful.
When I was young, I would write out a life plan with set goals on a general timeline. The life plans usually included things like “Go to college/graduate,” “Get married,” “Have a baby,” Have baby #2,” etc. Of course, my life didn’t perfectly follow those life plans or timelines. For one, I have fewer children than I anticipated I would (before actually having children and seeing what it was like ;). But interestingly, I think my life plans usually stopped after the “having babies” portion, like there was nothing else that I could plan out after that type of milestone.
I guess that is why I sometimes feel like I’m floundering, unsure of what to do besides just living life, mothering, taking care of the kids, cleaning the house, doing errands, etc. Of course, I also wanted to be a writer, but even “goals” related to writing are still somewhat nebulous.
Mental Health Vision
When it comes to mental health, having a life plan and goals are valuable too. At OCD Con, Dr. Reid Wilson talked about this a little bit, saying that we need to have an “outcome picture,” or a solid idea of what we want in our lives that OCD is keeping from us.
Without this “vision,” how do we know where we want to go and what exactly we need to do (and at what level) to get there? Sure, we can say we want to “get better” from our OCD, but “getting better” is relative. Going from 50 to 30 hand washes a day is “getting better,” but is that your end goal? Cutting out checking is awesome, but if you still have intrusive thoughts or tapping issues, is your goal met?
Making that goal and solidifying a vision is so important. I need to do this in a more real (i.e. writing it down) way. Elder Ballard reminded us in his talk that “a key to happiness lies in understanding what destinations truly matter—and then spending our time, effort, and attention on the things that constitute a sure way to arrive there.”
He also said something that I thought was really interesting. He mentioned that “when we can reduce a goal to one clear image or one or two powerful and symbolic words, that goal can then become part of us and guide virtually everything we think and do.”
Maybe it’s a picture of your life without giving into OCD compulsions. Maybe it’s your family, happy and smiling together. Maybe it’s you as you used to be before OCD took over. Having this image or phrase in our mind can help move us along.
Once we have that goal and vision, we need to remember, like Elder Ballard said, that “a goal is a destination or an end, while a plan is the route by which you get there.”
Making and following through with a plan is essential! This is why I think psychologist appointments or group therapy is so helpful—they can help you with a plan, provide accountability, and keep you moving forward (ideally).
Making and systematically tackling an exposure hierarchy is a plan. Cultivating mindfulness and doing anything that brings you closer to your goal can be part of your plan.
If you don’t have access to a psychologist or group, you can try to keep yourself accountable and set short and long term goals as well (remembering as Elder Ballard said that “wise goal setting includes the understanding that short-term goals are only effective if they lead to clearly understood longer-term goals”).
I also like Elder Ballard’s idea of having a “self check in” time. He said, “I need to regularly take time to ask myself, ‘How am I doing?’ It’s kind of like having a personal, private interview with yourself.”
This requires finding quiet, alone time. That in itself can be super difficult if you have a family, job, roommates, or a busy schedule! It is worth it, though. For me, writing out what is happening in a journal can help me work through and solve problems or see where my thoughts are leading when just trying to work through the mess in my head alone (without writing it down) usually cannot.
We need to take time to focus ourselves. We need to set our vision, make a plan, and then check in to see how we are progressing. If we can’t find the time to do this and make it a priority, we shouldn’t expect grand results. Grand results take time and effort. OCD thrives on our not having a plan and not bring prepared. If we want to take our lives back, we have to be ready. We can do—it just takes work and determination.