Doubts are just an inevitable part of life; however, these can become entrenched once you start giving into rituals that only serve to drive an underlying fear – e.g., taking in information and then fearing that there is a fault with your memory. When intrusive thoughts and pathological doubt rule, it can lead you to believe your academic future is in trouble.
Tip 1 – Do the 3 A’s: Acknowledge the intrusive thoughts, Accept they are there, Allow to them to pass.
Doing the 3 A’s helps intrusive thoughts filter out more smoothly; blocking them or fighting them makes them push through more. When this occurs it increases the strength of obsessional doubts and keeps you in a never-ending circle of doubts and what-ifs. Identifying at this point that intrusive doubts are based on nothing concrete, and not worth investing your time in, is crucial. Instead concentrate on moving away from the doubts by focusing on the present. Think about what needs to be done (studying) and without stopping to ask yourself or others why your memory seems to be “failing” you, since this may become a reassurance/checking problem.
Tip 2 – Be aware that your experiences are showing you otherwise.
Think about your past achievements, appraisals, your ongoing efforts to present good work, and then remind yourself that your proven abilities outweigh problems with memory and recall. Hector Peguero quotes: “The moment you feel it creeping in, it’s time to act.” In other words step back from ruminations, tune into your intuitive self and observe the situation. Put in some perspective, and decide to shift your mental state by taking a mindful break, and then going back and occupying your mind with your studies whist simultaneously practicing the 3 A’s.
Tip 3 – Be mindful. Use the STOPP method.
The STOPP method can help you self-regulate and tune back into your natural abilities.
S – STOPP
T – TAKE A BREATH
O – OBSERVE: What am I thinking? What am I reacting to? What am I feeling?
P – PUT IN SOME PERSPECTIVE. See the bigger picture. Is this fact or opinion? Is it fear related? How would someone else see this? How do I move on from this? What strategies do I have? What is my new perspective?
P – PRACTICE WHAT WORKS: What’s the best thing for me to do right now? Can the 3 A’s work for me right now? Can I remind myself that intrusive thoughts are not worth investing in? How else can I manage this situation rationally for a favourable outcome? What would I advise someone else to do in the same situation? Generate as many ideas as you can and use what works in the moment.
Tip 4 – If doubts continue to plague you, use the downward arrow technique to find a deeper level belief.
Ask yourself the same or similar questions until you get your answer. For example:
What’s so bad about having a memory problem?
If I cannot learn, I cannot be knowledgeable.
What’s so bad about that?
Without knowledge life would be boring.
And what’s the worst about that?
I would have no prospects and therefore no future, just a mere existence.
Finally, what’s the worst about that?
I would be seen as a failure and my life would be pointless.
This technique shows a fear-related problem. In this instance you can eliminate the fear by tuning in to your natural ability to listen to your intuitive self, resist falling into negative ruminations about your future, and then do a cognitive technique (see tip 3). Jump back up to tip 1 too for doing the 3 A’s – Acknowledge the fear, Accept it, Allow it to pass. Bear with associated anxiety and notice how this does decrease naturally within a short while. The more practice you get at doing your new behaviours – that is, resisting all compulsions and choosing to follow through with your workable solutions instead. All of this means the anxiety yoyo you’ve been riding up and down on slows down and balances out and the stress related memory problem starts to improve.
Tip 5 – If you find you doubt your doubts, use the yin versus yang approach!
The “Yin versus Yang” method is useful for tackling doubts and fears which can interrupt your new healthier beliefs and perceptions where you argue with the positive belief. The argument often includes “what ifs?” and “buts” which can hold you back. Therefore, using a zig-zag technique that has two columns gives you the opportunity to argue the two beliefs effectively.
Yin versus Yang strategy
Healthy positive choice of belief
Belief based on doubt and worry
|My learning is productive with sound memory and knowledge; I have gained and retained my learning objectives so my recall is intact.||→||What if that’s not the case? It doesn’t feel like that.|
|The facts say so and I do recall information following my revision periods, I just doubt that I don’t.||←
|What if I’m kidding myself? What if this isn’t really the case?|
|My experiences are showing me otherwise.||→||But there’s always a chance that I could be wrong and my memory is faulty.|
|I could be wrong; yet, living with uncertainty in the face of an obsession is healthier than struggling with never-ending doubts and what-ifs, which only increases the strength of my fear. It’s more likely I’m stressed due to change and fearing what my future prospects will be without academic success.
|Bu how can I be sure? I mean I know I’m stressed, but this is beyond what I can bear.
|There are no reported cases that suggest obsessions are the actual cause of memory failure. My problem is one of emotional reasoning which has caused a brief mental block. I can get past this with my CBT strategies.||→||No more comments, my questions have become exhausted.|
|Okay, I rest my case. I have corrected this problem by altering my emotional responses to more logical responses and have decided to live with the feeling of uncertainty when doubt creeps in, I will bear with associated anxiety until it reduces naturally. I will use my CBT strategies to help remove this mental block, adjusting to change, and by remaining in the present.||←
Homework Task: You can use the above example to help you with any newly held positive choice of belief and argue it out with an old belief based on doubts.
Tip 7 – Exposure scripts can help you live with uncertainty.
There has to be no reassurance statements in an exposure script, otherwise it won’t work. This is because reassurance statements are compulsions, and compulsions strengthen the obsession. Record your script on to a loop tape and listen to it for a number of times each day (say 20 minutes 4 times a day). The intention is to become bored with the threat-related problem, since boredom and fear do not go hand in hand, so one usually overrides the other.
My Exposure Script: “In life the truth is that I can never have 100% certainty about anything. No matter how many times I go over the doubts in my mind, it can never be ascertained that my recall has or hasn’t failed me. Neither can I be certain of ever being released from the possibility of having no prospects or future stability due to poor memory; or mental blocks. In addition, it cannot be made certain that my rituals will save me from having a fruitless life, all without knowledge and wisdom. Further, the more I listen to my OCD and let it determine the limiting factors of my behaviours and actions, the more my symptoms will intensify. The sooner I recognise that OCD thoughts are based on irrational fears that serve emotional rather than rational functioning, the sooner my recovery will start; or improve.”
You may also like to read: OCD and Academic Stress – 7 Ways to Get Your Brain Working Again