In the case of an obsession, say lusting for a coworker, or a worry,
it is possible that this unwanted thought results from your repeatedly
suppressing it and then letting it happen. When this is the history, it
may help to let the fantasy or worry run its course. You could even
insist that it occur frequently for a day or two. If the thought is
dangerous, however, see a therapist.
STEP THREE: Continue the unwanted behavior until it is very
unpleasant or disgusting or loses its strength.
Hopefully at that point the habit will be punished enough that it is
extinguished. Watching yourself in a mirror might increase your
distaste for a habit, like nail biting. In other cases, the worry or
obsession fades away when you demand that it continue. A strong
habit or worry may not go away easily; however, so several attempts
to satiate-to-exhaustion might be required.
Most people are so busy fighting the habit that it doesn't occur to
them to change sides and "go with this desperate need." See
paradoxical intention in chapter 14. Also, most of us avoid self-
punishment, even if it is for a good cause.
Obsessions are hard to eliminate; success rates with these
techniques are about 50% but this is with extreme cases. There is
almost no research with common compulsions, such as perfectionism,
indecisiveness, rule-boundness, stinginess, workaholism, etc.
It is a simple idea, sort of "turning the tables." There are some
dangers, especially with destructive obsessions. Therapists may
encourage a person to dwell on and try to convince him/herself of the
validity of ideas like "I'm going crazy" or "I'd be better off dead." The
assumption (and hope) is that the contrary, rebellious part inside of us
will suddenly start to oppose the dangerous idea instead of pushing it
as before. That is too risky to do by your self without professional
help. Yet, the approach could be used with less dangerous thoughts,
like "I'm going to fail" or "He/she is probably going out on me." By the
way, sarcasm might help, for instance, the falsely accused partner
could say, "Yes, I went to bed with three people last night." People
have found that repeatedly denying the accusations and saying, "I love
you, of course I don't have affairs, it's a silly idea, don't say such
things, ..." are usually ineffective (Fay, 1978).
Lichtenstein, E. & Danaher, B. G. (1976). Modification of
smoking behavior: A critical analysis of theory, research, and
practice. In M. Hersen, R. M. Eisler, & P. M. Miller (Eds.),
Progress in Behavior Modification, Vol. 3, New York: Academic
Frankl, V. (1965). The doctor and the soul. New York: Knopf.