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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Possible OCD

Q. I have a problem with focus and motivation. Either I am 100% giving my all to something, or I couldn't be bothered. Sometimes, I can be intent on simply making sure that my kitchen is spotless, but then I can't be bothered the next day to clean up coffee that I spill on the floor. I feel like I have a compulsion for certain areas of my life, yet no desire to do anything about other areas. I honestly think it is more than OCD. Can you point me in the right direction, please?

A. I can suggest a few possible directions, but not a diagnosis or a treatment. First, it's important to decide if the variations in your motivation/focus are related to changes in your overall mood and energy levels. For example, are you in low spirits and low energy on the days you can't be bothered, versus high spirits/high energy on the days you get all your cleaning done? If so, you should consider an evaluation by a mental health professional to see if you might have a cyclical mood disorder of some type; for example, some form of bipolar disorder. You might even keep a daily journal of your mood and energy level over the next month, as well as what you are getting done, in order to get a better handle on this question.

If you notice no link at all between your mood and your motivation/focus, then you may need to re-examine how you think about work, chores, prioritizing, etc. For example, are the certain areas you give 100% to mainly areas you find enjoyable or gratifying? And are the areas you can't be bothered with generally more boring or menial chores? That would certainly be a common pattern for most of us!

If that's the case, you may simply be procrastinating, when it comes to getting unpleasant chores done. For that very common problem, I would recommend your reading "Overcoming Procrastination: Or How to Think and Act Rationally in Spite of Life's Inevitable Hassles", by Dr. Albert Ellis et al. Another book that might help is "Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity", by David Allen (I have not read this one, but it did get one favorable review).

In the mean time, here's a tip from David Allen that most of us could learn from: If there is anything you absolutely must do, that you can do right now in two minutes or less, then do it now!

April 2001

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