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  • Writer's pictureJeff Lee

Obsessive-Compulsion: Certainty, Rituals, Persistence and Keeping Everything Structured

Updated: Aug 30, 2021

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental disorder, a close cousin to anxiety. Uncontrollable, unwanted thoughts and ritualized, repetitive behaviors that are obsessive and felt compelled to be performed. It's serious, as such a "voice" in the mind had taken over the lives of many many people. But we are not going to discuss OCD.

All of us know people that are super persistent with a certain "structure" on "how" things should be, like, the right way to squeeze the tooth paste, the right shoes at the bottom of the shoe rack, the right stationary in the top drawer, etc. A frequent and ritualized affirmation sequence is initiated, and frustrations will be sparked if things are not at the "right" place or done the "right" way. Sounds familiar?

We will call the people with these mini OCD behaviors, Obsessive-Compulsive Person, OCP.

Why do most people felt uncomfortable dealing with Obsessive-Compulsive Person (OCP)?

Most probably because OCP are very annoying to most people, with their unexplained rituals and persistence. As there are better things to do in life, why spend time with OCP on:

  1. Answering the same questions over and over again.

  2. Checking all the locks, switches and the taps over and over again.

  3. Checking the spreadsheet over and over again.

  4. Arranging the locker, drawer, cabinet, desktop icons, etc. over and over again.

  5. Fighting over the "right" way over and over again.

  6. Go through OCP's ritual over and over again.

  7. I'm sure that there are a lot more examples in mind!

In a workplace, OCP might be perceived as affecting team's trust and performance:

  1. No none likes their work to be questioned and checked over and over again, causing trust deficits and needless workloads.

  2. Spending time in meetings on non-essentials, like, cropping images of presentation decks and color coding spreadsheets for every available category or exceptions while everyone is waiting.

  3. A file/template that was sent to an OCP came back with a different layout, adding complexity for consolidations and compilations.

  4. I'm sure that there are a lot more examples in mind!

But as usual, negative thoughts are always louder than positive thoughts, if we take a step back and think about the questions below:

  1. Aren't you glad that someone kept you in check on some of the things that you might missed? OCP keeps us on our feet most of the time.

  2. Aren't you glad that someone is making sure that there are no unpleasant surprises? OCP makes sure that we can find our stuff or at least that they can always find their stuff and loan it to you (especially during emergency).

  3. Aren't you glad that someone is debating with you on methods that you have not thought of? OCP plans for the future (ensuring certainty is an OCP's trait) while half of us in the human race are short term-ers.

In short, #WeNeedOCP

Spot an OCP and Support.

An OCP is easily spotted. Other then feeling annoyed by their persistence and stubbornness, it'll be great if we could:

Be more understanding

OCP's behaviors are driven as a part of their personality, they are neither unaware nor fully aware of them. All we need to do is to acknowledge that OCPs would need things to be structured and certain, and it's kinda easy to fulfill that need as a caring person.


It's not easy to have a voice in the head, making sure that things are structured and certain. When an OCP initiates their double-check sequence, the load and burden on their shoulders are much heavier than we think, and do we still want them to deal with the social awkwardness that they don't deserve? Respect!

Make it a FUN thing to talk about

I'm speaking for myself, as I feel good to announce I'm an OCP to people around me.

Colleagues will definitely notice when I hang a huge smile on my face and start arranging the items that are scattered on the conference table, they all know what is happening, and usually, we will have a good chat and laugh about it. A great ice-breaker.

Every time, when I have completed an audit, I will start to rearrange the files and folders on the table to the original state as when I arrived. Most of the clients will tell me that they will arrange the documents later, and my respond is usually: "This is for me, not for you". They will immediately get it and we will have a great time cleaning up together.

My openness to the fact that I'm an OCP, announcing my need for structure, tidiness and the possibility of causing inconvenience to my team had generated a lot of great conversations and strengthened relationships. It's a matter of choice.

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