Plans

by F.

In the old days, when I had OCD, I hated to plan. That might seem counterintuitive, since if you’re obsessive-compulsive, a plan might seem a good thing. After all, once made, you can obsessively follow it, which might be soothing. Right?

Yeah, well, uh…not at all.

How come? Because a plan had to be followed exactly. Deviation was anathema. And yet, it was clear that a plan made at time t would be based on a certain set of information, i . Yet, information is always coming in. So i is constantly being updated. By the time the plan is put into motion, t+1 , i has morphed into i+1 . And that’s unacceptable. Because it is not right. The plan is wrong. It is obsolete before it begins.

So I just quit. No planning. At all.

This was a funny aspect of OCD I haven’t read about in “the literature.” (Not that I’ve read that much about it—a couple books and articles is all.) The knowledge that there was a right answer made things worse for me. Because it made me realize I might not get to it.

And I obsessed about that. About being wrong.

So I was, for instance, psychologically incapable of estimating. It drove me crazy to think about 32 \times 11 being “about” 320 . Accordingly, I gravitated toward things where there was no right answer (art). But then that drove me crazy. So I gravitated toward things where there was a right answer I could (I thought) find without difficulty (philosophy, simple first- and second order logic, simple computer programming).

Obviously, this is quite self-defeating. (Someday I’ll write the Concise Encyclopedia of Self-Defeating Behavior. I’m an expert.) Nowadays, I like plans. But my brain views them differently. Deviation is expected. Even though the plan won’t be carried out fully, totally, without deviation, it’s better to have a plan (generally) than none at all. I’m not saying I’ve fully retrained myself. Not at all. I’m getting there.

This is sort of like the difference between principles and rules. Rules are brittle. Any slight deviation, and the rule is broken. (This is the way old fashioned computer-human interaction worked. And still does with, say, Windows.) Principles are purposely vague. They allow for deviation but there’s a limit to how much deviation is allowed. (This distinction shows up in accounting, too, by the way.)

Put another way, good plans are defeasible. A defeasible plan is better than a brittle plan. A brittle plan is, I think, almost worse than no plan many times. So given the choice between an obsessively brittle plan and no plan, I’m not sure my brain made the wrong choice when it had OCD. But it certainly lead to a lot of heartache.

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