Goal setting when you have OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) doesn’t mean being 'a bit of a perfectionist'; that isn’t OCD. What I’m talking about is full-blown and debilitating OCD.


Most people have barriers preventing them from realising their goals; otherwise, they would have already achieved them. However, when you have OCD, a lot of these barriers are related to your disorder.

I feel that people with OCD should have therapy before working with a coach. It is important to understand your triggers, intrusive thoughts, and compulsions before goal setting. Currently, scientists believe that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and exposure-response prevention (ERP) are the best forms of therapy for OCD.

When you are making progress in recovery, setting life goals can help you to fill the gap left by OCD. Achieving goals will develop your confidence and motivation and encourage you to discover a new purpose in life.

3 goal-setting tips

  • Only set one goal at a time. Trying to do too much at once can be stressful, which can aggravate your feelings or compulsions.
  • Although your goal needs to be challenging, make sure you break it down into achievable steps to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Remember, even a small step is better than no step at all.
  • Ask yourself safeguarding questions such as "What are the warning signs that this may be interfering with my recovery?", "If the signs arise, what will I do next?". Some coaches may view this as a negative outlook, but it is important that you protect yourself from relapse; your OCD recovery must come first. This doesn’t mean you have to give up on your goal - a change in your approach may be all that is required.

7 things to consider when working with a coach

  • Know that a coach is not going to cure, reassure, or make decisions for you.
  • You need to be able to trust your coach. If you feel unable to tell your coach the true barriers to your goal, then you may spend time working on an issue that doesn’t exist. Some OCD themes can be difficult to talk about due to the nature of the intrusive thoughts. In that case, try to find a coach that has an understanding of this type of OCD.
  • It is good to work with a coach who has knowledge about your choice of therapy, so the coaching approach doesn’t interfere with your progress. For example, in some circumstances, clients practising ERP should not be encouraged to 'think positively', as this can result in reassurance, which is a compulsion.
  • You need to make your own decisions and take responsibility for your actions so you don’t become reliant on your coach.
  • It is important that the coach doesn’t reassure you, as this may lead to reassurance seeking which is detrimental to the progress of therapy.
  • If coaching is having a negative effect on your recovery, then stop and speak to your therapist before proceeding. Your OCD recovery must come first, and a good coach will understand this. You can always return to coaching at a later date.
  • If you have a particular coach in mind but they don’t have experience with OCD, then you can still work with them as long as you understand your OCD, your therapy process, and also feel that you can stop at any time.

I’ve had OCD for twenty years and have fully recovered from pure 'O', about 80% recovered from responsibility OCD, and 40% recovered from contamination OCD. I still continue with ERP exercises every day to progress my recovery further.

A few years ago I accepted that I will have OCD for the rest of my life. This isn’t being negative, it’s being aware that my brain works differently. I am OK with this, because I know I can manage my disorder. This insight made me realise that I had to stop delaying my dreams until the day when I would be 'cured'. I used to think "I’ll do that when I’m recovered". When I accepted that I may never fully recover, I realised that I had to set my goals now, and not wait for that imaginary future date.

I am proof that, despite having OCD, it is possible to achieve your goals, be happy, and have a fulfilling life.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Ashton-Under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, OL6
Written by Joanne Forristal, Imposter Syndrome Specialist I ACT & CBT Coach.
Ashton-Under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, OL6

Jo is a life coach and the owner of Dovestone Coaching. She is also an OCD awareness campaigner and speaker.  She helps clients, who are in the process of recovery, find purpose and start living life again.

Jo continues with her own recovery through CBT and ERP.  Despite her OCD she sets and achieves her goals and is a happy, positive person.

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