It may seem an odd lead-in but it’s appropriate and if you read along I think you’ll understand why. The other night after turning off my iPad (I’d been reading for a bit), I laid down to go to sleep. I tend to start off on one side or the other and this particular night it was on my left side. As I put my head down on the pillow, my ear folded over and was uncomfortable. It wasn’t painful in any way, just not the way it was most comfortable for me to go to sleep. I adjusted my position but it was still folded. I tried adjusting again. It was still folded. Finally I had to move the pillow, adjust my position and try again, and finally got things where they needed to be for my comfort and ability to relax. As I lay there waiting for sleep to come, I realized the amount of time and energy I had spent making sure just that one facet of my comfort as proper before I even thought about getting the rest of me into a comfortable sleeping position. It made me wonder how many other things I do, day to day, that take up time and seem vital but also could be viewed as relatively trivial. What I realized was that such moments exist in every day throughout our life.
Now, you ask, why would that even matter? Well, when I was a child, no one had ever heard of this thing called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Back in the 1960s-1970s, a child with OCD was “just wasting time,” and was disciplined to get a move on; to “stop being so picky.” Forty plus years later, we now diagnose some behaviors – behaviors that are so pervasive as to inhibit normal day to day function – as OCD. But where does the line get drawn? And when is some level of OCD actually beneficial?
My point is that some detail oriented behavior is not only beneficial but necessary and double- or triple-checking the behavior and its results can be a good thing. The challenge comes when we’re repeatedly checking the results or confirming an action. If you have to wash your hands five times and still feel like you need to do it again, you might want to go visit with a therapist. If you turn the light off as you leave a room but have to go back and check three, four, five or more times, you might want to go see a therapist. If you’ve just put your newborn down in the bassinet and you’re triple checking that s/he’s breathing okay, properly positioned and the baby monitor is on, there’s probably no need to go see a therapist; you’re just being a careful and caring parent.
Depending on what you do for a living, such detail verification can also be beneficial. I’ve spent a lot of years in uniform as a police officer and I can think of two examples where double or triple checking something is a good thing. Where firearms are concerned, there’s no such thing as “too safe” when in training. If you’ve finished a course of fire and are going back into the classroom to clean weapons, triple checking that your weapon is unloaded, clear and safe is not a bad thing. When you’ve made an arrest and you’re handcuffing a suspect, double checking that the handcuffs are double locked is not a bad thing. In these instances, having things “just so” is good and, indeed, necessary. It is NOT a symptom of OCD if you’ve double checked that your magazine is out of your handgun, you’ve pulled the slide back and looked in the chamber to make sure it’s empty two or three times and then lock the slide back or drop it and decock the weapon / put it on safe.
The same comparison can be made to triple checking your spelling and grammar in an email before you send it. Doing it once is professional behavior. Doing it three times, without having edited any of the text, is unnecessary, a waste of time and probably a symptom of excessive detail orientation. Double checking the email address is definitely a good thing; checking it the fourth, fifth or sixth time? Maybe it’s something you should pay attention to and try to control… or seek help in doing so.
So, how does any of this compare to getting one ear comfortable as you lay down to go to sleep? It’s one thing in part of a process. Lie down, pull the covers up, get comfortable on the pillow, settle in, close your eyes and wait for sleep. If any one of those things becomes so much of a focus that it unnecessarily delays the end goal, then you need to be self-aware and examine that behavior. Being detail oriented is one thing; experiencing OCD is something else. Being detail oriented is a strength; having OCD can be a challenge.
Don’t let the folded ear slow you down too much.