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OCD, Motivation, and Self-Efficacy

by nitinut
by nitinut


Whether we have obsessive-compulsive disorder or not, I think most of us can relate to lacking motivation at times. We are tired, it’s just easier “not to______”(fill in your own blank), we are going to fail anyway, we don’t see the point. We just aren’t motivated to do what we need to do.

In the context of OCD, motivation is likely one of the most deciding factors in overcoming the disorder. Asking for help isn’t always easy, and ERP therapy is hard work. If you’re not motivated, you’re unlikely to be successful, and OCD will continue to rule your life. I’ve written before about recovery avoidance and the role incentives and motivation play in fighting OCD.

In this wonderful blog post (which I highly recommend) titled Self-Efficacy: Turning Doubt into Drive, Anna Cutteridge discusses how those who possess self-efficacy are more likely to be self-motivated in the face of a challenge. She says:

With high self-efficacy, one can attempt goals and conquer stress more readily, and as a result, experience better wellbeing. On the contrary, those who have doubts about their own abilities ruminate on personal flaws, slacken efforts and lose faith in the face of failure – a mind-set that in the long run can act as a brake on one’s ambitions and increase proneness to mental illness.

While reading the above paragraph, I couldn’t help relate it to those with OCD (okay, I pretty much relate everything to OCD :)). But that word, that cornerstone of obsessive-compulsive disorder stood out to me: DOUBT. Those with OCD are consumed by doubt and uncertainty – that’s what keeps their OCD alive. They also often have low self-esteem and doubt their strength and ability to get through difficult times. It’s not hard to come to the assumption that many people with OCD are lacking in self-efficacy, which might very well be hindering their OCD recovery.

So how can we change this? How can those with OCD, indeed how can any of us, improve our self-efficacy?

In addressing this question, Ms. Cutteridge turns to research conducted by psychologist Albert Bandura whose studies concluded that one way to increase self-efficacy is through overcoming adversity. Whether it is getting right back up after experiencing failure or just possessing a “can do” attitude (think The Little Engine That Could), those who believe they can prevail usually do. Bandura also suggests that surrounding ourselves with good role models – those who set goals for themselves and accomplish them – can help with our own self-efficacy.

Again, I can’t help thinking of those with untreated OCD. They spend their lives trying to avoid adversity, not overcome it. Most compulsions are designed to keep bad things from happening. Compulsions that revolve around perfectionism are supposed to help avoid failure, not embrace it. So if you’re suffering with OCD now, you are likely doing the opposite of what you need to do to develop your own self-efficacy.

I know it’s not easy. I know it’s hard work. But the bottom line is it is doable. Find a good Cognitive Behavioral Therapist who can help you see through your cognitive distortions and a good OCD specialist who can get you started on ERP therapy. Embrace the struggle and you will come out on the other side with more self-efficacy than most people.

If you think you can, you can.

OCD, Motivation, and Self-Efficacy

Janet Singer

I am a mom whose son was completely debilitated by severe OCD in 2008. Thankfully he made a remarkable recovery and is now living life to the fullest. I've since become an advocate for OCD awareness with the goal of spreading the word that OCD, no matter how severe, is treatable. I am the author of Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery (Rowman & Littlefield, January 2015) and have my own blog about OCD at There truly is hope for all those who suffer from this insidious disorder!

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APA Reference
Singer, J. (2016). OCD, Motivation, and Self-Efficacy. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 6 Oct 2016
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