Allow for bigger plans than your own to unfold

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When in Doubt. Jeff BellIn When in Doubt, Make Belief, author Jeff Bell uses his personal experience living with severe OCD to offer a practical guide for the uncertainty that has become an inherent part of life in the 21st century, whether we have OCD or not. In this excerpt, he shares step number 10 from the book’s “10 Steps Out When Stuck in Doubt.”

So here we are at the edge of the Shadow, just one step shy of breaking out, one step away from the freedom we’ve been seeking. Are you ready to take this final step?

Before you answer, let’s look back at the nine steps we’ve already taken. And if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to recap my journey through these steps, mainly because I know my own footprints better than any others. By tracing them, I can suggest where these steps may or may not lead.

Title: When in Doubt, Make Belief
Author: Jeff Bell
Publisher: New World
ISBN: 978-1-57731-670-1
Available from:

Let’s rewind, then, to August 1997. I am deep inside the Shadow of Doubt, about as lost and entrenched as anyone can be in this cold, dark place. My bully, Director Doubt, is producing Oscar-winning horror films, casting me again and again as both the villain and victim. I am spending my days checking and washing, seeking reassurance, avoiding, protecting, and ruminating. Trapdoor after trapdoor lures me in. I am falling deeper and deeper.

And then, out of desperation, I make my Bargain with the Stars, as I’ve come to call my deal with the universe, at first demanding that it give me what I want before I return the favor, but then stumbling into the reality that things actually flow in the other direction. I commit to a Greater Good goal of doing something constructive with my story, going public with it in hopes that others might benefit and that I might give some meaning to all my lost years. In doing all this, I implicitly choose to see the universe as offering me the potential to achieve this goal. I have, in these early days, discovered the power of reverence, taking Steps 1, 2, and 3 in fairly rapid succession.

I begin my Crash Course in Believing and very soon find myself tested by a defiant Director Doubt, determined not to let me run him out of my life. Slowly, though, I develop my resolve, putting my commitment to my book project ahead of my comfort, again and again, and reminding myself of the Greater Good at stake. I take Steps 4 and 5 and survive my bully’s best efforts to sabotage me.

I start to make real progress in my daily battles with Director Doubt and challenge myself to find opportunities to confront him head-on. With increasing detail I picture a life for myself outside Doubt, and I train myself to start directing my attention away from my bully’s “what if” questions and toward my Greater Good goals. I come to trust that the resources I need are at my disposal. Day after day, I record my progress in my journal. Day after day, I keep walking out of the Shadow with Steps 6, 7, and 8.

As my project year passes, I become increasingly adept at the art of surrender, coming to recognize and accept just how much of what I thought I could control I really can’t. I train myself to separate pain from suffering, reminding myself again and again that suffering is optional.

Everything is going just as (I) planned.

Before I know it, it’s October 20, 1998. My index-card notations read “Day 365.” My project year is over. My Crash Course in Believing is done. It’s nearly midnight, and I am in my den, poring over my stacks of index cards, marveling over just how far I have come. I am clearly no longer entrenched in Doubt; I have found my way out.

But something is eating at me as I stare at my most recent “obsessions” and “compulsions” tracking cards. These cards are no longer crammed with items, as they were twelve months earlier. But neither are they empty, as I had pictured them. In all my planning, I have envisioned my success story ending with my conquering my OCD, in the sense of putting it behind me altogether. Clearly this is not to be the case.

I struggle with this issue over the next several months, as I begin stringing together my index cards to create a book manuscript. Maybe, I tell myself, I’m supposed to speak out as a “recovering” (and not a “recovered”) OCD sufferer.

A year later, I have finished my manuscript. I am ready to publish it, ready to go public with my story. But I can’t find an agent or publisher willing to take on the project. What’s up with this? Where’s the support of the universe when I need it? Maybe, I reluctantly tell myself, the timing is not yet right.

Another year passes, and another one after that, and yet another. A very successful literary agent takes an interest in my story but tells me my manuscript is not yet ready. She offers me advice and re-sources and puts me back to work. What’s up with this? Maybe, I tell myself, my own thoughts on how best to tell my story were not complete.

I spend another year rewriting and work with my agent to shop the book. Nothing. The rejection letters stack up, and so does my frustration. What’s up with this? Where’s the publisher to help me manifest my Greater Good? Maybe I just haven’t found the right one to read my manuscript, I tell myself.

Soon it is 2003, and the unthinkable happens: I lose my job and, with it, my radio “platform.” Gone is my greatest asset in the eyes of publishers. I don’t understand how the universe could let this happen. I am devastated, but I refuse to let go of my plans to publish my book. I’ve invested far too much in my Greater Good goals, and I know in my gut that they’re still mine to pursue.

Time marches on. Life’s twists and turns lead me in directions I couldn’t have imagined, taking me from a job I loved but lost in Sacramento to one in San Francisco that I had dreamed of holding ever since entering the business. Professionally and personally, things are good. Very good. I continue to hold the line in my battles with doubt, still motivated by the prospect of sharing my story.

And then, at long last, the offer comes in. I have a publishing deal. My book has a home.

On February 2, 2007 — nearly ten years after I’d committed to sharing my story, and nine since I’d thought I had everything in place to do so — Rewind, Replay, Repeat is published. My story is not the miraculous recovery narrative that I’d first envisioned; it is, I am told, much stronger, because it speaks to the ongoing challenge that is OCD. My book reads very differently from the first draft, which I’d thought said everything I wanted to say; it now conveys my message infinitely better. And my radio “platform” too looks very different from when I started my project; it has expanded in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

My point in sharing all this is to explain, in the best way I can, just how Step 10 works. It demands of us that we allow room in our own best plans for even better ones. It requires us to tag the following words to our own affirmations, prayers, and goals: This or something better!

Doing this isn’t easy. It’s human nature to cling to our own plans. And for those of us who’ve had to wrest control of our lives away from doubt bullies, it can be even more challenging to surrender the things we might feel we now control. But this, I’m convinced, is how the universe works. It “sees” a larger, grander plan than you and I can see. It will support each of us in our individual Greater Good pursuits at every turn, but it will also fit these pursuits into what you might call a universal Greatest Good. In making belief, we each do our part to further that possibility.

Now then, are you ready to take that final step?

Jeff Bell is the author of When in Doubt, Make Belief: An OCD-Inspired Approach to Living with Uncertainty He serves as National Spokesperson for the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation, and his story has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Psychology Today, DETAILS Magazine, and The New York Times. Bell is a 20-year veteran of radio and television news and currently co-anchors the Afternoon News at KCBS Radio in San Francisco. Visit him online at

Excerpted from the book When in Doubt, Make Belief ©2009 by Jeff Bell. Printed with permission from New World Library.

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