What is Outline Tracing Disorder?

This is an odd condition in which you are constantly drawing outlines of visible shapes with your eyes.

You may be sitting there at home, perfectly at ease, thinking about something or other, only to find that all the while you have been repeatedly tracing the outline of something, perhaps the lines of the wall around the windows, or the entire area of the ceiling. Sometimes the shapes you draw are so big that you move your head rather than your eyes.

That’s it. ‘Disorder’ may be the wrong word – it may be entirely benign. I am curious about this condition because I have been doing it for many years, probably all my life, certainly since I was at school 30 years ago. The action is so frequent and automatic that usually I am not aware I am doing it. In recent years I have become more self-aware and, on consciously checking, find that yes, indeed I have been drawing these outlines all the while, and, strangely, find that I have a clear memory of doing it as if I was perfectly conscious of the action at the time.

This picture shows some typical outlines I might trace in a room.

Modern-Living-Room-TV-Wall-Units-35-in-White-Color

Walls seem to obsess me particularly, especially the outline that things make against the wall, but that may be because I am most often indoors. Outside, it obviously happens less because shapes are constantly changing, but it still happens at every opportunity. My brain immediately seeks out and latches onto the shapes of things against surfaces and starts tracing them as if it is the key to some kind of discovery. I have a distinct preference for certain types of shape – they have to be irregular and ‘interesting’. I would not be interested in tracing the simple rectangular outline of the television, for instance.

I am the first to admit this is not entirely normal though I am in two minds whether it is pathological. It may well aid concentration – akin to jiggling the leg or pacing up and down. On the other hand, it is mildly annoying to catch myself doing it constantly, and the activity must be taking up cognitive resources (as it were a portion of computer memory), that may impede concentration on other tasks, even significantly. I don’t know.

There is no discernible anxiety connected with this. It doesn’t seems to happen more in tense situations than in others, but all the time, with any static scene and in the most relaxed environments. At the very least, it seems to indicate an over-alert mind, and may go hand in hand with a number of other obsessive-compulsive disorders, such as compulsive counting or restless leg syndrome, though I think (thankfully) it is much less intrusive than those. Perhaps I am the only person in the world afflicted by this outline tracing condition, but somehow I suspect I am not alone.

One thing I’m not interested in is talking to a doctor about this. I have never yet met a doctor who, when it comes to subtle areas like phobias and allergies, have much of a clue and I’ve met plenty who have been downright harmful with their ill-informed speculation. Even a specialist in OCDs, I suspect, will have little clue how to deal with this, if the specialist advice I have already come across is anything to go by. So please spare me that suggestion.

I have set up this website and coined the phrase Outline Tracing Disorder because I can see no mention of it in the medical literature and hardly any mention of it on the internet. The only reference I have come across is here: Mentalhealth.net where a few individuals mention tracing in combination with compulsive counting.

The aim is to pool available experience on outline tracing. It would be interesting to try to establish, among other things:

  • Whether the action is disruptive to normal everyday activity
  • Whether the action has any hidden (constructive?) psychological purpose
  • Whether it is linked to other conditions (such as headaches or anxiety attacks or the inability to concentrate) which together form a kind of syndrome
  • Whether there is anything can be done about it (I suspect not, beyond a lobotomy)

First though, is there anyone out there who recognises this condition? It would be interesting to hear from you. Just click on replies link below and there is a ‘Leave a reply’ box at the foot of that page.

I wish I could make this WordPress theme automatically show all the replies in full at the foot of the page, but haven’t yet mastered the technicalities of this. In the meantime, a list of the 10 latest comments is below, or you can click on the “replies” link (at the bottom) or the speech bubble (near the top) to see them all.

Update May 28th 2015:

It’s over two years since I set up this tentative web page on “outline tracing”. Since then 5800 people have visited the site and nearly 150 people have left a message – and I must say, everyone who replied came across as good-natured, intelligent, and articulate.

I have let the site run more or less unattended since then but given all those replies, now might be a good time to try to take our understanding of this issue a little further.

To try and contribute a little more to this, I have studied all of the replies and will try to summarise what we have learned so far.

  • Clearly this is not as rare as I thought – it may be reasonably common, assuming all of the thousands of visitors to this site came here in recognition of this condition.
  • This is a long-term condition with many people reporting it from childhood through to old age, and with some parents observing it in quite young children.
  • Many people keep it hidden, even from their partners.
  • The consensus is that the habit is largely subconscious, fairly uncontrollable, and quite frustrating.
  • Despite it being quite annoying, no one has said this condition in itself has significantly hampered their life. Clearly some very successful people have coped with it perfectly well.
  • Tracing is done by different people in different ways: using eyes, tongue, toes, teeth, frequently involving head movements or even whole body movements, with a wide range of personal preference regarding shapes or items that tend to be traced, and in tracing techniques, such as direction, systems, and strategies.
  • Tracers tend to be thinkers with active minds, often artistic or creative, and often perfectionists.
  • The correlation with other psychological conditions such as other OCDs (especially counting), depression, and anxiety would seem to be significant. Quite a number of people also reported having frequent headaches.
  • Tracing seems to be done mostly in sedentary situations such as watching television or driving.
  • It is obscure in that no one understands why they do it, and were frustrated by their complete inability to stop.
  • Some people (no doubt the severe cases) assume that it interferes with their ability to concentrate. Other people consider it quite harmless – even a relaxing recreation.
  • Some therapists are familiar with the condition and consider it an OCD.
  • A few people have found that they do it more often as they get older.

It’s surely fair to say we have by now established this as bona fide condition and no doubt it would be useful to have some more in-depth discussion. As WordPress is not really good for that, I have set up a discussion forum at:

http://outlinetracing.forumer.com/

Feel free to drop by there and contribute to the debate – the more the merrier.

I will leave this site up as it is now regularly attracting visitors via Google. Comments are still welcome here, but I hope everyone, having read this, will head over to the forum.

193 thoughts on “What is Outline Tracing Disorder?

  1. I have OCD, which I discovered on my own (through googling) I have been “tracing” since a child & I have no idea why after 6 shots of whisky & 4 beers later I decided to Google this too. It’s harmeless, but super annoying because I find myself doing more tracing than actually watching the movie. My brain is weary & so is my soul, I desperately wish I could find some relief :( :( :(

  2. Im glad to learn Im not the only one going through this. Although, it is a bit disturbing, but knowing that many other people go through the same is a bit less scary for me. I do not know when I started doing this, but I can pretty much trace any shape. I do ot unconsciously, and eventhough I catch myself doing it, and would rather stop, I get the urge of finishing tracing what i was tracing. Sometimes I even have to trace it back and forth. I notice I also trace people, as in woman curves or even facial shapes. I do tend to go for more basic geometric figures as rectangles (doors), squares (windows).

    I do believe this definetely consumes part of my time, and even while its being done unconsciously, its still using my brain in a constant basis and distracting me from what I should be doing next.

    I know this is something not easily told to someone else, but we need to seek for help and try avoiding from this influecing our lives negatively. If anyone knows of a method to help control it, please share it.

  3. Hi I have done this my whole life, I trace words or letters over and over…and now I have a 4 yr old daughter who just learned to write her letters. She has been telling me everyday that she keeps tracing letters and she can’t stop. I am so shocked and think it’s so interesting and sad that she does this. Especially at such a young age. I can’t help but think it’s a stress or compulsive disorder. …and that makes me sad. I would love to learn more.

  4. I feel like this is similar to what I’ve been doing for years. Sometimes I will feel the need to write letters or words with my finger or in my mind. When I do it though, it’s not like writing in the air, most of the time my finger will barely even move and sometimes it doesn’t at all. For example, I can be looking at a magazine cover and if I see big, bold text, I sometimes feel like I need to trace it exactly how it is with my finger or in my head. This can be both the letter itself or the outline of the letter. Or sometimes if I’m watching a movie with subtitles, I will get the urge to start tracing/writing some of the sentences. It doesn’t affect me in any kind of negative way, just always thought it was weird because I don’t know why I do it and sometimes I won’t even realize it.

  5. My boyfriend is constantly outlining things with his finger. He does it without even knowing he is. Sometimes I have to put my hand on his to get him to stop. He will outline the t.v couches. Pretty much anything with a shape.

  6. I’m just glad I’m not the only one out there going through this. Its killing me knowing that I can’t tell anyone because they’ll just think I’m weird and can’t understand. Its stressful because I don’t even know what it is! Obsessing over tracing cursive letters and adding random numbers in my head is my specialty . I wish I could tell my husband that. I outline trace every moment I get and its even more frequent now that I’m a stay at home mom. If I don’t finish the shape I just feel horrible and have to refocus on it and trace it again. I think it is a little and phenomenal how the mind works . I hope I can meet an actual person like me , then I won’t feel so weird.

  7. Hi! I am 63 years old. I had polio and TB at the same time when I was 2 1/2 . I now have post-polio syndrome. I have been uncontrollably eye tracing objects most of my life. Didn’t really give it no mind when I was younger, but now my wife is always making remarks about it. I have become a bit self-conscious. Until I found this site, I thought it was just another part of me that wasn’t right…..grin.

  8. I’m so glad I am not the only one! I do this all the time and I am fully aware of it at the time although I have to make a conscious effort to stop myself doing it. I find that I try to make peoples sentences fit in each line for instance and rectangle tv… the shorter words tave to fit on the sides and the longer words have to fit the top and bottom if they are too long then it won’t work and I repeat it until I can move on!!! Its sad really but my nan also does this so I am wondering if it could also be hereditary.

  9. Googled about this because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t the only one lol. I tend to trace lines and shapes by moving my head more than the eyes. It can happen anywhere at any time, but I would say it happens when I’m alone the most. I also get the urge to count things, the worst is while driving. I almost have to count the lines on the road, reflectors, trees, etc. You would think it would be very distracting, but it doesn’t seem to impair my driving at all. Weird stuff.

  10. I am 16, i have a similar issue because i do everything you say but the difference is no matter how hard i try the shape never seems completed, for example i will have travelled around the whole shape and just as am about link the shape fully the line will flick away making it imperfect and will use my eyes like a rubber and get rid of it and start again. If I am honest, it does bother me that i have never been able to complete one its like my brain wont let me, BUT nevertheless i cant really complain, it is only a small thing but it is good to know i am not the only one!

  11. Yes I do this I was wondering if it was a disorder but I trace people’s faces and smaller objects and I’ve been doing this I can remember doing it when I was 7 and still do it but I draw and love art maybe it’s connected to that idk I just wanted to know how many people really do this I thought I was the only one

  12. I have been doing this since I was a child. I remember weaning myself off it when I was young, when it started to annoy me, as if I am “cut off” mid-trace I experience an overwhelming compulsion to start again in my mind. I don’t know how long I ceased doing it for however I know that since I started doing it again, it has been a constant part of my daily life. These days it doesn’t really bother me, although sometimes my compulsion to do it does irritate me.

    My particular triggers are cartoons like The Simpsons and Family Guy, with their bold colours, simple shapes and clean lines; and roadsigns and other things with clear, bold fonts. Anything symmetrical is also very pleasing to me.

  13. Been doing it for many years. It has now become troublesome. Seeing a Dr Monday. I am interested seeing if anyone has received help.

  14. I have been doing this for years and have never looked for an explanation until today, I feel that I impedes heavily on concentration yet otherwise is harmless, I wouldn’t even begin to know how to stop as I do it constantly and without realising, it is a relief to find somebody who also does this. The only thing I can say is that it has definetly gotten worse over the years. I most commonly trace facial features, simple shapes, street lamps or anything I can get my eyes on I suppose! I find being in the countryside relaxing as there are too many leaves on trees to even begin tracing. I do feel a compulsive need to finish tracing the objects which is frustrating. I would live to find an answer to this but unfortunately I can’t imagine that there is one

  15. I’m 16 years old! And I constantly do this it sometimes even gives me a headache! I find I do it without helping myself and I can’t control it 😢 it is extremely annoying and I get angry at myself when I start tracing something because I know I have to complete it no matter how long it is which is very irretating 😡 if anyone understands the science behind this impulse please do let me know it would be much appreciated 😊

  16. Omg!!! Omg!!! I ALWAYS do this. I mostly trace random words I see around me things like street signs, store logos, and different things. I’ve never thought anything of it until I tried to stop and I couldn’t. So I wondered if anyone else did this so I googled it and BAM!

  17. I’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember! I use to trace facial features, but now I trace square things, and make an “x” inside of it with a triangle on the sides. I also count the corners, and I count number of eyes on people in the room (use to be fingers and toes). It really gets on my nerves. I’ve tried to stop, but i just can’t; I change it from one thing to another. I’m glad I’m not the only one who does this!

  18. Hey, I have done this very thing since I was a child, but I like to count corners!!?? I just woke up and counted each end of my light above my bed! Then I repeat doing it again and again!
    It’s crazy, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing! Maybe we just have a form of OCD??

  19. I am so frustrated by my “eye tracing.” I have been doing it as long as I can remember. I typically trace things like t.v.’s, facial features, body parts such as legs arms, tables, the red, yellow, and green street lights, and pretty much anything that is shaped like squares, rectangles or circles. What can be done to help this? I do it countless times a day. Drives me bonkers!

  20. I do this, too. People’s faces and facial features commonly, road signs while I’m driving, anything really.. it’s annoying. Other people have noticed when my whole head is moving around tracing something and they ask if something is wrong! :/

  21. have traced most of my life for as long as I can remember. I will trace outlines of just about anything whether they are regular shaped or not. If I am distracted by the object….let’s say I am tracing the door in my office and someone walks in and steps along the trail to be traced, I do not get upset or anxious, I just sort of stop tracing and deal with the task at hand. I do, however, find I do this when I am in deep thought. My mind is problem solving and all the while I am tracing. this doesn’t happen all the time when processing but often. I have an identical twin and have never asked her if she traces or not. Maybe I should. Either way, I must be curious about this phenomena or I wouldn’t have Googled it :). I trace everything from road signs to electrical cords running along the base board and sometimes I will trace them over a few times. Do I have a compulsion to continue the trace until I reach where I started? yes, but if I am unable to complete the tracing task it’s not a big deal.

    I have a photo up on the wall hung up with tacks (yeah, I know they make frames) but when the light is on, the tacks cast a shadow and I will ensure I trace the shadow as well as this, to me is part of the outline. Let’s say there is something hanging from one of the tacks on the lower left hand corner, I will also trace this as part of the object as it is part of the outline. I will most always stop once I have made my way back to the point I started with.

    It is interesting to see that others have this same phenomenon happen. I am much more ADD than I am OCD and this most always happens when I am relaxed and in my thinking mode. I did ask one of my professors about it and he said it sounds like something I do to keep my mind from wondering while I process. Either way, when I trace, I am focused.

  22. I’m so glad to finally find other people that do this! I’ve been tracing things for as long as I can remember, and only recently have become more aware of it. My big thing is faces–I constantly outline the shape of people’s heads. Lately I’ve noticed I over-emphasize noses, and will draw them for practically the whole time I am looking at someone. I also trace most objects I see, as well as ceilings and words. Sometimes when I am in a car, I will trace street names, and if we drive away before I can finish I get very upset for no reason!
    When tracing things, I also like to add colour, so I will trace an outline then kind of dump colour into it (much like the paint bucket tool on Microsoft Paint lol).
    Sometimes I just lie in bed and trace the outline of my ceiling, often trying to find the way that matches a back and forth pattern (I have no idea how to explain this, kind of like painting in a pendulum way?).
    I’m so glad its not just me, I have no idea why this happens! I’m stressed but I do this even when I’m tired or chilling. So weird.

    • Wow, I experience the same behavior. Usually I first outline the nose first, then the eyes and then neckline and the collar of the shirt they are wearing. I trace other objects as well, I find I trace the edges of my tv, the stand my TV sits on and the picture frames on the wall. Sometimes if I am sitting on the couch my knee tends to follow the outline my eyes are tracing. I really wish I knew what is driving this and if there is a treatment for this.

  23. This is me. To a T. Shapes, lines, letters, numbers. I catch myself doing it constantly…and I can stop myself. But only to find me doing it again. I can remember doing it in 4th grade, my head moving and students asking why I was shaking my head. Truth was, I was outlining. Annoying!!!

  24. Hello I am 25 years old and at least 6 ago years that I’ve noticed I seem to trace words or sentences for that matter. For example after I send this message more than likely I will repeat in my mind and realize I’m tracing the words with my hand subconsciously. I don’t know exactly how it started or when it started until I got with my boyfriend 6 years ago and he pointed it out while we were watching a movie. I was embarrassed by it and I guess hid it for some time since nobody else has ever pointed it out until Justin did. I can’t say I’m worried about it considering it doesn’t seem to interfere with my life in any way, but I am curious as to why I do it and I do get annoyed that I can’t seem to stop tracing. I thought I was the only one who did this but now it seems Im not.

    • Wow you sound like me. I trace words alot, i think even more than shapes. I dnt recall tracing faces though. Glad i googled this. I now know why my uncle ised to move his head, he was a tracer too. :)

  25. oh my god, i can’t believe people have this, i am 25 and i have done this for years. i trace numbers, letters and sometimes objects and never know why.
    i have never thought to much about it until now, i lose concentration and start tracing. i also think i am a hypocondriac so haven’t mentioned it to anyone.
    but this worries me.

  26. I trace everything I see in my mind. Usually, well no,probably always it has to be done a certain way. It’s weird I’ve never looked anything up before about it but I also have anxiety problems too. boxes/square shapes are the best to outline on my mind because I can do all the lines evening
    I have to draw it every way possible starting left to right then doing each line starting from the opposite side. It’s very peculiar.

    • This is exactly what I do as well!! All day everyday…really annoying. My favorite to trace/count are lines in letters/words and box shaped things. Then I’m adding it up & I get upset if its not an even number

  27. Woah. Fascinating that so many people have this and that everyone experiences it slightly differently. For me, it’s generally tables or rectangle shapes with objects on or around them (ie straight lines with bumps along the way). I don’t think it gets in the way of activities, I just do it if I’m sitting around or bored.

  28. I am 30 years old and I have started tracing in my mind stuff that I see on tv. Its not certain things. Just everything I see on tv. I just recently started doing it again. I remember when I was young I use to take the last word that was said on tv and spell it on the tv and make sure it was an even fit on the whole tv. Not literally doing it but in my head. I catch myself moving my fingers when I trace and also when I did the writing. WhAt bothers me is I just started tracing the stuff I see on tv about a month ago. I Only do it when I’m watching tv and only stuff on tv. It drives me crazy. I can’t really watch the shows because I’m doing it. How can I fix it? Have you figured anything out? I don’t have any other like ocd things I do except I have to have certain things in certain spots but I don’t think that is a big deal. Nothing like this constant tracing what I see on tv. I feel weird and want to stop! I try but can’t. Help!

    • I have done this occasionally, though it usually is tracing faces of the actors that distracts me. I find it helpful to catch myself, blink, look away, or even just focus on something else for a minute. Then make yourself follow the storyline. Practice on really fast paced shows with lots of action so you have plenty to keep up with. It also might be helpful to have something in your hands or even sit on them to keep them still. I don’t really have a problem stopping, but as a child I did and this is what worked for me. Remember, you can control it even if it feels difficult.

  29. My whole life (I am 26) , I have been tracing lines, shapes and letters obsessively and usually while counting. I will trace any shape in any room. It happens less when Im outdoors but I too, spend a lot of time indoors. I am very easily stimulataed and become easily overwhelmed, which produced anxiety for me. I will count in 2s, in 3s, in 4s and I will count/trace the same thing over and over again. I thought everyone was like this until I started looking into it. I already went through the phase of feeling ‘different’ or ‘unique’ or ‘special’. I dont think everyone experiences the exact same obsessive tendencies but I think all people have their own, I believe my tendancies aee there to help me deal with everyday anxiety. Its a beautiful thing, but often frustrating when Im trying to watcha movie or act social amongst other people. Thankfully, when Im at work, I’m so focused and busy, I do not trace or count at work. Its a nice break. Its also lonely sometimes because I cant tall about it with most people. Anyway, Im glad I found your thought. Thank you.

  30. I am 18 and I trace things in my mind all the time. I particularly like to trace a box shape with the diagonals connected. Also I trace words, tracing each individual letter and will even say a colour in my mind if it is written in that colour like I am creating/drawing the object/word.

    I am quite conscious of myself doing it and will often move my finger as if to assist in this.

    I searched this up because it can be distracting and wanted to see if there are other people who do this.

    Anthony

  31. I’m 33 and have been doing something similar since at least high school, only just decided to google it, wasn’t quite sure how to word my question as I don’t think I’ve ever described what I do to anyone before! I draw imaginary diagonal lines between edges/corners, like from the corner of a door or photo frame to the corner between 2 walls or between floor tiles. It’s generally at home I think, like whilst watching TV or on the toilet! I don’t doodle that often but when I do it mainly seems to be zigzags! I blame maths! I don’t worry about it, I don’t do it instead of doing something else, just think I’m using two parts of my brain at the same time.

  32. i just searched this topic for information because i caught myself doing this while watching a movie. I’m 47 yrs old and cannot remember anytime that I did not do this. My twist is every line must each other at the beginning or end. No 2 lines can touch each other going in the same direction. If one line starts on the left and ends on the right, the connecting line must start somewhere different but end at the same spot as the first line. End must touch end and start must touch start. I don’t see this as ever impeding on my daily life but it is personally frustrating that I cannot seem to stop. I find myself retracing the same object over and over making as many possible variations in connections as possible. No object is exempt. I will trace street signs to houses to animals to letters to objects on tv to facial features. At times I will catch myself outlining some things in mid air with my fingers. More than once someone has asked what I was doing. I’ll make an excuse I was thinking about something. At times I’m not aware of it yet others when I am aware, I still cannot control myself and must outline anything I see repeatedly. It is reassuring to see I’m not alone in this wish there was more information online. I’ve never asked a Dr as I feel silly and don’t think they will really have much of an explanation or help.

    • If you don’t lose any sleep or time over this, it’s not the end of the world. but you sound like you can’t control it ever, which is very similar to true OCD. You may want to talk to a doctor, but you will need meds or a lot of therapy to stop it, and that has to be something you’re willing to go through. It isn’t silly and it is more common than you realize, intelligence has a cost when evolution makes mistakes, or we damage our intelligence.

  33. I don’t trace lines. but I do similar things.

    All my life I have walked down hallways and connected to points accross the hall along the floor with an imaginary line, and sometimes I either step on or avoid them.

    E.g. if there are 2 doors accross the hallway from eachother, I will connect the first bottom corner of each junction on the last junction on the floor accross the hall then I step on or avoid, or just know it’s there.

    Also sometimes when watching videos on youtube I will connect opposite corners in my head with a line, and I will move the mouse to touch this line, even if I’m off i just guess where it is.

    It’s extremely annoying, and it isn’t 100% of the time. but it is there.

    • I also just remembered. If I am a passenger in a car, and say the light poles are traveling by my window at a certain angle, I will move my head to make them hit something. e.g. if they are traveling near the top right corner of the windshield, I will adjust my head so they hit the corner precisely. And sometimes when sitting still i will make patterned movements with my head, I am aware of it and make tiny patterned shapes, but my wife has said “your doing that thing with your head again” so apparently it’s more apparent than I realized. I think some of this is based on IQ and brain capabilities and we have a lot of it maybe, so the free bored spots are working. But it could be fused parts of our brain, that fuse more often than not as similar things are common for many.

  34. Hello all,

    I’m 46 and have been tracing shapes all of my lge as well. I mostly trace carved and symmetrical shapes that I like. I was tracing with my eyes seconds ago and decided to do a search for an explanation and feel really grateful to have found all of you. I am able to manage normally thru everyday life but do think stress plays a factor..
    We are in this together, no need to worry, it’s maintained and not hurting anyone.

    Coop

  35. Hello! Wooow and I thought I was special! Lol I’ve been counting the lines of walls or anything that turns into a square until I make sure I’ve counted every possible line for about 2.5 years now. It never really bothered me as of late I’ve been wondering why I do it. I never really thought I was OCD but I guess I might be!

  36. I found this blog while googling “tracing in air while talking.” My 5-year-old son started doing this shortly after starting kindergarten last fall. I thought it was because he was learning his letters, but he’s doing it more and more and doesn’t even seem to notice when he is doing it (which is usually when he’s getting a talking to by me or his teacher). I’m wondering if it’s anxiety-related; sounds like it’s definitely linked to OCD (of which his dad has tendencies). Glad to have found this blog if only to read the comments and know that it’s a thing. Might take him to be evaluated for anxiety/OCD … I am a big believer in early intervention!

  37. I wonder if you are still collecting information on this topic?. My daugter (age 13 at the time) happened to mention that she mentally traces the interior of rooms as she has a difficulty time settling down. She has some anxiety and worries a lot. I have also done this since I was a kid, as long as I can remember. My tracing is like you photo. I trace rooms-base boards and up around door frames and windows. I feel the need to do it evenly or I have to repeat it. If I am a passenger in a car I outline utility poles, wires and down the road. I seem to do it when I am trying to disassociate with my surroundings. I never really thought much of it or tried to research it until today. My father (age 76) said that he needed to talk to me. He traces, and it has gotten worse for him. Sounds funny but he traces so often and intensely that he tunes out surrounding conversations and noises. He was worried that something was wrong with him. It seemed to calm his nerves when I told him about myself and daughter. So the search begins…what is this thing?

  38. This is so interesting! I’ve been aware that I do this for a long time (I’m now 30) but this is the first time I thought to look it up- so good to know I’m not alone! For me I’d say that the tracing itself doesn’t really cause any distress other than being a little distracting/annoying at times. However I know that if I’m stressed I tend to do it more and my tracing speeds up. Similar to one of the above comments I mentally trace lines around certain objects and adjust the speed of one of my ‘lines’ so that they’ll meet at a certain point. I like to make the mental lines line up too- there is a carpet at work that bugs me as it has stripes that don’t line up where the carpet tiles meet. I also once made my then-boyfriend get rid of his Coldplay ‘a rush of blood to the head’ poster because I found it annoying- took me ages to realise that this was because I kept tracing the lines on it (look it up and you’ll see what I mean)! Some patterns seem to ‘hook’ me and some don’t, found this to be particularly the case when I was choosing a tiling pattern- I prefer things with less symmetry as I don’t get as hooked on tracing the lines.
    Interestingly my dad does this thing where he visually lines up objects e.g. something in the foreground with something in the distance. I wonder if this is related to what I do? Will have to show him this page.
    Also incidentally I work in mental health including treating people with OCD (never had a client referred with this as a problem though) and I’ve always thought this habit of mine was on the OCD spectrum as people can have all kinds of mental rituals, so really interesting to know that it’s not that uncommon! For most types of OCD the things people think and do are not that unusual in themselves, it’s the distress caused because of the frequent/repetitive nature that is the problem.

  39. Hi, I also have this kind of disorder since I was a kid. It started while I was watching a cartoon. I caught myself tracing the cartoon character unconsciously. Till now I’m doing it unconsciously while watching tv. I trace the necklines, sleeves, collar and even the little details on the shirt of the person it’s kinda funny coz I still understand what I am watching while my eyes are busy tracing! :p Glad to know that I’m not the only one who has this disorder. ^_^

    • That is exactly what I do. I also understand what I’m watching while tracing everything like you said. Pants ties shirts. EVERYTHING. Lol. It is very annoying. I just wanna watch some tv. :)

  40. I trace all the time. I tend to use my head and my eyes. For example Il start tracing the line on the skirting board and the ceiling edges. Il look at words and trace them with my head but again its words with straight edges like block capitals like on movie boxes etc. I constantly bounce my leg when I’m sitting at work I can not help it. It puzzles me though , reading through these comments a lot of people seem to be very artistic and can draw etc. For me its the opposite I can not draw to save my life. Stick men all the way. It does worry me sometimes though it makes me look crazy when I’m caught doing it. I never even thought for a second I might be OCD. I mean do I have to do anything about it or just get on, is this something I should speak to a doctor about. Confused.

    • Keeley, like you, I can draw only two things…flies, and bathwater. So I’m not necessarily convinced it has artistic ties. My wife is aware of my tracing but I haven’t discussed it with anyone else, so I’m a little self-conscious of what others might think if they see my eyeballs jerking around as I trace letters or shapes in my peripheral vision that catch my notice. A little embarrassing, maybe, but I don’t think it’s harmful. If someone catches you, just smile it off and say, “It’s just a thing I do…”. My wife and I were at dinner one night and she was talking to me while I was following the lines around her, her head shape, hairline, ears, the shape of her eyes, irises, and pupils, the lip lines (especially the little divot on the top lip under the nose), from the little loops around the nostrils down the creases down along the mouth…she finally puts her hands down hard on the table and said, “Stop tracing me!” We then had a good laugh about it. My point is, if it isn’t interfering with your daily life, job, or relationships, then I wouldn’t bee too concerned about seeing a doctor for your “condition”. Accept it and learn to live with it, and it won’t control you
      .

  41. My 5 year old son just started doing this. At first I thought it was because in school they “trace” letters in the air. I’ve noticed he’s doing it non stop now. He told me he can’t stop.

    • I’ve had a similar experience with my 5-year-old son! He has had a hard time adjusting to kindergarten … maybe that played a role in the emergence of the tracing in the air? He is also excessively worried about people not liking him (almost seems to have a persecution complex).

  42. Just woke, out of the blue, at 6am up with the thought on my mind about this condition and discovered this log! I’ve traced, written and drawn figures etc all my life (now 59.) I’m a published poet, artist and singer/songwriter so always assumed it was some kind of subliminal creative urge. It certainly was /is of a compulsive nature and is, as others have written, strangely comforting. Could it be the literary/artistic equivalent of the air guitarist? lol

  43. Yes, I trace words written in cursive with my finger…barely moving my finger, no one notices but me. I seem particularly fond of words with “ght” in them, like “light” etc. Tracing the ght combination is very comforting. I don’t do it all the time tho, just occasionally. I also count….usually to 12. Most often done when walking for exercise, counting my steps to 12, then starting over. I do have other small OCD indications, but none seem to interfere with my life, & none seem to be linked to particular anxieties or stresses. Just my way of comforting myself….rather than sucking my thumb or carrying around a blanket. Interesting that others have the same tracing & counting behavior. I’m not particularly worried about it.

  44. Some of my friends only have noticed my finger moves around occasionally and I pretend to count something; Even though the numbers are completely made up to drown out background noise. Some of my friends actually are totally aware that I’m chronically tracing things… especially windows and doors. My brain loves rectangles and making sure I’ve memorized and traced windows and doors makes me feel safer. Some of my friends have asked what I’m doing and I brush it off n say “nothing, it’s just my thing” bc it’s too difficult to explain and some have been victim of my super disrupted concentration abilities. Watching a tv show or movie that I’m super into can take twice as long as normal bc I require like 400 pauses if I’m really into it.. pauses that allow me to trace without missing anything. Many have experienced me “rubbing my eyes” while trying to tell me a good story that I’m really into. But I keep making them “hold on” while I rub my eyes. Some people know and others don’t. But for me its completely disruptive!! It gets worse when I’m really trying to concentrate (Ie a favorite TV show, listening to a conversation that I don’t want to forget, studying for a test in school) I pause the TV probably around 45-200 times for about 1-15 seconds in an hour long show that I’m really into. And I ask people to “hold on” while on the phone telling me a good story probably about 4-10 times for the same length 1-15 seconds in a 30 minute conversation. It’s bad! I’m 32 years old and I’ve done this for as long as I can remember. It gets worse when I’m comfortable enough to take the time out with you, but if I can’t do it in a situation or can’t focus enough on tracing anxiety builds up and I feel like I’ll have a panic attack. I’ll get nauseated and possibly start tearing up. My preferred tracing objects have changed over the years- I used to have a job where id trace my purse and my work bag all day long making sure they were still on my desk. For the last 4 or 5 years it’s been a lot of windows and doors?

  45. I’ve traced shapes as far back as I can remember.im 44 now. I trace practically every waking moment I’d prefer not too but I have never known why I do this if I mention it to a friend all I get is a laugh. To me it’s serious. Especially since I don’t know why and always am doing it. I’d really like to open a dialogue with someone here. It does bring comfort knowing others are like me. Thank you for this outlet.

  46. I googled this because I was so surprised when my now husband first did this while he talked to his mom on the phone a couple of months into our relationship. I had never seen him do it before that, and to this day, 10 years married, whenever he’s on the phone with his mom he does it. From what I understand he was very sheltered as a kid and stuck inside his apartment a lot. Too much. His mom is obsessively clean and fancy. He has trouble if the house is messy or cluttered. He says his inner peace depends on a neat and clean environment.

  47. I outline stuff all the time, I’m 24 and have been doing it for as long as I can remember. I pay very close attention to detail and I often wonder if that is the reason behind me being able to draw very well.
    I usually don’t notice when I’m doing it, except for numbers.
    I outline, faces (usually noses and profiles), rinkles on clothes, ceilings and wall lines, curtains, windows, doors, paintings and numbers on digital clocks(I have to start from the top and go down each number and outline all of the numbers and if there’s any words on the clock before the time changes or I have to restart.)
    If I don’t finish the numbers before the time changes then I get anxious.
    I don’t feel as weird knowing that other people do it too.

    • Good grief, here I was thinking I was the only person in the world to do this. I’m 65 and I have been doing this every day for most of my life. It is just normal to me. I outlind the TV when Im watching it, any words that appear in a logo, anything I look at, basically I outline! Thank goodness there are other people out there that do this too! It doesn’t bother me, but I did think it was a strange affliction to have. I can draw very well and am very artistic, I’m not sure if that is the reason.

  48. Nice to see others posting about this too. I’m 58, and have done this for as long as I can remember. For me it’s mostly outlining symetrical shapes- I mentally trace two lines in opposite directions that meet again on the other side of the object. For objects that are not symetrical I try repeatedly to slow down the shorter line so that they are timed meet at a specific location.

    This doesn’t seem to have much negative affect on my work (I’ve had a successful career in IT for 35 years), but when I look around my office or outside my window at work I realize that I have traced virtually every object in sight. Phone, table, chairs, light poles on the parking deck, bridge supports on the highway, etc.

    I’m glad this doesn’t manifest in other more pronounced/obvious ways, but I think of the mental energy used to do all this tracing and wonder whether I could have been a lot happier and more productive if I could have directed this effort to something more useful…..

  49. I outline peoes faces, like eyebrows, nose and particulary their glasses. I also outline flat surfaces in my bedroom, walls, ceiling, morros and doors. I thought I was nuts but if I am so are a lot of other people.
    As for the 11.11, that is a constant in my life, it seams that everytime I glance at a clock it is 11.11. I even pointed it out to some friends but they just don’t understand.

  50. I’ve always felt alone with my “disorder” till now! Thanks for sharing, fellow tracers! I am constantly and subconsciously tracing, using all 4 fingers together, on both hands. Mostly outlines of objects, windows, doors, signs, etc. Also trace outline of paragraphs on a page. My fingers rarely actually move while tracing, but it feels like they are. Round or complex objects pose a challenge and will find myself skipping over them or mentally breaking them down into traceable objects. While I have a busy work and home life, I realize that I am also quietly tracing away!

    • Perhaps I will just add that the action is not disruptive to my daily life, no link to any other conditions, no headaches. I am naturally a ‘thinker’ and introvert. Been tracing for many years, long before developing restless leg syndrome.

  51. Wow. I do the same thing. I even trace words or letters, sometimes unconsciously, until someone asks”why is your finger moving?” It is odd, i feel a little anxious at times as well. I control that pretty well, but still. I understand! Don’t know and never thought about seeing a doctor. I can type 65wpm which is an awesome thing, and love English and spelling, etc. maybe correlated? I don’t know! I know my dream job would be putting these fingers to work typing books or articles for a company all day! Lol jus wanted to offer some feedback. Thanks.

  52. Thank goodness there are others! I’m 27 been tracing the outlines of doors, TV, any objects with straight lines and find myself just randomly counting, I won’t even know I’m doing it most of the time. It gets really distracting if I’m talking to someone and I can see something behind them that I know I haven’t traced specifically and I will have to break eye contact to look at it (most recently in interviews and that looked really bad) and figure out how to trace it a certain way to make it even or how ever my brain deems it okay?!?! Also sometimes I’ll just suddenly realise I’m counting in my head and I’ll already be at like 95 and have no idea I’d been doing it for so long, I grind my teeth and scrunch up my shoulders without even realising too, do I even own my own body? I suffer from really sever migraines I’m taking full dose Topiramate/Pizotifen/Amitriptyline and so many pain killers too, I have inappropriate sinus tachycardia (heart just starts beating really fast for no reason really) and used to have panic attacks, maybe all the tracing replaced them. I find it so hard to relax and shut my brain off and this is worse when I’m watching a film or TV or when I’m supposed to be listening to someone talking to me, the times when your brain isn’t being fully stimulated perhaps, maybe we all need to find a way of being able to shut off properly, I’m sure it would help with my migraines and the tracing. Peace and love fellow tracers we are far from alone :)

  53. Ok everybody. I HAVE THE ANSWER!!! Talked to my psychiatrist about it and showed her this page. She researched it. She’s not sure why it’s not really talked about online, but tracing is in her medical literature under OCD. It leans more toward the compulsive aspect, but it is definitely a manifestation of OCD. So there you go, I had always assumed it was OCD, and it is. There’s your diagnosis!!!

  54. wow! i do this too! all day, everyday! before i really comment on this subject, does any of you see number sequences that occur every day? like, 9:11 , or 11:11, or any other numbers? on a clock, license plate, phone, assigned the same numbers on an accoun, etc? for 5 years i seen the numbers 9:11 and 1111 everwhere i looked. then i found out why! i also trace all of the above, and my favorite is lace curtains, i see and trace different faces, or the walls with bumpy plaster, i can see faces traced out, i like trees too. my finger doesnt trace, but my jaw or teeth click or clench when my eye is at the end of a line and i assign a number to it, so weird!

    • Wow, exactly the same for me, the tracing started when i was a child, and the same with those particular numbers, 9-11 and a series of ones. I always seem to look at the clock at 9:11 or at 11:11, or 1:11. This has been going on for about 7 years. I used to think something bad was going to happen on those dates.

  55. I have been doing this for years! Wow! I am not alone. I don’t do it in a maniac proportion. It’s disturbing when I trace faces while someone is talking. Thanks for the validation lol

  56. This blog has made my night, I have always wondered if I was the only one who did this, until I heard a comedian say, (about something completely unrelated) ‘of course you aren’t the only one in the world who does this, there are billions of people in the world…’ and it prompted me to google my behavioural .
    I find I mostly trace (with my eyes or my finger) shapes in 3D such as the television or door frame, the outline of clothes, especially collared shirts and jackets, people’s facial features and I also trace around the outside of words. I repeat the shape until I am happy that it is perfect or until I make myself stop. I also do it when watching TV, having a conversation or when my mind is somewhat inactive.
    I am a teacher and a qualified hairdresser and I consider myself to be quite creative andI am a perfectionist with various other harmless OCD type behaviours.
    I have had this behaviour ever since I can remember (I am now 28) and have always felt a bit strange for doing it. I have never told anyone about it and I hope people haven’t noticed and thought I was weird!
    I am glad that there are heaps of others who do this also! Thanks for your insights and for putting my mind a little bit at ease. Now to trace the TV a hundred times while watching Friday night football! Enjoy!

  57. Thank God! I experience this too. I’m 16. I don’t trace walls but I trace random patterns that I’ve never seen before. Some are bigger than others. Thank you for publishing this!

  58. Whew! I’m pleased that this seems somewhat common. I have always traced, drawn, or mentally written out what I’m thinking about with either my eyes, head, or fingers. I never really thought about it until the other day when my 7 yr old son asked me what I was doing when moving my fingers. I was embarrassed as I explained I was tracing the shape of a woman for absolutely no reason. I have been diagnosed with mild OCD and used to have anxiety issues. I have learned to deal with my anxiety without medicine or continued therapy. My preferences seem to be finding symmetry in objects and mentally drawing them. I have never done this on purpose, merely when daydreaming or doodling. I can do this and watch television without losing track of either activity. My personal opinion is that I have an active mind that can’t stay focused on activities that don’t require my input.

    Hope my comments help someone else feel better :)

  59. I have been outlining shapes, people, shadows, (anything I can trace) with my eyes and pointer finger for years now. It doesn’t particularly bother me too much but I have also been experiencing tension headaches every day for years now. I actually googled “I outline shapes” to see if anyone that also outlines shapes has headaches also. The headaches are really what have me searching the web. I don’t see any other reason for my headaches besides anxiety.

  60. Interesting to find this post. I was worried about why I do this, and I am trying to figure out if I have always done this or only since I started taking Elavil for anxiety. I can’t remember. I tend to do this with letters. And spelling of words
    It is not disruptive really
    And it does not calm me. In fact when I notice I am doing it, it makes me worry, as I worry if this is ocd

    So far I have anxiety and I’ve had 4 depressive episodes in the past 20 years

  61. Hello. I am 15 and have found myself tracing the letters I’ll hear in a word or if there’s words on screen I’ll just trace them in my mind as if I’m tracing it on paper but with my mind if that makes sense?

  62. I’m so glad to find out I’m not alone. My husband thinks it’s crazy that I do this! I have to trace things that come back to the beginning point…so every trace has to have an even number of corners…sometimes I make up the extra corners off of something close by (if that makes any sense). I’m an accountant by trade, but am currently a stay at home mom of a 3 year old and a 4 month old. I’m not that creative but I’m very organized (obsessively), and very detailed (my handwriting looks just like this type). I always thought it was probably some sort of distracting mechanism I picked up at an early age. I remember being in grade school and learning about infinity….the symbol drove me crazy as I’d just trace it over and over and over again. Lol. I’ve only told my husband about it because I didn’t want to be labeled as a weirdo :). It will be interesting to see if my girls
    do it!

  63. Oh my gosh. My daughter is 5 and she does this but moves her entire head with the tracing. I never realized how bad it was but recently it’s become very distracting and she does it ALL the time. She said she does numbers, letters and bodies. Will she grow out of this? Should I ask her dr?

  64. Yay! I’m not alone!!!! I’m 35 and I have been doing this for as long as I can remember. I notice it the most when someone is talking to me. It can be hard at times to focus on what they are saying because I am tracing buttons on their shirt, or the angles of their collar. If someone is wearing a busy pattern, I notice my finger busily tracing obsessively at my side. (Discreet small motions, not seizure like activity lol)
    I have always struggled with daydreaming and concentration and am very easily distracted… I have been on ADD medication for 3 yrs now. Though it helps in concentration I’ve not noticed any decrease in tracing. If it helps determine any pattern among us, here are some random facts about myself-
    I hate math and numbers. I am a registered respiratory therapist and work in my local hospital. I never had any art classes or training throughout high school or college. I was a band and theater nerd in school. Yet, 8 years ago after my divorce I was looking for a hobby and picked up a pencil. I then discovered a natural undiscovered talent for drawing which led to more discoveries like face painting and murals etc. Though I still gravitate toward pencil, I like to see just how realistic or 3D I can make a drawing. So to confuse matters, I don’t know if the obsessive air tracing is from the ADD or is it just an art thing… Either way I feel a bit less crazy knowing I’m not alone. Thanks for sharing this with is!

  65. Wow, I am so glad to know others out there do this too. I have been doing this for years. I can’t recall however when it started. My first remembrance of outlining seemed to only occur while I was a passenger in a car. I would outline trees, signs, buildings with my finger or eyes. Eventually I noticed I would be outlining things while sitting during church services or sitting at home. I was diagnosed with ADD in my early 40’s and put on Focalin XR as a treatment. Both I and my husband noticed that I no longer did the outlining thing. Recently I stopped taking the ADD medicine because of a new Federal Regulation that requires you to see your doctor monthly – something I can’t afford. Since stopping the medication my issue with outlining things has resurfaced.

  66. I always trace words with my fingertips. Like I’ll hear a word and trace it without thinking. Obviously not every single word I hear, but usually with longer words. It’s not like I have to stop what I’m doing to trace words, it’s not disruptive to my life. It’s just something I do subconsciously.

    • I do the exact same thing.. I like to do it in joined writing. Maybe writing the word two or three times until perfect. I don’t know why I do this. I seem to do it more whilst driving. I don’t feel it has any impact on my end everyday life but I would like know more about why I do this and if there’s an underlying reason for doing so.

      • As I am in my teens, I have been tracing words with my pointer finger for longer than I can remember. I find that I tend to trace a group of two or three words for a month or so until I start to find myself tracing a new set of words. Often I use both of my pointer fingers to trace the same word simultaneously. Like the comment above, I too often trace words when I am driving. When I notice myself tracing, I can’t seem to get the idea out of my mind and cannot stop. Sometimes I will think to myself that I haven’t traced in quite some time. Contrary to my dislike of the action, the pure thought drives my actions of tracing. I am very pleased to know there are some people out there like me. I do have anxiety, and wonder if the two are correlated.

  67. Hi guys,

    I have done this since childhood, I trace things with my finger but not so anyone would notice(I’m 37) . The one I probably do most is writing out car number plates when I’m driving! I have always been aware of it but never searched online for it until now. Welcome to the club!

  68. I just found myself tracing a number of things at this exact moment with my fingers and I also do it with my eyes. I have always noticed it but never thought anything of it I’m 22 and have been doing this as long as I can remember. I typed in “I feel the need to trace things” on Google and this is pretty much the only thing that came up and im so shocked I thought I was the only person that did this. Its a relief to know that I’m not alone :))

  69. Hi. I can’t express how pleased I am to have stumbled upon your page. I have compulsively traced the world around around me since early childhood. Starting with nonsensical geometric shapes and increasing to include everything from road signs to people’s facial features over the years. Being unable to uncover any literature on the the subject, I thought it might be unique. I have had concerns that this was some form of OCD, and perhaps it is. However, after studying a number of the comments on this page I believe there may be a pattern emerging. Most, if not all, of these commenters seem to possess high IQs and intellectually active lifestyles and careers. A tendency towards creativity also seems to be a common denominator. I believe it is possible that we simply possess “over” active minds which need to be constantly engaged. My mother also has a very high IQ and although she doesn’t compulsively trace that I know of, she does suffer from insomnia and finds herself semi-consciously solving problems in her mind when she attempts to relax. This now seems like a very similar condition.

    • What a brilliant comment! This makes me feel worlds better. It’s always nice to know you aren’t alone, especially with something so complex. I’ve heard it’s classed as similar to autism but I have to admit I have no other autistic characteristics and am an ESL teacher with a degree in English Literature, I can’t be going that wrong!

  70. I believe myself to have this condition as well, although it differs slightly in where, when, and what I do it to. It occurs most frequently when I’m sitting at home watching TV. I’ve found that I have a strange preference for tracing the outline of men’s suit collars, hubcabs on cars, and the features of anime characters. It tends to lean more towards simplicity, and happens when I’m not paying attention to anything else. I also trace word in the air, not huge or wildly, so others am see me doing it, but small, and with the tip of my finger. I’ve been doing it so frequently, that I needed to look up whether or not anyone else experiences this as well. I feel as though I do it while my mind is inactive just to give it a new task to work on. It’s like my mind can’t just take a break, it needs to always be busy. I have also not consulted a doctor, fearing they would attempt to diagnose me with a strange form of OCD, or, most likely, ignore or shrug off my complaints. I just wanted to comment on this page to let you know that there are others who experience this as well.

    • Hi yours sounds like mine! I do it while watching tv and commercials with logos I trace with my index finger on my leg. Maybe it is ADD or OCD. I have other OCD signs. No worries though everyone has something! Take care.

      • Hi again,

        Whilst watching tv I’ve also recently expanded my tracing ‘portfolio’ to tracing along people’s shoulders, over their heads. Across the other shoulder and then oddly arcing clear over their head back to where I started. I also fill in shapes by tracing diagonal and horizontal lines to end up with a sort of lattice pattern.

        Lee

  71. Brilliant post! I’ve done this for as long as I can remember. I’m now 25 and living in China, so the Chinese characters and signs everywhere mean I’m constantly finding ‘new’ things to trace with my eyes. It tends to be certain words for me that jump out and I trace in my mind, or words and characters I see around me. I’m glad someone has finally addressed this in a blog and there are so many others who can relate!

  72. At last ~ I’m not alone! I was discussing this with a friend last night (the only person who knows about what I do) and decided to do some online checking. It’s terrific to think I’m not alone in tracing objects with my fingers. I too trace more geometric shapes than “freehand” (the TV, a photo on the wall, etc.). I’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember (I’m now 62). I consider this a disorder because it disrupts my life. If I’m reading and somehow start tracing, I don’t remember a word I’ve written and will have to go back and reread the text. I have ADD, and my mind is constantly wandering to places far and wide. I’m unable to take Ritalin any longer because of other medications I take. While I’m glad to know others have this condition, I’m also sorry to learn it’s more common than I thought. I’ve been somewhat embarrassed to discuss it with anyone, thinking it’s a manifestation of OCD (which it may very well be).

  73. I have been doing this for as long as I can remember, and it drives me crazy. I am pretty used to it but it can be very distracting. When I am busy teaching or involved in a task which requires concentration I don’t notice the outline tracing, but I do this constantly while at rest, watching TV or working on the computer. I am interested to know why my mind seems to default to this behaviour when I am trying to relax and whether there is a way to stop this compulsion.

  74. I do this too but with my finger mostly driving in the car. My daughter noticed it but my husband hasn’t. I trace outlines of symbols mostly but over and over as others have stated. Maybe it is the perfectionist in us! I’m 54 years old and a mathematician but I don’t do it with numbers. I def have some OCD. Thanks for setting up this site. I don’t feel alone anymore!!

  75. Hi, its interesting that mainly people do it with their eyes… I do it with my feet. Completely absent mindedly. My friend pointed it out before because she gets irritated by people foot tapping, but she said the way I did it has no rhythm… Probably because the shape im tracing is really obscure and complex. Like a star with a rectangle attached to bottom or a semi circle with points coming off it, stuff like that. No idea why, the shapes are meaningless… Wonder if its a shape im seeing somewhere in the room? And tracing it with my foot… But yeah, I trace it over and over again until I realise I’m doing it and then it often stops. It doesn’t bother me though, I dont feel the need to get it perfect because it just happens without any conscious thought.
    Im creative minded too, doing an art degree and have been an avid drawer sinse I was little… Something to do with trying to understand line and form maybe? Its just odd that I dont in any way ‘pick’ the shape… And they’re always shapes that are nonsensical.

  76. I too trace in my mind. It’s usually when watching tv. I’ll trace the station’s logo. I usually start at the left and go in clockwise order. Then, I start at the right and go counterclockwise. I keep doing this backwards, forwards, then forwards, then backwards. Then pause for a bit, and do it all again in the exact opposite order! I’m mostly frustrated because I am not satisfied until I trace it in every possible combination! When I find myself doing this, I have to make myself stop and just deal with being uncomfortable that I did not complete the process! I find I trace person’s glasses on their face and similar objects. I wish I could stop. I too completely know what is going on with my surroundings; tv show, conversation, etc. I’m interested in any scientific info anyone has or obtains, thank you.

  77. I am so glad I am not the only person that does this! For a number of year I have been tracing shapes, patterns, objects, anything that I can see in front of me! Sometimes when I catch myself doing it I do get a bit frustrated and when I am aware I’m doing it I still continue to do it, because I feel I cant control it!

  78. I like the moniker, “Outline Tracing Disorder”. It’s an apt description for what I’ve been doing for a number of years now…designs, shapes, even the occasional boring square, but mostly letters of all types, fonts, and sizes. I, like you, can’t say that there is any anxiety associated with this odd behavior, but find it typically happens about the same time my mind wanders. Sometimes I am conscious of outside activity, such as watching the news while tracing the “abc” at the bottom of the screen…forward, then backwards… The several times over again and can still follow what is being said. Other times not so much. Earlier today I realized I traced every letter in an email at work without having read more than the first couple of words. I don’t think it was a period of cranial inactivity, though, but again echoing your feeling that it was due to an overactive mind. The thoughts coursing through my brain seemed to simply override the task of reading. It sometimes becomes a little embarrassing – while my wife is well aware of my “condition”, if you will, I haven’t discussed it with anyone else. While talking with relatives recently, my mother must have noticed the erratic movement of my eyeballs because she asked me what I was doing. Well, I’m uh, trying to (cough), um, read the words on that crate behind you there…
    I was well aware of what I was doing, just didn’t realize it was so obvious to others. Anyway, although a little distracting, or a result of being distracted, and occasionally hard to cover up, it doesn’t seem to be harmful. It could be a lot worse, I guess. Appreciate the site – good to know I’m not the only one.

  79. Amazing! I’m 17 and find myself always tracing shapes with my finger, whether it be while watching television shows or walking outside. I always have to repeat it until I’m somewhat satisfied or until I get the shape right. So glad to know I’m not the only one that does it!

  80. Why does this have to be a “disorder?” I mean, if it’s what you do, it’s what you do…. it doesn’t need to be a disorder. I’ve done this all my life, and never felt the need to correct it, because it’s not bad behavior…. it’s just something to do! I really feel like making everything la disorder is it’s own disorder.

    • Hi Jennifer! Kudos to you!! I couldn’t agree with you more. Everyone is different and this is one of the ways in which some of us are. As you said we’re not hurting anyone. It is just the way our, particularly creative I prefer to think, brains are wired. If you’ve read some of the stories you can see how it is difficult for some people to live with. I wish it wasn’t. For me it’s the opposite, I embrace my individuality. I just keep right on tracing all the time, and I never think of it as a disorder. :)

    • Because it’s not normal and it consumes me. You might not understand but I have to keep going and tracing an object until I get it PERFECT and I can’t. So I have to make myself stop but I can’t. I get so stressed (maybe mad…, upset) that I can’t get it perfect or that I can’t stop doing it. It’s hard to explain but I get headaches and stressed out and even trace while I fall asleep and it keeps me up so I can’t sleep. I am consumed with it and doing it PERFECT.

  81. I also outline everything with my eyes. I don’t tell anyone about it but I can’t help it. I do have some OCD. I outline everything anymore. It gets annoying when I think about it.

    • I outline with my eyes as well, I don’t think I have OCD, it’s just something I have done all my life. I think Im pretty normal.

  82. I draw with my eyes also, only I tend to draw little circles to encompass areas within my sight that have great color/shade distinctions. For example, if I see a shadow on white cement, I will draw a little circle around where the dark shadow touches the white cement. It is completely unconscious and I do it all the time. It has been happening for over 5 years now.

    • I also am a perfectionist. High IQ, busy mind. Doesn’t disrupt my daily life but makes it difficult to pay attention to what people are saying sometimes.

  83. Hi! My name is Serena, and I suffer from tho obscure OCD too.
    I am 15 but my symptoms started when I was very young, and I do a very similar thing to you where I trace outlines of shapes. However, unlike you, the shapes I trace are more geometric and the way I trace must be symmetrical. I think it’s really interesting to see other people that have this same disorder! I am glad we are not alone!

  84. Hi,
    My name is Lee and I’m a fellow outline addict. I’ve been doing it on and off for years.

    The relief of finding others with the same problem is liberating. I was originally told it was a ‘weird’ habit. I usually trace around the TV. Most times clockwise. I trace around lots of other objects. If it’s a Christmas tree shape with jagged points then I’m happier tracing down towards the points rather than against them. If I think of a word or number I sometimes trace them out in my head as if I were writing them with a fountain pen. I keep tracing along the three converging lines in the corner of the room into the point.

    I do this more indoors than out. I do seem to be able to stop when tracing complicated objects though, possibly because the thought of tracing around everything and keeping track of each part that I have and haven’t traced around fries my mind.

    Lee

  85. Wow I thought I was alone!!

    I have been doing this for almost 30 years, it started when we drove to stay with my dad for the weekend after my mum and dad split up, I would count the white lines on the road using my toes and the street lights with my teeth, now at 31 I draw around everting and clench my teeth and leg mussels all the time around everything! I don’t know how to stop.

    It starts when I get Worried about somthing or I lose trust in my boyfriend I mentally draw and count all the time, it’s got to the pont that I have worn my teeth down and I get cramp I’m my toes, is there anyway to stop????

    • Victoria, you have almost the exact same experience story that I have had. It’s sometimes debilitating and I get tired of doing it. I try so hard to think of other things while walking up the steps to my front door each day. I’ve started listening to more music and having conversations int he car so I won’t count the street lights or lines on the road.

  86. Like you all thought I was unique till I thought I would google it….been doing this all my life, 47 now and still doing strange things it would seem

  87. Thank you so much! When ever I’m I’m the car and pass by a sign I’ll have to quickly trace the words with my finger tongue. Also when I hear words i like I’ll trace them with my finger on my face or leg.

  88. …SO PERFE TLY summarized! I also trace with my teeth… and simple tracing is too boring for my subconscious so now I start in is opposite corners or sides of the object and trace with my teeth from left and right of each side until the two lines meet in the middle.. can’t describe… It’s only annoying when I catch myself, I outline people’s faces when I’m talking to them too!

    any answers about this “OTD” ? haha

  89. Wow i’ve been searching for an answer to this weird thing I do for years. I usually trace logos on tv with my fingers on my leg. I follow traffic marks on the road with my tongue. I jump my tongue up and down every time I see a tree when I’m riding in a car. Weird things like that. I didn’t know anyone else did this. I’ve been doing it all of my life. I try to listen to conversations and find myself focusing on a certain shape and tracing it with my finger on my thigh. It’s so frustrating. I can’t find anyone who knows the psychological reasoning for this habit… But this site is helpful in knowing I am not alone! Thanks!

    • Im so glad this discussion page is here.I just can’t help doing this either. It makes me very frustrated. I’m tired of doing this but a great distraction technique is pinching myself. Sounds strange but it takes my mind away from the repetition. I have what would be described as a fairly strong avoident personality but at times I cover it very well.I do find everything these days has a label and completely avoid telling my doctor about this but would love to know what other ditracttion techniques or medication helps. Oh the reason I mentioned avpd was because I was wondering is this shape tracing connected to anxiety.

  90. I thought I was the only one! Whenever I am watching tv or just hanging out I trace everything!!! Glad to know I’m not alone.

  91. I have this problem, I trace the space with my finger or hand. Can’t ever remember not doing it to be honest. I also have a similar thing with tracing all four sides of square shapes, eg. TVs. There’s a certain pattern it has to be, but it’s not so much the actual pattern, but I don’t finish until it feels ‘balanced’ to me. Woah, sounds odd now I’ve written it down! :/

    • I’m Serena, I’m 25, and my version of suffering from this is very similar to yours! I trace geometric shapes, like a rectangle for example, from different corners, then I have to do it from each corner going in each possible direction so I end up tracing the same thing multiple times! It’s so frustrating but I’m glad there are so many others just like me!

  92. I am 14 years old and have been doing this for about 5 years and I had no clue what caused it. I still do it everyday and it bothers me. I didnt know it was this though.

  93. Wow. I never knew this was OCD related although I do have numbers OCD. What is odd about mine is that I draw the outlines of only triangles repetitively with my fingers and toes. I do not ever realize that I am doing it until I focus on myself. Glad to know there are others just wish I knew why I only have it with triangles and what it all means.

  94. Sorry if I am being repetitive of what others have said but I just wanted to leave my story.

    I am 18 years old and have been “eye tracing” for a few years now, but cannot think of the exact time or why it started. I had no idea if other people in the world did this but I randomly decided today to google it and can’t believe there are so many people that do the exact same things I do!

    I too trace practically everything I see, but it is only when I am sitting or laying, never when walking, and hardly when outdoors. When I start, I don’t normally realize I am doing it but when I do, I try to stop but I usually can’t. It seems like I am trying to get some sort of satisfaction out of it but no matter how long I trace something for I can’t be satisfied so I have to force myself to stop and focus on doing something else or I begin to get head aches and my eyes start to hurt. It annoys me that I do it but I can’t seem to stop.

    I usually trace words on buildings/signs, or interesting furniture, walls, etc. I also trace the profiles of peoples faces, and as someone said before, digital alarm clocks can have me tracing forever.

    I don’t find that I do it when I’m stressed or sad either, practically just any time I am not focused on doing something in particular. I don’t use my tongue or pointer finger either, nor do I count obsessively or have any other OCD related things. Just the tracing.

    I am so happy I found this page and could read about others who do the exact same things I do! Thanks to everyone who shared.

    • CONVOYSI like how toy described as “trying to get some sorry if satisfaction out of it”. I never thought if it that way but you’re right! Sometimes I do it faster and faster like I am chasing something. I wonder if anyone else had been diagnosed with any other mental issues, phobias, conditions etc? I wonder if there is a link. There has to be a reason for it! At least for the unconcious part of it! The chasing part obviously is done in a concious state. Interesting…

  95. Also, I am a 44 year old female. I only trace with my tongue. I don’t use my finger, and I don’t move my head. No one notices me tracing. But it is so distracting that it is hard to pay attention to what people are saying, or to a movie or TV show. I used to count things, but I don’t think I do this anymore, at least not by numbers. But in the tracing, I kind of “tick” them off.

    • Anonymous on February 10, 2014 at 11:06 pm said:
      I do this constantly. I was looking online to find out what I have, what it is called. I am going to make an appointment with a Psychiatrist to help me with medications I am on for Fibromyalgia and Migraines. Two of them are antidepressants. I was wondering if there was another type that might “cure” me of this problem. I luckily came across your post. I did not realize that there was no other information out there. I have never looked before. I don’t know why. It drives me nuts that I do this! And I really do do this constantly.

  96. I’m 17 and I’ve been tracing shapes for years and I have CSP a type Of OCD and so it’s not surprising this is another thing I do. I use quite a thew different ways to create my outlines. If my legs are crossed I will move the top leg and my foot in the directions of a shape such as the outline of a room or rectangular objects. I also tense certain muscles to mark the ends of each line or move my eyes or hips. If I’m sitting up I’ll start rocking side to side to create the shape and because I’m sitting there rocking its been pointed out and joked that I look like i should be in a mental hospital. I also use my tongue and thumbs. I never thought it was weird but no one else even done it and I find it quite satisfying when I can find the different outlines to shapes. I’m happy I’m not alone!!

  97. I didn’t realize there was comments below. After reading some if them I realized that I also trace with my tongue and my toes but my index finger being my medium. I think this is so funny but someone said about digital clocks being a problem and that’s so true because i have been rid if digital clocks if i can because i cannot stop tracing the outline if the numbers. It almost gives me a bad feeling. That’s the best way i can explain it. My microwave and stove ate not set for that reason and i never consciously realized i did this. All i knew was i don’t like digital clocks i just didn’t realize why!

  98. WoW! I don’t know where to start so I think I will try to keep it simple for now. I don’t trace with my eyes but with my fingers.do if I am driving in a car and pad a store with a sign on it I will start teaching out the letters with my finger. No place in particular.were ever my hand is resting. Although mostly on my thigh. If i watch TV i will see a symbol or word our letter and start tracing it, over and over and over until I realize i am doing it or move onto the next thing. . I can be spacing out, looking towards the window and next thing i know i am tracing the shape of it! I don’t know when it started but I know at least since i was a teenager.i am thirty now. I have been”caught”doing thus a few times now and i don’t know what to say when someone asks when I’m doing it. I just spent the last couple of hours looking online to see if i am alone our is this something other people do. I couldn’t really find anything other than counting disorders, well until i found you’re website. My story sounds similar to you. rs. Actually i realized a few things after reading about yourself. I wonder if anyone else had ever come forward with something similar? Our if toy have any other info that toy think i could use. Honestly i don’t know what i can gain from anything. I guess I’m more curious than anything. Or just want to know that I’m not alone. I hope to hear from you soon!

    • Yours is exactly like mine. I’m barb and just posted the other day. I’m curious if you have any other OCD. Thanks!

  99. I trace objects, numbers and letters in my mind using my right index finger. It doesn’t bother me and I have no associated feelings. I’m 46 and have been doing it as long as I can remember. I am a creative person. I also have depression which is an anxiety associated disorder. I have an issue with patterns too. For instance, I select my dominoes only in certain patterns. I see and remember things in patterns. The patterns have to be symmetric.

    • I don’t get headaches. Sometimes I think it’s keeping my mind busy. Maybe it’s associated with ADD. I’ve never been diagnosed with it but I’m sure I have it, to a small degree. I remember things in pictures too. I may not remember someone’s name but I will remember where they were standing, where I was standing, what the weather was, etc.

    • I’m 25 and I have been doing this for pretty much my whole life as well and I also trace in my mind but with my right index finger! I have synesthesia and some anxiety so that goes along with it too.

  100. I do this myself all the time. I seem to like to trace squares or rectangles usually street signs while driving or as a passenger. I also do it while sitting down not while walking. It is only while sitting in a car or sitting in general. I have always wondered why I do it. I am 43 yrs old and it is something that u have noticed that I do in the past 10 years or so. I don’t recall doing it any earlier. I also incorporate my head in the movement. I do it all the time and am aware of it but now my children are asking me why I do it cause they have taken notice of it. I think it is related to stress. I have been married 21 years and have 4 children. All of this is very stressful and has been all 21 years cause it has been a terrible and loveless marriage the entire time. The past ten years I have felt more out of control because divorce has been a daily topic in our home as well as emotional and psychological abuse. I think it’s a way that my mind tries to relax me or to put some solid structure in my mind. That why I think i always trace sugared and rectangles are what pop out to me and I have to do it. Wish I knew if this was normal or what other things may be related to this behavior.

  101. Wow. I was just sitting here catching myself tracing. .. so I Googled and landed this page. I have traced all my life. I like to think of things in shapes and try to give things order or symmetry if they lack it. I used to be very much into art and I don’t know if that’s linked or not. Looking at crossword puzzles stress me out only because of the non structured color scheme and squares. Wierd….I also break up words and if it’s not symmetric them I must do it over and over again. I do it all day long until my head feels tired. I trace secretly with my toes, eyes, and tongue. I’m glad to see I’m not alone!

  102. OMG this exact thing happens to me, but outline ceilings, doorways, anything with corners and i even count the number of edges on things and i dont even realise im doing it. Is this a disorder or what? I would be interested in finding out.

  103. I thought i was the only one in the world who did this! I’m 18 and I’ve been outlining things since i was about 14 but not that much, I’ve noticed that over the years i have been doing it more and more and more. I would outline each letter in practically anything, from phrases in a commercial to outlining shapes like my tv, my door, windows, or anything really. I would also outline whatever form and i wouldn’t get up until i finished. Before i didn’t really pay attention to it but now it’s staring to worry me because i feel i’m doing it too much and i’m trying to stop but its hard because i outline anything. I was just on Google today trying to find if it was a disorder or because i’m stressed or just something related to this but i didn’t find a thing. After probably like 45 minutes i found this i was truly the most happiest person in the world to know that i’m not the only one who does this. If there is like a technique or something to control this habit pleaaaase let me know.

  104. I am 15 years old and I have been tracing objects all the time. Whenever I’m on my lap top or watching television I would trace random words on the screen. It’s very annoying tracing objects, but my eyes or fingers always seem to be doing it. I thought I was the only one who did this.

  105. I’m writing on behalf of my mother. She is 87 and has been doing this for roughly 40-50 years. She was both amazed and overwhelming thankful for your write up. Showing her your example, she says she traces similarly. She finds it tiring, says ” it wears me out. ” . Mom is not online so I’ll have bridge between you. Really glad to know she’s not the only one. Happy Thanksgiving!

  106. OH MY GOD. I never even knew how to describe this to people, including not to my therapist or psychiatrist, and was afraid to try. I’m 51 and this has been going on for decades, and it seems a bit worse now than it has been – but I’m three years out from the death of my husband and on Zoloft, and I wonder if either of those things are contributing to the worsening. Anyway, it’s annoying, but (so far?) not debilitating.

    I’m just astounded, and relieved, to find out I’m not alone in this. Thank God I finally thought of a good way to Google it. Thank you.

  107. I would like to add that when i trace it is done mentally. By that i mean my eyes are not part of the tracing action. If i close my eyes i am still tracing.

  108. I first noticed I was tracing when I hit puberty. My family noticed as I would move or lift my head as i drew a shape. I would use the tip of my nose to draw a line that perfectly intersected an object in the room. For example a window frame or light fitting. Light fittings were more obvious to others as I had to move my head more to get the shadow of the tip of my nose over or through that object. Then my hands came into the activity too and the same exact point my nose had passed through, my right hand must sweep through too in quick succession. This looked to my family as if i were nodding traffic by and swatting at invisible flies.
    The action became incredibly frustrating for me as I imagined it was not perfectly so i had to repeat it over and over.
    I also used to have to pass through a doorway at exact centre. This meant repeatedly going through the doorway. This had to do with an imagined rectangle with imagined verticle line from top to bottom of the door that would pass through the exact centre of the two left and right halves of my body.
    I grew out of these two and went onto counting, dividing words by threes and drawing geometric shapes. The shapes are always traced out horizontally and must be perfect and join up perfectly. I will repeat the tracing over and over until i am satisfied it is perfect. This causes me some irritation and anxiety. Usually happens when i am sedentary. Glad you posted this page, very interesting.

  109. Google is a miraculous search engine. I have asked it many questions and there are always so many others writing in with similar issues.
    I trace things with my eyes all the time. My eyes run along ceilings, soffits, I like to see how lines intersect with other lines, doorway openings, objects in a room. I like to compare how shades of the same color paint can differ drastically from one wall to another depending upon the light source. I love to trace beautiful lettering on the sides of trucks or billboards. I trace the blades on all my ceiling fans. I trace people’s faces, particularly from one eyebrow connecting down to the nose the nostrils then back up the other side to the other eyebrow, as well as the outline of the face. I trace the backs of cars particularly the line around the break lights connecting to the line of the trunk. I always trace the logos on the center backs of cars. I will trace pretty much anything.
    Now lets talk about counting, which I have been doing for many years. I count lines on the road but I make games out of it like I force my eyes to count only up to an even number with 2 being its only prime factor so like 2,4,8,16,32,64,128 etc. my favorite # is 8, which is 2 perfect circles. I love to count tiles on the floors of bathrooms. Making bigger & bigger squares with my eyes and seeing that with odd numbered tiles like 5 by 5 there is a center square but with 4 by 4 not. Then there are the ordered sets and patterns like tree plantings in medians, I count the trees to see if the same number has been planted in each grouping down the road and get disappointed when not. I count lights on the backs of cars and trucks, vents on ceiling fans, windows on buildings, the vertical louvres on my window treatments, the list is endless. I am drawn to patterns. I love octagons, 4 sets of parallel lines. I also count the segments that make up the numbers on my digital clocks, noting that 4,5,&6 are the only numbers made of their exact amount of segments.
    I know that what I do is a little weird and my friends & family think so too, but I can’t help it and It doesn’t bother me, or create any problems, it’s just there.
    I love to draw, pencil sketches freehand. I am a retired architectural draftsman. I drew mechanically for 30 yrs. It feels so good to tell these things to others who understand. Thanks for this website.

    • OMG I thought I was the only one who counted the segments in digital numbers. Also when I count, I have to group words or letters into 4’s or 5’s. And I also constantly trace outlines. Even when travelling in a car, my finger traces the outlines on the side of the road.

      • Counting and tracing are so much a part of my life that I can hardly believe most people don’t do it. When my eyes see things my brain just makes them trace it over and over and in many directions. As a child I loved to do & to draw my own mazes, and play with my Spirograph. My mind was probably predisposed for this outcome early on. I caught on to mechanical drafting and drawing in perspective before any of my classmates. Most of them hated it but I was enormously drawn to it.
        So I guess when I trace with my eyes I am pretending to draw it. That is what I think.
        Counting is not drawing but, for me it’s a game. Any grid or pattern begs to be counted and traced, and in endless sequences. Counting is very much a part of measuring and drafting. I need things to divide evenly. Counting is more frustrating because there are time limits, and the numbers don’t always come out the way I want them to. Usually I will keep trying until I get an acceptable result which is an even number or a pattern of odd numbers. It’s hard to explain but I do have desirable outcomes. I can see where this behavior could be considered OCD, well so what if it is? I don’t feel any need to be cured, and I’m not hurting myself or others, it’s just brain games!!!
        I’m glad my last post helped someone else who counts the segments on digital numbers, of course they must be counted!!!!

    • So far I do almost everything you do. However I don’t do prime numbers. I sometimes get a song or words in my head and need to repeat them mentally until it feels right. I also say eyes, nose mouth as I look at faces. I count many things like couch cushions and need to count them in different ways like 1,2,3 3,2,1

      • Hi, I read your post and I too count clockwise & counterclockwise over and over. I count in rounds to see how long it takes to get back to the one I began on. Hard to explain.
        It’s The same with tracing. I trace with my eyes and finger from the beginning to the end, then the reverse.
        The past couple years I find myself trying to sound out words backwards. It goes along with that whole left to right then the reverse. None of this bothers me at all, I consider it part of a creative mind!

  110. i googled this as I have been doing this for years and years. I didn’t know othert p[eople did this. I don’t know why I do this. I have to draw lines with my eyes round an object and it has to join up.

  111. I have traced outlines for as long as I can remember. It is most frequently letters/words where I have to follow the shapes up and down as well as count the letters. I trace people’s outlines – eyes, nose, mouth, ears etc and count as I trace. I trace rooms, floors, tables and these traces are embedded now!! Number plates is also a nightmare. I trace in and out of all the letters/numbers whilst counting as I go. If I don’t trace to a certain number (which changes every time) I need to keep tracing until it feels right.
    I went to see the GP who’s response was to simply medicate me on anti depressants. Does anyone else trace and count?

  112. I too am a tracer. I typically trace large items…walls, doorways, roads, etc. I trace with my eyes but more often I find myself tracing with my tongue inside my mouth. So peculiar.

  113. Obviously, I’m a tracer as well. I was just watching television and caught myself tracing the hairlines of the characters on tv. I’ve don’t this for years now, everything from the frames of glasses to eyes and lips. I’m not sure if there’s any relation, but I also have trouble focusing at times. It would be interesting to see if there’s any correlation between the two, but anything about this strange tracing phenomenon would be great.

    • wow i am so glad to have found this. that is the exact same thing i do! i seriously thought i was alone. i dont know how it started but i used to count simple things like the shape of tv screens and windows but now tracing out peoples face, hairline, walls with objects by them.. its ongoing. Also very stressful cause i try not to do it anymore but for some reason, my brain automatically does it. i had told a family friend about this and she said its somehow connected with Depression.. i dont know if shes right or wrong.

  114. I am 29 years old and I’ve been tracing as long as I can remember. When I was in grade school spelling bees I would trace the words on my leg with my finger. Now I am constantly tracing letters with my eyes, finger, toes, head, or even just in my mind. Particularly while watching television. Certain words will stand out to me and I have to trace the letters inside the rectangular box of the television. They must be symmetrical and I will go over them again and again until they feel perfectly symmetrical in my mind. Sometimes they are numbers or polygons instead of letters. Other times I will trace entire words. I do this not just inside the rectangle of the television but with any rectangle in the room (digital wall clock, computer screen, mirrors, doors, etc). My husband has noticed me doing this on several occasions, which is rather embarassing to know I am unaware of myself doing it that noticibly.

    Recently this tracing habit has become more and more bothersome and distracting to me, as sometimes I am removed entirely from paying attention to what someone is saying or what is going on. I’ve tried for the past few months to train my brain to stop tracing whenever I notice I am doing it. I calmly note that I am tracing again and remind myself that I want to stop it, and refocus my mind on whatever it was I was paying attention to before I became aware I was tracing. This method has not proven very successful. I find myself redirecting my thoughts over and over and over again, and I start tracing again as soon as I’m refocused, it’s completely subconscious when it begins. I can stop myself from continuing to trace once I notice I am doing it but I can’t for the life of me figure out how to keep from starting it again a few seconds later. Very, very, very frustrating.

    One thing that was mentioned that seems particularly relevant to me, “a hyperactive mind craving activity that melts away with physical activity” — I’ve noticed that the tracing has increased since my lifestyle has become more sedentary the past couple of years. I don’t do this while I am outside walking or jogging or if I am doing anything with my hands, it is mostly when I am physically idle.

    Aside from the tracing I have a lot of obsessive/intrusive thoughts, and repetition of things in my head, some of which are just ordinary annoying things and some are more stressful and anxiety-provoking.

    Anyway, when I came across this website it was the first I had ever, ever heard of someone else doing this tracing thing, super weird but nice to know it’s not unique to myself :)

  115. I too do this. Have done this as long as I can remember. It drives me crazy sometimes. I trace alot of things and do it sometimes without realizing I am doing it. I will also do it timed, like if I am watching TV and there is a shape or word on the screen, I feel like I have to do it before the person finishes their sentence. Sometimes I find I have to use one finger to trace and then another finger to fill it in as if my fingers are different color markers or something. I trace alot of different things all the time. I am not an artistic person. I cant draw, paint, sew, or anything. Not sure what I am good at. But I do it rather I am stressed or relaxed. I dont get headaches either. I really hide it. My kids and husband have no idea I do it. Glad to hear I am not the only person out there doing it!

  116. I CONSTANTLY outline and trace things in my mind. The room (as above), people I talk to, their eyes, lips, head shape, people and or things on tv, while I drive – the road and where driveways or other roads come into play, and the list goes on. I don’t do it “sometimes”, I do it ALL the time. I don’t know why but I HAVE to do it. It has been getting worse. I’m 47 and remember doing it since I was a probably 16 or 17. I get headaches often. I guess because I never let my mind “rest” from anything. I don’t know how to quit. HELP!!!!

  117. Quite a few more responses since I last looked in. Very interesting. Particularly the fact that so many mention headaches that it is beginning to seem significant.

    When it comes to headaches, I have discovered the only cure is a preventative one: physical activity. I used to get migraines every few days and they would last 2-3 days each and no kind of medication would help. Life was barely worth living. That was when I had a particularly sedentary lifestyle (for various reasons). Lately I have been much more active (for various reasons, including living in a different place) and the headaches have mostly gone.

    The impression I am left with is that the headaches were due to sluggish blood-flow almost as if the blood congeals after a long period of inactivity leading to a build up of pressure in the brain. That’s just a feeling, but you can feel the veins bulging at the temples, and it seems to me better than many other medical explanations I have seen.

    Anyway, regarding the tracing condition, I am coming to suspect that it is also linked to this: a hyperactive mind craving activity that melts away with physical activity. Perhaps biologically speaking we just weren’t meant to sit around all day long.

    • I’m glad to have found information about my tracing habit. I’ve done this since childhood as early as I can remember without any apparent negative impact. I was probably tracing the TV set when I watched JFK get shot. I don’t get headaches. I am a sculptor and I draw daily. A lot of my artworks deal with profiles, radial symmetry, chiral symmetry, silhouettes, skylines etc, I’d be happy to contribute to any studies or provide additional information.

      • So much for the headache theory. Well, I like the idea that it’s linked to creativity too…
        One thing that’s for sure: it’s persistent.
        I suppose I could show this site to some academics who specialise in this area, which might persuade them to do some research on it…

  118. Omgg yeah, I do this too! I trace faces, big writing. I count things like tiles &i have to get them an even number. I trace other things too like how many pavements I’ve walked on &stuff

  119. AHHHH!!! YAY! I am so happy to have found someone who does the same thing!

    When I “trace” things, I….yeah. I HAVE TO. Or I am just in a horrible mood all day long. I usually trace circles and squares, pupils of eyes, outlines of hands, and I even count by 4s and 6s. I break the square lines down in to smaller squares and outline them by 4s and try to make a hopscotch-like pattern, and if it comes out unevenly, I get upset. I count tires on the road by fours and trace the square they would make, I trace the squares and outline fences and count up to 48 by 4s, wires, telephone poles, signs, anything. Literally anything I will trace and outline and count.

    I have perfect pitch as well, so when I hear a song or if I’m paying attention to it, pitch percussion of anything that drops or makes noise, I’ll also “play” those notes as if I’m playing them on a piano. I don’t know why I do it! I’ve noticed I do it when I get nervous or if something triggers it, like a nice set of squares that are begging to be traced, but other than that….I wouldn’t say it disrupts my life at all, heck, no one even knows I do it besides my therapist! She says it can be a mild form of OCD.

    I am also afflicted with migraine headaches. Lucky me.

  120. I do this too and have done for as long as I can remember. I am now 23.

    I used to think that maybe it was because I needed glasses and was trying to make up for some visual problem by tracing things to make them clearer, but my optician has assured me that there is nothing wrong with my vision.

    I really have no idea why I do this and I do not have any other health problems, so I don’t consider it a symptom of something else.

    I notice I do it more with squares and rectangles (doors, windows, radiators, walls, ceilings etc) but I have found that it’s gradually moved to other shapes and I’m doing it more frequently. I don’t know why this is either, as I’m not stressed or feeling anxious, so I cannot pinpoint a trigger for the change in frequency.

    I may just bite the bullet and ask my doctor next time I see him. He probably won’t have the answer but he may have more of a theory than me.

    • I forgot to say that, like some other commenters, I too suffer from headaches and have things played on a loop within my mind.

  121. I also have to walk on as many of the lighter coloured slabs of pavement as I can and when it gets to the thin path on the pavement I have to walk on it even if makes my journey longer..
    I get headaches all the time and find it difficult to sleep unless I’m reallly tired.

    • Sounds like a bit of a syndrome there. I get headaches very easily too. And another thing, I often get things stuck in my mind playing on an endless loop – this is particularly the case with those TV sitcoms that have been repeated so often that I suddenly find I am re-running entire scenes in my head – lately it has been Fawlty Towers. Once it’s stuck in there it plays over and over with a fairly ridiculous tenacity. Something about the gears in the brain churning around when they really shouldn’t?

      • I haven’t commented for a long time, but I’m excited to see the response to this topic. I find myself tracing all sorts of things. I don’t seem to have a particular subject. When I’m reading, I’ll trace small words, such as- a, it, to, the, for, etc. When watching tv, things like people’s eyeglasses, shirt collars, or ears will catch my attention. Almost all geometric shapes get traced by me, but while I’m driving things get weirder. The lines of the road, curb (or where a curb should be), even telephone poles ( I trace the entire cylinder, even if I’ve passed it). I also have to read signs, I think someone else mentioned that as well. I’m reminded of the womans father in the movie Forget Paris! There’s so much more… but if I had entire episodes of Fawlty Towers rerunning in my head, i’d be a happy camper! :-)

      • P.S. I’m always counting things too. Like the steps I take when I’m walking, the lines in the road, books on my book shelf, tiles on the floor, the list goes on…

  122. I don’t so much trace out shapes but I sort of nod my head to register a shape, for example I will constantly nod my head (psychologically not physically if that makes sense) to every wall in the room I am in and every square or rectangle I see in the windows.
    I do it in every room constantly.
    I also notice myself doing it when I’m in the car but with every car that I see I’ll just nod whenever one drives past.
    I also imagine there’s like a massive piece of metal attached to the front of the car that stretches across the motorway so that if there’s too many cars passing by at once I can use the piece of metal to touch say four at once.. It’s so hard to explain!

  123. Finally I have found other ppl that trace things just like I do! I thought I was the only one. I have traced objects for as long as I can remember and I trace everything I look at. It drives me crazy some days and other days I don’t even notice I’m doing it. I’m not artistic but I have been told by friends I need to sit and draw whatever comes to mind. I have a hard time thinking that this could be OCD. I wish we knew what it is and what it means.

    • Perhaps it’s an attempt to control the environment visually. Rooted in some kind of insecurity? Just a thought. I really have no idea. Anyone have any more theories?

  124. Finally, I found other people who do this, too! I’ve been doing this for years, though I was not conscious of it until recently. I prefer rectangular shapes and making sure that they form patterns (with symmetrical ones being preferred and ones with “odd” remnants, or asymmetrical, sometimes irritating). Overall, it doesn’t bother me, though I admit my curiosity on this topic.

    However, how is this OCD? I was under the impression that there had to be some sort of negative “effect” surrounding it, such as if you don’t trace the wall, the moon crashes down. (Admittedly, I know little about OCD and the DSM doesn’t give much more insight.)

    Thanks for setting up this page.

    • To be honest, I used the term OCD mainly so that people would be able to find the page – I don’t know if it is technically correct. The obsessive-compulsive bit does seem appropriate, but, as you say, ‘disorder’ implies there is some harmful effect and that doesn’t seem to be case with this – assuming everyone here is leading reasonably normal lives.

      • Regardless of the details, thanks for making the page. I look forward to reading other replies.

  125. I decided to look this up because lately I can’t watch tv with out tracing a persons eyes…I have to go from the inner corners to the outers, then trace the pupil in…the. Then the outer corners to the inner and trace the pupil out…it’s been driving me crazy..I have to do it until it feels perfect, then I’m ok for about ten minutes and I start again. I have no other OCD behavior, but I’m not sure what else it could be

    • It seems we all have our little specialty. I’ve never done eyes myself. I’m more into walls :)

      Well, now there are seven of us. Perhaps we should start thinking about this as a kind of accomplishment rather than an impediment. Our brains must be trying to analyse things at an intense rate and perhaps that has good implications.

  126. Yes i have the same condition. I can be at a light and realize ive been outlining the shape of the tail light over and over. Or that ive been counting the lines in the road. I will trace the shape of aaannnnything! I will go over the patterns my tiles make in the bathroom because the colors alternate. But my biggest thing is tracing. Ill catch my head nodding because i was tracing something with allot of curve or what ever. The reason i found was because in traffic i caught myself tracing the huge turning arrow painted on the street. Im not compulsive as in, i have to do it. Or that it helps me somehow. Im not stressed or anxious when it happens. I wonder if creative people do this more. I am an artist to the bone, draw, paint, sew blah blah. So are you creative or have you found something else you can link it to in your life?

    • I’m not much of an artist, but I would say I do have an artistic temperament and think creatively. I’m more of an ‘organiser’ and I tend to link it to that, as if I’m trying to pin something down that might otherwise escape me – and while it’s annoying to find I’m doing it involuntarily, it does gives that kind of subconscious satisfaction.

  127. Wow I thought I was the only one, I have been doing it since childhood. I trace objects as if I can’t lift my ‘pen’ off the page.

    I’m not sure if it is related or not but I’m a compulsive reader. Not like I read a lot of books but my eyes search out signs, fine print, anything to read.

    • Interesting about the compulsive reading. I’ve not been aware of that, but I do find too much signage and advertising in the street to be exhausting, as if it is compelling me to read, so maybe that’s related.

      Might be an idea if we all summarise some aspects of our personality to see if there are any other common traits. Me, I would say I’m a bit neurotic, a bit emotional, a bit introverted (people exhaust me), not sporty, not artistic, but intellectually curious; I like sorting and organising things and prefer zen-like serenity and calm and order whenever possible – oh and I get a lot of headaches (always have done). I don’t know if any of this has any bearing. How about everyone else?

  128. I trace outlines just all the time. Nobody notices it, although I usually use my index finger to trace things. During a period in my childhood, I remember I used to raise my head and rotate it in clockwise direction to outline lamps on the ceiling! It stopped later probably because I felt embarrased, people around me noticing it. At least in my case I think it has to do with problems related to my childhood. I find it very strange and sad at the same time that this ‘disorder’ is not recognized and that this page is apparently the only webpage you can find on this subject.

    • Yes, it would be interesting if the boffins got round to researching this. Well, now there are a few of us. Perhaps if we can get 100 people together we can get it listed in DSM-IV. ;) As far as I can see, it is currently lumped in with stimulation-craving conditions like restless leg syndrome. I’m not sure that helps much in terms of explaining where it comes from. Interesting that you trace it back to childhood. It certainly is persistent.

  129. I also trace shapes and have for many years…I truly can’t recall when I first realized I was doing this but I noticed it at least 15+ years ago. But I do not trace rooms…I trace shapes such as my TV, doors, even traffic lights (while waiting for them to change). I not only trace them, but I feel compelled to trace them one direction (clockwise) and then the opposite direction (counter clockwise). As an example…for a rectangular shape such as a TV, I start at one corner (upper left) and trace clockwise and then counter clockwise and then move to the next corner in a clockwise direction (upper right) and repeat. Then I restart at the upper left corner but first trace counter clockwise and then clockwise….and continue clockwise around the shape. And then I start “again” at the upper left and repeat everything, only first tracing counter clockwise and then clockwise. I do this with all types of shapes. I also trace eyes…whether I’m actually looking at a person or watching them on TV. I do the same procedure I described above…first one direction and then the other.
    I also trace cartoons in the same manner…such as the Simpsons or Family Guy…I am constantly tracing their faces, ears, noses, etc. I find myself attempting to trace them in the same fashion I described above before the scene changes.

    • Welcome to the club!
      I also start at the top left and trace counter-clockwise, but unlike you I feel no compulsion to go back in the opposite direction, almost as if that might spoil the shape I had just created (I just tried doing it clockwise and it felt ungainly). Maybe you are more sophisticated in this than I am.
      I tend to think everything has some evolutionary significance, which leaves me wondering what the particular advantage of it might be (assuming it’s not completely pathological). My best guess is still that it has a calming effect like jiggling the leg, even if the effect, and the nerves we are smothering are subliminal.
      Just to add, I can’t paint or draw so I doubt there’s any artistic impulse there.
      Any more theories as to why we do this?

  130. You arenot alone in this. I to, havebeen doing this for many years. I’m 31 and can remember having troubles with this as far back as 11 years old. I am constantly finding myself tracing things, everyting, and my son let’s me know when I’m moving my head. Once iI become aware of my head movements, I use my toes to trace. I would say more about the types of thigs I trace, but I’m. Afraid I can’t write that much, or explain. I just wanted you to know that there are others with this condition. :-)

    • Your case sounds exactly the same as mine. I sometimes trace things with my toes too. Weird isn’t it?
      I’ve been thinking more about the possible reasons. Several possibilities occur to me:
      1. Heredity. There is definitely some history of neuroticism on my mother’s side of the family.
      2. Childhood habit. I dimly remember how we used ‘tracing paper’ to copy pictures. Possibly the activity was intense enough to became ingrained in the mind.
      3. Need for visual stimulation. In the way that a tiger in a cage paces up and down, maybe our eyes crave activity when our lives have become too inactive.
      4. All of the above :)
      I wonder how many people have this condition? It can’t be so rare. Hope we hear from some more people.

      • I too am another case. I find it more comical then anything, and almost completely attribute it to a mild form of OCD, as I have other indicators which point me in this direction. Concerning the tracing, I prefer simple shapes, squares, rectangles, triangles, whatever. I’ll fixate on one, trace it over and over until it becomes annoying and my eyes start to hurt. I trace clockwise then counter clockwise then switch. And then, when I cant take it any more I have a method to stop myself, which is; I focus on the centre with all my might, and imagine the outline of the square bolded in, as if, instead of tracing, the whole square is traced at once. and then from the centre outwards, I push out, forming a secondary square unto the border of the original square. For some reason this calms my mind, and I don’t feel a compulsion to trace any more for a little while. This doesn’t always work though, and usually I’ll go on to make shapes inside of the shape. So I’ll start tracing imaginary triangles inside the square, lined up with each other. Like the bottom and left sides of the square form one triangle, so I trace it. Then I trace the top and right sides, and form a triangle, and then i do left and up, and then bottom and right, and repeat to infinity. Also I will trace down the left side, go halfway up toward the centre of the top but a quarter of the width of the square, then I’ll trace all the way down to the centre of the bottom and then almost all the way up to the top of the square, but stop right before the end. And then I go on to do this with all the other sides and their correspondents. It creates a strange, symmetrical zig zag pattern.

        Just in comparison, I have a fixation with where my mouse has to be on the computer screen, it’s not a big deal, but if im watching a video, it has to be in the centre of the pause button, exactly between the two lines. the point of the pointer has to be on just the right pixel.
        Another one is my headphones, especially when I’m in a quite environment. I constantly have to push the cord into the source of the sound, and check it relentlessly in fear of it being unplugged and everyone around me hearing the music, and not my headphones picking up the feed. I’ve broken many headphones like this because I literally jam it in every 2 minutes, twisting it everywhere possible, taking my headphones off and on, and plugging and unplugging the cord over and over again, each time shoving the cord in just a little bit harder, thinking this might help somehow. Because of this issue, I haven’t used headphones since i was 16 (I’m almost 20 now). This issue by far was the scariest for me physically. I now just play music out loud, and it doesn’t bother me a bit.
        Another thing I had was when I started dieting around the age of 14, I started counting calories obsessively. I became anorexic for awhile, but that’s a different matter. All day long, over and over again, I would recount the amount of calories I have consumed, food item, by food item, no matter the amount. All. Day. Long. I eventually stopped dieting after everyone kept telling me i looked horrific and way to skinny, and my counting issue subsided. This counting also was rather terrifying.

        Anyway, the only issue I have now is the tracing, and this one is rather benign and I prefer it to the others ten-fold. I’ve never told anyone about this before….

        I am a male, if it matters.

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