It’s a story as old as time: things are seemingly going well, and all of a sudden you’ve tripped over a rock and you’re stumbling, falling. Just when you think you’ve caught your footing, you realize you caught your footing on a cliff and you’re plummeting towards the ground thinking “how did I let this happen again??”. Then you hit the bottom. You survive. And you promise yourself "I will never let this happen again!".
Until it does.
How do we stop patterns from repeating themselves? Why isn’t the knowledge of the pattern alone enough to stop the behaviors? The first answer is that patterns, since they are repeated time and time again, become pathways in our brains - they become so easy to follow the sequence we don’t have to put any energy into following them. The path of least resistance. Riding a bike. Just knowing that it exists, or that you wish it didn’t is nowhere near the amount of energy needed to correct or interrupt the behavior, and lead you towards a different path.
Where do most people go wrong? They believe that will power alone will make it so that they’re never in the same situation again. They believe that if they recognize the behavior, that is enough to correct it. Wrong! You will DEFINITELY be in the same situation again without an interrupt.
So what can you do? Well the first thing is not only to recognize the pattern, or the end result, but also the behaviors and exact steps we take (or don’t take) in getting there. It is not enough to see the overall view, we must break down every step, and then take measures to interrupt every step that goes away from us.
This also means we have to put measures in place to correct steps before they occur, or to make tools available to ourselves before they occur. An example of this in dieting is to eat before you go grocery shopping, or bring your own snacks to the movie so that you are less likely to buy junk food. We are not only using will power to try and avoid junk, we are taking steps that fill the void and force a new habit. The idea is instead of never letting things happen again, or never putting ourselves in a bad situation, we are giving ourselves the tools to be successful when, undoubtedly, the situation arises again.
Take some time to think about the sequence of events that leads you astray. Write out the exact steps - this will help you recognize them much earlier, and give you far more opportunity to stop things before going bad. Dig deep, avoiding yourself in this effort is a sure way to not get better. Figure out a sure fire pattern interrupt. Loud noises, physical activity, making your body and your brain connect with the word STOP. Then, replace the old easy step with positive behaviors. Choose antidotes to every step of the patterns you use, so that when the challenges arise, you already have the tools in place to successfully. This is an active process, you have to expend more energy interrupting patterns and replacing them with new ones. It takes time; weeks, months, years of commitment, and many frustrations.
But no better time to start than today.