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How did I get here....Again?

How did I get here…Again?

Let’s talk about breaking bad habits or negative patterns. We all have them. Maybe it’s grabbing your phone to look at the news or facebook before you even get out of bed, when you really want to have a morning ritual. Or maybe it’s a more complicated pattern in your relationship where you are caught in a loop of not feeling appreciated and then you get more and more resentful which then just shuts your partner down because he feels attacked, when you really want to have a relationship of mutual appreciation and respect.

Whatever the habit might be, if the negative pattern is interfering with your ability to be happy then it’s time to address it. Because here is the deal: we are here in this life for a relatively short period of time and we are here to have an experience. So why not make it a positive experience? Are you with me? Now, I am not saying you should pretend everything is roses all the time. Nope. Real bad stuff happens in the world, and maybe even in your own home. That doesn’t mean you have to live or remain in that bad experience all the time. But that is exactly what will happen if you are not paying attention. Without even realizing it, your mind can get locked in a negative feedback loop which will cause you to unconsciously make choices that keep you in the same pattern over and over again.

I want to share a piece by Portia Nelson:

Autobiography in Five Chapters

I

I walk down the street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk

I fall in.

I am lost...

I am hopeless.

It isn't my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.

II

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend I don't see it.

I fall in again.

I can't believe I'm in the same place.

But it isn't my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.

III

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it is there.

I still fall in...it's a habit

My eyes are open; I know where I am;

It is my fault.

I get out immediately.

IV

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.

V

I walk down another street.

This is a beautiful example of moving from feeling powerless in your life to feeling empowered. And it begins with self-awareness. Being willing to ask some very important simple questions, like “How do I keep ending up here?”

Typically awareness begins with hindsight. Right? But at first it shows up as disbelief. It’s like Really? Really? I cannot believe this is happening again. And the tendency is to blame someone or something outside of yourself. But, as we have talked about before, that’s just giving your power away.

Or maybe you have the pattern where you blame and then lash out and then feel bad and then judge yourself. That is just the next level of powerlessness.

Getting down on yourself or blaming somebody else is so easy. But it will only keep you stuck in the negative habit. Blaming yourself will actually drive the negative pattern harder. It’s a downward spiral.

If you can get on board with the idea that your choices are why you are in the downward spiral, then you will have a better chance of breaking the pattern, whatever it is.

I used to have the habit of beating myself up for not being a good enough mom when my daughter was making some bad choices. But beating myself up didn’t change anything or make me more available to her. All it did was make me feel worse about what was happening.

So first things first, become aware that it is a pattern.

Second. Stop the blame game. Blaming yourself or your partner or some other person is a distraction.

If you can do those two things successfully, then you are ready to use the tool I am about to give you to break the pattern.

Every pattern has a beginning, middle, and end that feeds back into the beginning again. This plays out in your brain as a negative feedback loop. As the loop nears the end point, there is usually a moment, even a fraction of a second, before it begins again, when your mind wakes up to the pattern. It could just be a blip. You probably know what I am talking about. It’s that moment when you realize “here I am again”.

Do you remember the single albums that just played one song? 45’s. When I was a kid, I had a record player that was locked on repeat. So if you weren’t right there to catch it at the end of the song, it would start over and play the song again. So I had a narrow window to catch the arm of the record player before the song started again. Negative feedback loops in your brain seem to play out just like that. The pattern is coded in the area of the brain called the basal ganglia and once there, it seems automatically programed to set the pattern to repeat…indefinitely. Unless you do something! Luckily, you CAN do something – your brain actually gives you a prompt to act to break the cycle if you choose. And if you act when you are prompted, you can turn the whole thing around. You can break the pattern.

One of my favorite methods is using Mel Robbin’s 5-second rule. If you haven’t heard about it before, now you have. The idea is very simple and powerful and Mel Robbins explains it all in her book, The 5-Second Rule. It’s a metacognition technique that involves counting backwards from 5 down to 1 and then taking some sort of action that breaks whatever habit. That’s right, just 5-4-3-2-1-Go. The premise is when you have a new idea (like a moment of clarity or a prompt to act), you have 5 seconds before the brain kicks in and catapults you back into the pattern or in-action you were trying to get out of. Breaking a habit requires inserting a new behavior that interrupts the pattern when you hit 1 on the countdown. Patterns are stored in the basal ganglia of the brain. When you count backwards from 5 to 1, the mind shifts from the basal ganglia to the pre-frontal cortex where change is possible. So in that moment, when the prefrontal cortex is lit up, taking an action that counters the negative pattern will break the negative feedback loop and a voila, a new habit is possible.

For instance, breaking a sugar habit. There is a moment before you grab the bag of cookies when your mind says something like, “I probably shouldn’t”. And then you open the bag of cookies and proceed to eat the entire bag. Or whatever. That moment when some part of your mind is trying to give you some sound advice, you can seize the opportunity and count backwards 5-4-3-2-1, throw the bag of cookies into the trash and then take the trash out back and grab a carrot instead. Done.

True, you will have to repeat this behavior several times for it to become a new positive feedback loop. But getting started is always as simple as seizing the window of opportunity and acting right then.

You can use the same technique for negative patterns in your relationship. For instance, that moment right before you say something that you know is going to trigger defensiveness in your partner. You have a split second moment when you become totally aware nothing good is going to come from nagging him. Stop. Say 5-4-3-2-1 and find something to appreciate him for instead.

Or those times you beat yourself up for days over something you did or didn’t do. The moment you realize and become aware you are being hard on yourself, stop. Say 5-4-3-2-1 and choose a kinder thought about yourself instead. Even if it’s “you know what? I am a good person” or “I’m doing my best out here”.

It’s a wonderful tool and you can use it today. So give it a try and let me know how it works. Just tag me @cathy walker life