Why is it so difficult to change our patterns even when we want to, even when we experience shame or despair about them? Here are common pitfalls and concrete steps to overcome them in the future. Common Obstacles to Success Why is it so difficult to change our patterns even when we want to, even when we experience shame or despair about them? Here are common pitfalls: Trying to change a pattern while playing it out Focusing on changing a behavior, usually quickly and forcefully, without empathic listening to ourselves (our needs and feelings in particular) Grounding our motivation for change in guilt or fear Giving up or blaming ourselves when we don’t succeed immediately The Role of Compassion Because each of these obstacles points to an absence of compassion for ourselves, the first habit to transform is that of blaming ourselves for having habits. Once we introduce compassion, we can accept the humanity of having patterns, look at our patterns and habits, recognize which of them are necessary and helpful, and investigate the ones we want to transform. With compassion we can find a need-based motivation for change, and seek support and tools to create the behavior we long for. Here’s how. Three Steps toward Self-Liberation Step 1: Understanding Patterns that Cause Suffering By definition patterns are both repetitive and automatic. With awareness, we learn to understand our patterns and change our relationship to them. Shifting from autopilot to consciousness provides relief and the possibility of change. As you embark on cultivating awareness, these guidelines may help: Self-compassion: Bring curiosity, patience, and sensitivity to your search. Listen empathically to all you find inside – feelings, thoughts, and needs. Acceptance of Reality: Not all your needs can be met at all times. With acceptance you may discover a willingness to stretch or expand your comfort zone. Humility and Self-Acceptance: Maintain empathy and tenderness toward the challenge of creating change. Observing Patterns While difficult, the practice itself is simple. Either when a pattern is active, or when contemplating change, observe yourself, and distinguish between the doer and the observer. Over time, you can soften the belief that YOU ARE WRONG for having this pattern. This allows you to discover the unconscious motivations which give rise to the pattern, and move toward conscious choice. Identifying Patterns Why is it important to identify specific patterns? Knowing exactly what you do is essential to being able to explore why you do it, what needs are served and what needs are not served by this pattern as well as what needs might be served by changing it. It’s usually easier to change behavior patterns once you’ve identified and worked on thought patterns that may be the root cause. Which of these patterns do you recognize in yourself? Do you identify any others in addition? If so, add them, and let me know, so I can continue to refine and expand this tool to support other people. Five Thought Patterns All these patterns can lead to disconnection, and translate easily into anger, guilt, worry, depression, aggression and any of the behavior patterns below. Negative thoughts about the past, such as focusing on what we or others should have done Negative thoughts about the future, conjuring up worst case scenarios Thinking about things that are beyond our control or responsibility, such as the emotional state of our partner or the war in Iran Judging others Judging ourselves Eight Behavior Patterns Outbursts of Anger Arguing Withdrawal Denial Paralysis / freeze Avoidance (of conflicts, connection, difficult issues, another person, etc.) Addiction Acting “nice” externally while harboring resentment In intimate relationships more often than not you will find complex patterns that are interactively co-created. Step 2: Deciding to Take Responsibility for Our Change Process Changing deeply ingrained, automatic behavior requires active wanting and a clear motivation that’s sustainable. You’re less likely to change a pattern because your partner wants you to than because you yourself are tired of suffering or because you yourself care about the effect your behavior has on other people. As you explore a pattern, take some time to reflect on what is true for you: Do you want to change the pattern? What will you get from changing the pattern? From Suffering to Reward Often the breakthrough that leads to taking responsibility is having had “enough” suffering. The good news is that every step of the way has its rewards and supports movement and progress, whether or not you make it to the finish line and break free from the pull of the habit: Making the decision to change (empowerment) Understanding the patterns (relief) Engaging in small actions on the way (movement) Seeing early results (efficacy) Reaching consistency (self-trust) Step 3: Receiving Tools for Change and Implementing Them The challenge of identifying our own patterns, and of finding ways to change them, is enormous. You will need all the support you can get. As a scaffolding for your process, practice with the worksheet below that accompanies this article. It contains detailed questions, suggestions for self-exploration, and specific action steps. For perspective and compassion, find someone to support you, both when identifying and investigating your patterns, and when working on changing them. With tools and support, I hope you find new ways to embrace yourself, whether or not you actually fully change the pattern. ............................................................................................................................................... Worksheet: Dissolving Suffering by Changing Our Habits In the Spirit of NVC and the Work of Byron Katie Here are the suggested steps you can take towards liberation from patterns that create suffering. Please note: the process does not have to include every step or sub-step, and you don’t have to follow this order; the steps may vary, intertwine or go back and forth. Step 1: Identify and Understand the Pattern Collect internal observations regarding this pattern: Guide yourself with self questions: (1) How do I behave, act, react when I'm acting out this pattern; or (2) When this or that happens, what are my usual thoughts? Reactions? What do I tell myself? Collect external observations: When it happens, what can one notice from the outside? (You can ask for help in collecting data from people in your life whose empathy and love you trust.) Identify the motivations for the pattern. Find the thoughts (stories, core beliefs) that give rise to the pattern. Distinguish the trigger (stimulus) that preceded the reaction from the reaction itself (describe the trigger as an observation); Find the thoughts that accompany this trigger; write them down in full phrases. Possible examples: “How stupid can I be…;” I am never going to succeed…;” “She should know better.” As you search for and/or identify and discover thoughts that are related to the pattern, use this as an opportunity to explore them. You are mainly looking inside in search of hidden core beliefs about yourself, about life or about others. These might include thinking about how the past, another person, or your life in general SHOULD be. Gently notice your internal reactions as you go along. Whenever painful feelings arise, SIT WITH THEM. Take the time to feel. To stay with. Notice. Listen. Accept (or not… but be there). This is all about bringing compassion to yourself. This is a good place to go into The Work, or any path of self-exploration you choose, for deep, internal inquiry. Explore the origins of the pattern: Events in the past that put it in place, or such that you know or realize that are connected to it. If you are having a hard time remembering, you can use any kind of meditation guided imagery to help you in this search. Investigate the pattern further. Which needs does it meet – and which not? Sit with ANY feeling and/or need that arises. Savor it. Mourn it. Go within. Wait. Listen. Feel. Notice which feelings are there when you believe this core belief. Sit with them. If this is a behavior pattern, ask yourself which needs are met by this behavior. (Remember, they are important and human). Observe without judging. Follow it to its core, and see what arises. Notice if there are tiny or noticeable shifts. Wait for some relaxation or relief. Take your time. Ask yourself which needs are NOT met. Take your time to feel. This step may gently take you to the next one. Step 2: Making the Choice This step could come in the beginning of the whole process, or at any stage. You can come back to it as many times as necessary, WITHOUT guilt. Clarify the choice and motivation for change. Are you operating out of fear-guilt-shame or “have to?” Or is there a clear sense of self-connection and desire for liberation? Take the time to explore. Acknowledgment: In writing and/or aloud, express to yourself the conscious acknowledgment that transforming this (or any other) pattern entails difficulty and challenges. Sit with it. Understanding and Creating Space: In writing and/or aloud, express to yourself the conscious willingness to make space for the difficulty you might encounter and/or which you have already encountered when you tried (a million times…?) to work on this particular pattern without succeeding. In some form that is real to you, express and prepare yourself to forgive and accept yourself. And tell yourself that you are willing to try again, even if the next time does not yet yield the hoped-for results. Breathe. Sit with this understanding. Notice possible shifts. The Practical Steps of Transforming the Pattern Creating the internal, conscious Observer: Use any “observer-creating” phrases, such as “I am hearing myself thinking that …;” or “I am telling myself that…;” or “I am seeing myself doing…;” or “I just noticed that I did it (again).” Preparing yourself in advance to various stages of dealing with the pattern (self requests): For those times that you catch yourself IN IT, think of questions to ask yourself, regarding the choice, such as “Am I operating out of choice or habit?” “Do I want to go on, or find a way to stop?” (Check if you have the internal resources to deal with the challenge of shift NOW). Prepare various strategies for different actions you can take if IN the moment you are willing to change (words that you can tell yourself; connect with the need that’s alive; or take some action which seems reasonable for you). Imagery work: Imagine and SEE yourself acting differently. Run the scene as many times as you wish/can. Imagery work: Imagine yourself with self-compassion when you try again and do not succeed to your full satisfaction. What words, phrases can you tell yourself then? Tell yourself now… Step 3: Re-evaluating and celebrating (sometimes…) At any given time, preferably NOT while actively engaged in playing out the pattern, look back at any aspect or step regarding your conscious work on it. Look at all the steps you have taken. See what has worked for you, and what has not. Look at the WHOLE picture—WITH COMPASSION. If you’re not able to generate compassion, re-ground in your commitment to your own well being. See what enables you to come again (and again…) to choose YOU. Take the time to sit with anything that you notice. Pick up even ONE tiny instance that has felt different from the past, perhaps even transformational: Write it down. Look at the written words. Or say it to yourself. Listen. The mind goes into future or old habits of thinking, such as “Yeah, but that was not so difficult…” “I could have done better…” “I have already achieved this in the past…” “This doesn’t count…” Tell yourself that these are ONLY THOUGHTS, and get back into self-acceptance and celebration. What else would you like ? ? ? What would contribute to YOU feeling GREAT about YOU??? Create it for yourself!!!