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4 keys to breaking negative patterns

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This is a guest post from Paige Burkes who writes at the blog simple mindfulness.



How is it that we can spend years of our lives being students of the best personal development advice but, when we’re in the middle of our own issues and drama, all that great information goes out the window?  Our old habits and programming kick in and we wonder why we keep repeating the same patterns in life.  We lose the ability to be objective in our own lives.

Over the years I’ve experienced many setbacks and many of them have repeated themselves enough times to create patterns. Even though the people, places and circumstances were different each time, the results were always the same.  While they’re never fun to go through, I’ve learned that how I handle these setbacks is a practice and the more I practice, the better I get.  Unfortunately, it took a couple decades of blindly repeating the same negative patterns before things started to change.

What changed? I did.  Slowly.  Over time.

It took repeating the same negative patterns and coming up with the same negative results long enough that I got sick and tired of being where I was.  Something had to change.



One of the first things I realized was that I was a bit of a control freak.   I thought that if I could control the people and situations around me, I could fix anything.  If this is you, it’s time for a wake-up call.  If you stay on this path you’ll find it’s a long, exhausting, frustrating, angry, bitter and resentful ride to nowhere.

The only thing you can control is you.  And you can only do that if you slow down enough to become aware of yourself, your thoughts, your emotions and your actions.  Nothing changes until you’re aware of it.

When you repeat a pattern that you could live without, stop and notice it.  Become aware of it.  You don’t have to change it or try to make it all better.  Just notice it.  Sit with it.

Don’t beat yourself up over it.  Don’t blame others for it.  Look at it objectively – without judgment.



Once you’ve calmed down enough to be aware of the situation, the next (and one of the hardest) steps is to accept it.  Completely.

It happened again.  It’s in the past.  There’s nothing you can do about it except accept it.

Fighting against it, thinking it should be different, pretending it doesn’t exist are all the expression of resistance and our resistance is the biggest cause of our own suffering.

As the saying goes: What you resist persists.

By resisting what is, you’re feeding it with more energy.  You’re giving it more life.

Fighting poverty.  Fighting disease.  Fighting wars.  Fighting with your partner.  It’s like two fists coming at each other, clashing.  It hurts and they just keep coming back and clashing over and over again, never changing.  The end result?  Both fists hurt.  They’re both bruised and bloody.  And they’ll keep clashing until one can’t do it anymore.  And there’s a winner and a loser and nobody feels good about any of it.

The alternative?  Accepting the other person or situation as it is because there’s really nothing we can do to change it.  Knowing that we can’t change it, we can only work with it.  Instead of two fists clashing, picture the two hands coming together with the fingers interlocking into one strong union.  Together they’re infinitely stronger and have more energy.  And there’s no loser.  No one walks away bruised and bloodied.  Both sides walk away with a new friend.


Taking Responsibility

Once you’re aware of the situation and have accepted it, the next step is to understand how you contributed to the whole thing.

When I realized that I kept repeating the same pattern in relationships, regardless of who I was with or where I lived, I had to stop blaming the other person.  It simply didn’t make sense any longer.  It had to be me.

In many of my tough situations in life, I couldn’t see how I had contributed although it was completely clear to others.  Knowing this, I humbled myself and asked others related to the situation how they thought I contributed.

Sometimes the answers stung but I had to hear them.  It took effort but I worked hard to not get defensive.  The first few times I got totally defensive but caught myself, knowing that the other person was only trying to help and that I had asked for their feedback.

Over time I’ve learned that I am responsible for everything I experience in my life.  Yes, everything.


New Choices

I am completely responsible for every choice I make all day, every day.  And we make many more choices that most of us realize.

  • What and when we eat and drink
  • Whether we exercise
  • How we respond to the words and actions of others
  • How we feel all day

Whenever I hear someone say that someone else made them feel a certain way, I have to remind them that it was their choice to respond the way they did.  This is tough for many people to take.  No one can make you feel anything.

If I were a homeless person on the street and I called you a moronic ass as you walked by, you probably wouldn’t think much of it.  You’d think I had some big issues and be on your way.

If I were your boss or partner and called you a moronic ass, would you respond the same way?  What’s truly the difference?  One person knows you better than the other.  So what?  Does that actually make you a moronic ass?

Some days I wake up in a funk for no reason.  My brow is furrowed and I’m generally in a bad mood.  If I kept going like this, I would give myself a nice headache and be grouchy to my family, who doesn’t deserve that.  Somewhere in my morning routine, as I’m waking up, I realize this and ask myself if I really want to feel like this all day.  The answer is a big ‘no.’

I make the conscious choice to change how I feel.  Even if something were bothering me, I know I don’t want to feel bad all day.  I want to do something about it.  Whether I feel like it or not, I smile a huge smile for at least 30 seconds as I breathe very deeply and picture in my mind all the wonderful things in my life that I’m grateful for.  It works every time.


Breaking the Patterns

When you find yourself repeating your same negative pattern, simply make a new and different choice about the next action you’ll take.  Do something you’ve never tried before, even if (and especially if) it sounds totally crazy.  Don’t worry about being right or perfect or what others may think.  It’s all a big experiment anyway.  Just do something different – anything – and see what happens.  Learn from it.

If the choice you made didn’t work out, make a new choice from the present moment.  You can’t change the past and undo the last choice so guilt and regrets are useless.  Simply make a different choice and move forward from there, constantly tweaking and learning along the way.

Eventually you’ll find your path, one that works for you.  Choose what’s right for you and, most of all, choose to be happy no matter what.

I know from experience that none of this is easy.  It takes time – sometimes a few days and sometimes many years.  But with practice it does get easier.  It’s all part of the journey.  Happy travels!


Paige Burkes writes at simple mindfulness where she supports you in new, mindful ways of being that allow you to live a happier and more fulfilled life.  She has a free ebook, 7 Keys to Getting Things Done, Living on Purpose and Being Happy in the Process, that gives you the specific baby steps to follow to live the life you really want.



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Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.