Time isn’t static. Depending on the situation, you may find the same few seconds to seem never-ending or lightning fast. The seconds leading up to a first kiss can go on forever. However, blink and you may miss those same seconds when you are crossing the finish line in a race.
Movies like Groundhog Day or the recent blockbuster Before I Fall feature a time loop, where the protagonist lives the same day again and again until he/she gets it right.
How can you recognize your patterns and break free from the ones that are holding you back? The following tips will help you to avoid your own personal Groundhog Day.
Live an Examined Life
Build regular reflection into all aspects of your life. Most businesses include some type of performance evaluation. Why not schedule these into your parenting, your love relationships, and your health goals. Being aware of what you are doing that is working and what you are doing that is failing is only part of living intentionally. Checking in also allows you to clarify which parts of your plan you are implementing and which parts you are not.
For example, say you decide to cut out sugar from your diet but upon reflection you notice that since cutting it out you are eating more chips. In this case, you may need to think about why you wanted to cut out sugar in the first place. Was it to lose weight, to see if you felt more energetic, or to match what all your friends from yoga did? Notice how you feel in the pattern and how you feel when you break the pattern. Remember not to judge yourself, just make reflection part of your everyday process.
Take a Step Back and Observe
Deepak Chopra describes our patterns as software of the soul. The circle of karma (action), samskara (memory), and vasana (desire) can go round and round without ever stopping if you don’t step back for a moment to take notice.
Meditation is a way to strengthen your ability to seamlessly transition between living your life and reflecting on living your life. By spending time in meditation, you silence the doing and allow for being.
I think of witnessing life like those moments in a movie theatre where something pulls you out of the plot and back into the theatre. When I am pulled away from the deep involvement of the plot, I have awareness that I am watching a movie rather than being immersed in the actual drama. Meditation helps you to become more able to transition from living life to witnessing how you live life in a way that optimizes your ability to create healthy goals and then take the steps to bring those goals to fruition.
Fall Back into Your Pattern
Knowing the pattern you want to disrupt is one thing; actually doing it is another. Understanding that you will find yourself on auto-pilot doing exactly what you said you were not going to do actually works for habit formation. If you plan for setbacks in advance, you can create an if/then plan. For example:
- If I cannot control my impulses at a restaurant, then I will limit my eating at restaurants for one month.
- If I hear myself yelling at my children when I have a goal of not yelling, then I will apologize to them and take five breaths before I continue talking to them.
Replace the Bad with Something Good
When you take something out of the karma-samskara-vasana circle, you need to replace it with something else; otherwise, it's like removing an electrical connection in a circuit and leaving a space—the circuit won't be complete until you add something back where something was removed. Your action. Figure out what you can do instead. For example:
- Instead of coffee with milk and sugar, I will have tea.
- Instead of getting upset when I don’t go to the gym, I will do sit-ups at home.
- Instead of three beers after work, I will have one beer.
- Instead of having wine before bed, I will read a book.
- Instead of rushing in the morning, I will get up 10 minutes earlier.
Other Ideas to Change Your Patterns
There’s no universal way to change a habit. Some things that work are:
- Modifying behavior (think snapping an elastic band on your wrist when you curse)
- Having an accountability partner to keep you on track
- Having a schedule; what you schedule is more likely to get completed
- Pairing your desired habit with something you already regularly do
- Rewarding yourself
Tell a life story where you are the hero. When you are thinking about things in your life that you would like to change, make sure you don't behave as though you are a victim—empower yourself and accept responsibility for your behavior up until now. This allows you the power to change as you move forward. As long as you are holding onto the belief that it is somebody else's fault or someone else's responsibility, you won't be able to take ownership for really truly and effectively changing your life.