Personal Growth

Deconditioning: How to Create Pattern Interrupts and Learn New Behaviors

Deconditioning: How to Create Pattern Interrupts and Learn New Behaviors
More and more people of all ages and walks of life are recognizing that they’ve adopted unhealthy behavior patterns and they’re desperately searching for a way out. A good dose of deconditioning might just be what you need to turn things around so you can start living a life of happiness, purpose, and fulfillment.

Deconditioning is a term used to describe a system for diminishing or eliminating the conditioned responses or behavior patterns that you assume over time. We all develop behaviors and strategies that we run based on our upbringing, past experiences, and what society deems appropriate. In most cases, these patterns are unconscious—meaning, you do many of them without even thinking about it. If the behavior pattern is unhealthy, this is where you start to create real problems for yourself.

Resorting to behavior patterns that are detrimental can lead to poor health, diminished self-worth, and an inability to be who you are meant to be, do the things you are destined to do, and have the things you deserve to have in your life. Continuing to run the same old behaviors can torpedo your relationships, tank your career faster than you can blink and, if you’re not paying attention, cause you to give up on yourself and your dreams.

Pattern Interrupts

A pattern interrupt, speaking in terms of a technique, comes from Neuro Linguistic Programming and is a way of changing a person’s mental, emotional, or behavioral state or strategy. Developing the skill set for creating a pattern interrupt can help you learn new behaviors that lead you powerfully forward toward living a more intentional, passion-filled life.

Have you ever gotten into an exciting new relationship and acted out in jealous ways when your partner strikes up a conversation with someone of the opposite sex? Or how about when you sabotaged your new health and fitness program by trading your daily workout for zoning out on the couch at the end of the day? Can you recall a time when a family member brought up a sensitive subject, and you shut down emotionally for the rest of the visit? These are all examples of everyday ways that you can fall into old patterns and run old behaviors that aren’t serving you. But how can you break free from the conditioned responses you’ve been operating from for as long as you can remember?

The key ingredient for creating a pattern interrupt and learning new behaviors is awareness. You can’t change something if you’re not cognizant of the fact that it’s happening. So, the first step is becoming aware that you are repeating an unhealthy pattern and to identify what the pattern is. The second step is to observe yourself while you’re running the pattern closely enough that you can pinpoint the precise moment where you derail. This is a critical piece because it’s in that moment where you need to now install a new behavior. Then, you need to practice it diligently—over and over again—until it becomes a new habit. Let’s paint a picture using the example of health and fitness as we unpack the technique a bit more.

You’ve decided it’s time to get healthy so you settle on a workout program, a new meal plan, and you create your new schedule, starting tomorrow. When tomorrow comes you oversleep so you don’t have time to exercise first thing and you blow the opportunity to prep your healthy meals for the day. Out the door you rush. You have a busy day at work and end up eating from the vending machine or dial in a take-out order from the fast food restaurant with co-workers. You arrive home exhausted from a long day and disappointed in yourself for not following through with your new health program. The next day the same thing happens, and the next, and the next. As you begin to think about it more, you realize that every time in your life that you’ve tried to get healthy you find some way—consciously or unconsciously—to sabotage yourself. It’s time for a pattern interrupt.

Step 1: What's the Pattern?

Here is where you identify what the specific pattern is. It should be relatively simple to spot because it’s the same thing you keep doing, over and over again. You hit the snooze button a few too many times, you talk yourself out of exercising because there’s something more important you need to do (you buy into your own reasons and excuses), you purchase healthy food but don’t make the time to prep your meals in advance so you eat out, dive into a bag of Doritos, or skip your meals entirely.

Step 2: Where Does It Derail You?

This part can be a bit tricky for some people. Here is where you need to pinpoint the precise moment when you “do” the pattern—or where it is that you get thrown off. You hear your alarm go off in the morning, and you decide to hit snooze and sleep for another 30 minutes. You know it’s time to start your workout and your to-do list pops into your mind so you opt for scrolling through Facebook or taking out the trash instead. This is where you need to become keenly aware of that exact moment in time when you begin to run the pattern. This is the point where you will introduce your new behavior, which you’ll establish in the next step.

Step 3: What Can You Do, that You Haven't Done Before, to Interrupt Your Old Pattern?

Once you’ve got your finger on the point where things go offline, you need to install a new behavior. To start, ask yourself what you can do in that moment that is different from what you have always done in the past. The key here is to make sure it’s not something you have done before because—and this should go without saying—the way you’ve been doing it before doesn’t work. Maybe you change your alarm to your favorite upbeat song, and you bounce out of bed as soon as you hear it. Another idea is to have a mantra. When you catch yourself saying, “I’m too tired to work out,” you immediately hear the Nike slogan, “Just DO IT!”

Step 4: Practice It

The next (and sometimes hardest) step is to practice it. Every single day, or as often as possible. Author Steven Covey says it takes 21 days to form a new habit. Some people say it takes 40 days. The point is that consistency and repetition are necessary for you to create a new pattern and learn to do things differently than you have in the past. Whatever new behavior you’ve come up with needs to be your new go to.

Pattern Awareness

Be patient with yourself as you work through the process and practice this technique. If you stay present and aware, you will find yourself moving through the three phases of pattern awareness.

  • Phase 1: This usually starts with a slow realization, like waking up one day with the thought that, “Wow, I was a real handful when I was a teenager.”
  • Phase 2: This is when you gradually become more aware, but your awareness dawns on you several days or weeks after the fact.
  • Phase 3: When you wake up in the middle of running your pattern and think to yourself, “I’m doing it right now!” This is where the gold is at because now you’ve arrived at a place where you can do something differently in the moment.
To fully overcome ineffective behavior patterns, the goal is to eventually recognize you are about to do it before you do it. The awareness itself doesn’t interrupt the pattern. The awareness is what enables you to become more aware of when you do it so you can change the behavior. Like any personal development technique, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.