We are creatures of habit. And by habit I mean our brains are etched with neural pathways that create these patterned responses we enact every single day of our lives. That’s why you have the same reaction to certain stimuli – like when someone cuts you off while you’re driving. Or when someone utters a word that rubs you the wrong way. It’s just your brain running through a patterned response like a rat running a maze to it’s food bowl.
As you begin to be more aware of your patterns, the best thing you can do is observe them without judgment
Luckily, you don’t have to stay stuck in the maze because can re-write your patterns. That’s what neuralplasticity is all about. You don’t have to be a victim to your patterned responses, you can change those limitations into empowering new habits. But the first step in rewriting your patterns is to become more aware of them.
That can be tricky, because our patterned responses inherently operate below the radar. They happen without us having to put any thought into them. I have found that there are two things that shake things up to make us aware of our patterns 1) intentional effort or 2) external changes.
There are numerous ways you can make an intentional effort to become more aware of your patterns. One trick I recently learned from Travis H is to have an opposite day. This isn’t the kind of opposite day of childhood where kids do the opposite of everything you say (ok, that might be every day). This is where you do everyday things differently. So instead of brushing your teeth with your left hand you use your right hand. If you normally put your left shoe on first put your right shoe on first.
Engaging in an experiment like opposite day makes you more aware of how you’re doing everyday things. I found that brushing my teeth or changing the order I put my shoes on was easy. But trying to wash the dishes with the sponge in my left hand instead of my right proved difficult to sustain. Inevitably my mind would get lost in the moment and suddenly I would look down to find my right hand holding the sponge. What that experience illuminated for me was that the more complicated or time consuming a pattern is, the more focused effort it takes to re-write.
There are a number of external changes that can make you more aware of your patterns. Illness or injury makes things you had taken for granted harder. Moving into a new home forces you to think through the details of mundane tasks, like preparing dinner, with a painstaking attention to every detail that you used to do on autopilot.
Other external factors that shake things up can be more subtle. I grew up outside of Philly. Throughout my childhood I would hear my father get really excited for the Eagles at the beginning of the season and admonish at the end how “they just always screw things up and can’t keep it together when the pressure’s on.”
When the Eagles won the superbowl last week it totally rocked my world, as in it shattered a long-standing belief I had that the Eagles just couldn’t do it (forgive me Philly friends). I wasn’t even aware that was a belief I had, you see in my mind it was a fact – “the Eagles always drop the ball under pressure.”
So picture me, after the game feeling completely stunned…for a few days. When something happens that runs counter to a deeply ingrained pattern, I get this unsettled feeling in my gut that turns me into a deer in the headlights. In the past, I would have let that trigger me into another patterned response – negative self-talk, “why can’t you just be happy and celebrate their big win Ariana?” Now I know, I’m pretty much short circuiting. My mind is trying to make sense of how something I thought was true could be wrong.
Become More Aware of Your Patterns
The only way to level up your game and transform your life is by becoming more aware of the patterns you are stuck in. Journaling, of course, is a great way to develop awareness of your patterns. This is especially true if you write in your journal by hand when you normally type…it forces you to slow down in a world that’s constantly egging you on to go faster and do more.
As you begin to be more aware of your patterns, the best thing you can do is observe them without judgment. Simply noticing enables you to gain insights to re-write your patterns without adding insult to injury. Instead your efforts are coming from a place of love and compassion. After all, it is much easier to rise above a challenge when we feel cheered on rather than jeered at.
Here are four reflection questions I’ve pondered in my journal to help me become more aware of my patterns.
- In what situations or circumstances do you currently feel stuck?
- What can you do to shake up your day-to-day?
- What patterns are you becoming aware of?
- What do you notice when you observe your patterns without judgment in retrospect or as they’re happening?
What’s Rosabella Consulting up To?
Last week we had the pleasure of leading a Conversational Intelligence training for the staff of United Way of Larimer County. This custom designed experiential training proved to be a great opportunity for staff to get to know each other better personally and experience an introduction to the neuroscience of conversation that will help them elevate their collaborative efforts.
I am excited to announce a brand new workshop I have been developing over the last year called An Introduction to Journaling and Mindfulness. This two hour workshop is great for anyone that feels stuck and is ready to learn how to use journaling for mindfulness to get out of their own way! Our first session will be on March 23, 2018.