When unfavorable situations, actions and emotional conflicts happen again and again in your life—same scene, different characters—there’s a good chance you are in the presence of negative thought patterns.
Some examples: picking the wrong lovers/partners, constant conflict with co-workers, chronic ‘debting’ or people-pleasing.
At best, these negative thought patterns cause frustration. At worst, they cause undue suffering, uphill struggle, sometimes even death.
The good news is: you have the power to change these negative thought patterns. Below are some ways to begin to disrupt them so that you can start laying down new, more positive patterns.
STEP 1. Become aware.
No matter how entrenched a pattern seems, the act of noticing begins the shift away from damaging thoughts or behaviors. Put simply, you can't change what you're not aware of.
One way to become aware is to just sit with your thoughts and watch for the patterns. The goal here is to notice, that's all.
In this step, focus your awareness on just the facts and feelings of the patterns. Don't let your mind wander into the analysis of "why" you have them right now, for it will likely try to justify and defend the pattern. You can analyze later (see below); for now, just notice.
Also, ask people you trust to help you see the patterns. Our blind spots are called "blind" for a reason; we just don't see them. But they'll be clear as day to others.
SETP 2. Discover the hidden payoff.
Becoming aware of your negative thought patterns, you see evidence they are disserving, perhaps even damaging, you. For example, your pattern of conflict with co-workers has gotten you fired several times, and now your resume reflects that pattern, too.
The key to interrupting negative patterns is to understand this: we generally don’t keep repeating behaviors unless, on some level, we get something good out of them.
These hidden reasons are known as "payoffs," and they either help you get more of something you want or avoid something you don't want.
In the example above, the person in constant conflict with co-workers could be using the conflict to cover up deep insecurity with his/her work quality. The conflict, in effect, distracts from scrutiny.
Or the conflict could stem from uncensored outspokenness. The person may have an oppressive situation at home, and being excessively frank at work may allow him/her to feel powerful and self-expressed in at least one arena of life.
STEP 3. Look for (and create) positive patterns.
One of the best ways to disrupt the negative patterns that may be wreaking havoc with your life is to also study the positive patterns in your life. For these can be "grafted" onto your negative patterns with great success.
For example, you can utilize the discipline you've always had around working out regularly to stop using credit to finance your lifestyle.
Consider your negative patterns as the pipes to your backyard pond that are old and clogged with mineral build-up. Laying new pipes (positive patterns) could be the easiest, quickest and most effective solution.
Until next time, Choose to Lead,