When unfavorable situations, actions and emotional conflicts happen again and again in your life, you may find yourself in the same scene, with different characters, more often than you care to admit. If so, there’s a good chance you are in the presence of a negative “pattern.”
Some examples: constant conflict with co-workers, people-pleasing, or picking unsuitable partners/lovers.
At best, these negative patterns cause frustration. At worst, they create undue suffering, uphill struggles, sometimes even death.
The good news is: you have the power to change these negative patterns. Allow me to share with you some ways to begin disrupting your dominant negative patterns so that you can start laying down new, more positive habits. It's also helpful to keep in mind; "When you know what you don't want, you know what you do want."
Practice Your Presence.
No matter how entrenched a pattern seems, the act of noticing begins the shift away from damaging thoughts or behaviors. Simply put, you can't change what you're not aware of or when you're clueless about your harmful practices.
One way to become aware is to sit with your thoughts and watch for the patterns. The goal here is to become present, that's all. Many cognitive neuroscientists have conducted studies revealing only 5% of our cognitive activities (decisions, emotions, actions, behavior) are conscious.
In this step, focus your awareness on just the facts and feelings of the patterns. Now is not the time to let your mind wander into the analysis of "why" you have these negative patterns, as you may try to justify and defend the pattern. We can analyze later (see below); for now, stay focused and notice.
Also, ask people you trust to help you see the patterns. Our blind spots are called "blind" for a reason; we don't see them. However, your negative patterns may seem clear as day to others. My most favored approach to "practicing my presence" is mental rehearsal during morning and evening meditations.
Discover your unconscious payoffs.
Becoming aware of your negative patterns, you see evidence they are disserving, perhaps even undermining, you. For example, your habit of conflict with co-workers has gotten you fired, cost you a promotion, or transferred to another department, and now your resume reflects that pattern as well.
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 undiscovered 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 friction to cover up deep insecurity with his/her work quality. The conflict, in effect, distracts from scrutiny.
Alternatively, the conflict could stem from uncensored outspokenness. The person may have a difficult 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.
Identify (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 your colleagues for the fulfillment of passive-aggressive interaction or feelings of resentment in your personal life.
Consider your negative pattern loops as triggers, raising red flags, that correlate an unconscious dismissal of your underlying core values. Reflect on the soft-spoken inner dialogue leading you to recognize any patterns which no longer serve you. Persistence in examining the positive habits in your life could be the easiest, quickest and most effective solution to overcoming the power of your negative patterns.