“The Definition of Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”
– Albert Einstein
Why is it that so many of us struggle with old, repetitive behaviors that keep us stuck in unhappiness, frustration and shame?
We experience heartbreak and vow we’ve learned our lesson. NEVER again will we do ‘X’! Then we quickly find ourselves right back in a repeat performance, making the same choices without blinking an eye.
You’d think that as painful as those experiences are, that we’d get it the first time and move on.
But, what I’ve come to understand over the years through personal experience, talking with friends, family and clients, is that there’s actually a method behind the madness.
There are plenty of reasons why we stay in unhealthy patterns and some of them may surprise you. So how do we identify the reasons behind the pattern so we can kiss them goodbye once and for all?
1) Find the Source Beneath The Pattern
One thing is for sure. Habit in not always our friend. Whether it’s positive or negative, our behaviors usually have developed over a very long period of time.
Starting from childhood, we learned our life skills, belief systems and relationship rules of engagement from modeling that we absorbed from our family and immediate social environment.
The first key, then, to nixing an unhealthy behavior, is to unearth the source that created it. How was that habit originally formed?
Think back to the key teachers in your life. Your parents, other family members, our school, friends, neighbors, work colleagues or anyone in your life that had direct and profound influence on how you developed social skills, a sense of self-worth and the ability to communicate your needs.
In particular, pay attention to the messaging they instilled in you. Was it demeaning or encouraging? Were they successful at making healthy decisions in their own life or the opposite?
This exercise isn’t about blaming people. I’m suggesting that we are all a product of social influence and to just keep an open mind and perspective about how our habits were created in the most organic sense.
A person, mentor or role model may have had the best of intentions and felt the skills, or belief sets, they taught you were truly ‘for the best’, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they were passing on healthy skills or behaviors.
By shining the light of awareness on the foundation on which a behavior was created, you have a much greater chance of changing it.
2) Be Willing To Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
There’s comfort in habit, even when it’s painful, because it’s ‘the Devil We Know’. We may not consciously want to continue to experience pain, but subconsciously we may want to stay in that space because we’re more afraid of the ‘unknown’ behind change.
We were never meant to stay stagnant in life; emotionally, spiritually, physically or behaviorally. But, learning on any level requires stepping into a fresh space so we can experience new opportunities and learn new skills.
I’d wager that any time you’ve braved the unknown in any learning experience, it didn’t turn out to be as scary as you thought it would be.
So, start with small steps. Stay open.
Accept that it may still take a few more tries before you get it right. Just pick an action that gets you one step closer to where you want to be.
Don’t hesitate, over analyze or over plan the action. Just do one action step a day or per week that will allow you to get closer to making better choices with a greater sense awareness.
3) Each Experience Brings Higher Clarity
Ever notice that with each repeat performance, you get better at recognizing the red flags? Maybe you make the decision to stop the behavior a little more quickly than before or your inner voice is speaking from a stronger and more knowing place?
That’s because the Universe will continue to give us ‘opportunities’ to test skills we ‘learned’ from a past mistake. In fact, I don’t even like calling them mistakes. They’re really just lessons.
Fact is, few (if any) of us are the ‘one and done’ types who glean a skill from one experience. A chef doesn’t learn their craft from the skill of making one dish. True skill can only come from repetitive, varied experience and, yes, failure. Overcoming a negative habit is no different.
4) Lose Your Self-Judgment
One of the biggest obstacles to shifting out of repetitive behaviors is self-judgement. We spend a lot of time lambasting ourselves for going to a place we promised ourselves we’d never go again.
The dialog is mind numbing. How could I let that happen again? Why don’t I get it? What’s wrong with me?
But, where does it get us? Absolutely nowhere. It just feeds the insecurities, low self-esteem and limiting beliefs that perpetuates the negative pattern in the first place.
Start by giving yourself a break because self-punishment is always a waste of time and change your perspective.
You are still farther down the path than you were in previous experiences and there WILL be more opportunities in the future where you will shine.
Try shifting your energy to a more positive frame of mind where you become the teacher for once, instead of the student. Students follow. Teachers lead.
So, teacher. What did you learn THIS time? Where were the milestones, the signs, the moments where you could have made a different choice? What could you have done differently? The answers are there, like bread crumbs waiting to be followed to their source.
5) Give Yourself the Gift of Empowerment
The real gift behind each painful experience or heartbreak is acknowledging that, step by step, if you allow yourself to do so, you're building strength and a feeling of empowerment to draw from in the future.
More importantly, when you feel truly empowered, you’ll start to draw better people, mindful energy and more positive experiences into your life, rather than the ones that have negatively impacted you. Only then can you set yourself up for success and finally kiss that old repeat button goodbye, once and for all.
But, that’s a choice only you can make.
Without a doubt, the biggest moments of shift and growth come from some pretty awful life experiences: pain, loss, rejection, abandonment, humiliation and failure to name just a few.
It’s not pretty or easy pulling yourself up out of pain and misery when you are fresh from the battle either. Turning a bad experience into a positive learning mindset takes effort and focus, but that call to action is also usually when you feel you have the least amount of energy or brain cells to act.
Do it anyway…. in any shape or form you can.
The point isn’t to go from despair or frustration to pure joy in one step. It’s just to move your energy forward toward where you would rather be. Happier, stronger, more purposeful or whatever you feel you need most in your life.
I know you can do it.
I believe in you. You have what it takes. Let yourself shine!
If you think you might benefit from life coaching sessions, or just need a little push to get through a life challenge, I encourage you to take advantage of one of my free 20-minute introductory phone coaching consults to see if I can help.
Full sessions are provided in-office or by phone, so you don’t have to live in the Oregon area to benefit from this service. To schedule, go to: