Like a savory pot of autumn soup, there have been many hearty ingredients tossed into a meanginful lesson about behavior patterns and self awareness this week:
- Scott Hamilton’s inspirational video about his recent diagnosis of a 3rd brain tumor and how setting the “tone” for himself and his family fuels positivity and courage for all.
- A web seminar with Pema Chodron about breaking our habitual patterns by enthusiastically choosing a fresh alternative.
- A well written article on Curbing Self-Defeating Habits by Dawa Tarchin Phillips (mindful.org) replacing “trying to change” with “committing to change.”
Two things really grabbed my attention — Patterns and the Power of Positivity.
For some time, I have been focused more on my “patterns” when I get stuck in negative thinking or familiar bad habits. It surprised me to discover that there were similarities in my emotions or behaviors even when the stressful situations were quite different.
I can be diligent all day about healthy food, exercise, drinking water and then blow it all in a few mindless moments on a salty bag of chips because I’m unhappy about something. What is that all about? I can be having a great day with family members and then suddenly feel criticized and snap in self defense. What is really going on?
I was curious enough to dig little deeper and start paying attention to situations that “hook” me. Pema Chodrun provided the framework when she cited some of the reasons we get hooked — irritation, disapproval, resentment, inadequacy (just to name a few). She says when we feel this way, we harden and freeze in an effort to protect ourselves from the fear of feeling pain. Many people “numb out” with drugs, alcohol, watching TV, or stomping out the door. We set off a chain reaction of habitual patterns that only make matters worse.
We self soothe or shut down and suddenly we just bought our ticket on the habitual pattern merry go round — Feel bad, numb out or check out, feel worse.
A few minutes after consuming the enormous bag of salty chips, I start chastising myself for that poor choice. Not only am I still unhappy about whatever set me off in the first place, but now I feel chunky, bloated and I’ve sabotaged my entire day of healthy living. My little inner critic just won’t stop berating me.
Same goes for snapping at my family member who had my best interests at heart and is now feeling alienated by my defensive remarks and sulky disposition.
The worst of my habitual patterns is getting triggered by someone and ruminating about our history. I’ll replay a distressing scenario in my mind for hours or days….and all that comes of it is that I have absolutely wasted being fully present in the current moments. Often these are really good moments — playtime with my granddaughter, a trail ride on my bike on a beautiful fall day, or practicing golf. There’s nothing worse than inviting a Debbie Downer along on a fun outing….yet when I ruminate, that is exactly what happens.
Pema Chodrun urges us to “wake up” to these patterns so we can really see where it is that we are closing down. We are all seeking relief from our anxieties, hurts and stresses but our habitual behavioral patterns aren’t working. She offers these three difficult (yet very productive) practices:
- Acknowledge that you are “hooked”
- Do something different than you usually do! Chose a fresh alternative and do it enthusiastically!
- Make it a way of life
Admittedly, I’ve been practicing mindfulness for quite a while and these principles are not new to me but what really got my attention was that powerful word — Enthusiastically!
It really resonated with me because it conjured up hopeful, energetic and happy images. When I am enthusiastic about something, my energy level rises in such a good way and my commitment also deepens. It sets an entirely different tone to the situation. Talk about a positive approach to jumping off that habitual pattern merry go round.
I’m not saying that I’ll be eagerly awaiting to be triggered so I can practice it. However, it does make me feel more in control because of this refreshing new plan and being committed to it. That’s another big distinction. There’s a natural power surge that comes when you say to yourself, “I am committed!” It’s got so much more positive energy than muttering “I’ll try”.
What’s been fascinating about studying my “patterns” is that I can now readily identify several distinctive triggers that hit me hard. Mine have a lot to do with respect and trust. When you become more knowledgeable about your own triggers, you often gain wisdom and understanding about other people. Hopefully that evolves into greater compassion and empathy when dealing with conflicts. You may not react the same way as another person, but “walking a mile in their shoes” can help you find some common ground.
I’m reminded of something else that Pema Chodron shares — Where there is resistance, there is valuable information.
Sometimes we just get in our own way and push away what we really want the most.
In Dawa’s article about curbing self-defeating habits, she points out how much of our own personal suffering comes as a result of self-centered thinking and suggests taking a fresh look at a problem or situation as a whole, without personal attachment.
An exercise that she suggests is to imagine that a friend is going through the crisis, not yourself. Taking the strong emotional attachment out of the equation, enables you to problem solve from a caring, altruistic and unbiased perspective.
Scott Hamilton reminds us that what is important in life is getting up after we fall and setting a positive tone. Every time pick ourselves up after a fall, we get stronger for the next event that comes along. Scott says that is life. Things are bound to happen and how you approach them sets the stage for success.
“it doesn’t matter what the challenge is -athletics, business, romance, health, academics, the arts- the rule for getting up is the same. you just get up!”
― Scott Hamilton, The Great Eight: How to Be Happy
“The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” – Scott Hamilton
The goal of getting out of our deep rut of non-productive patterns is to enrich our quality of life and improve our relationships. It is well worth the effort and you will begin to feel empowered when you make progress in escorting bad habits to the door!
YouTube – The Freedom to Choose Something Different by Pema Chodron
Facebook – Scott Hamilton
Mindful.org – How to Curb Self-Defeating Habits by Dawa Tarchin Phillips, June 15, 2016