We each contain within us a multitude of patterns and unconscious reactions. They’re often thinly disguised in thoughts and phrases such as “I can’t help it, this is who I am”. Or perhaps they come to light in a moment of “Why do I always do that?” or when we catch ourselves consistently and insistently complaining about a particularly annoying person or event.
But what if a pattern is no longer beneficial and even becomes a hindrance to our growth and prevents us living freely, then what? What if a pattern is trapping us in our own Groundhog Day experience? Or if it becomes a pleasingly patterned yet hard-to-penetrate and limiting brick wall?
The point is to interrupt the pattern. Whenever a pattern is interrupted, there is a moment of awareness (often accompanied by a moment of panic). That interruption gives you a moment to see or exercise another possibility.–Ken McLeod, Buddhist teacher and writer
Four Steps to Pattern Interruption
Recently, I’ve been experimenting with using these four steps in response to the regular fall-out of my own pattern of staying hyper-busy/ compulsively over-working.
This may be easier for some patterns than others. For me, the “work” pattern has become clear to me by way of a frantic mind, an oft-weakened immune system and chronic irritation that results when I work to exhaustion. According to Ken McLeod, interrupting the pattern requires pausing just before the pattern is repeated instead of staying in a trance. This will be a challenge since my tendency to overwork sort of steamrolls right over pauses. Meditation has definitely been helpful in disengaging the pause-crushing steamroller and creating more space for noticing.
Using the 5 Why’s to uncover the underlying story that informs my pattern has been quite useful for me. Sometimes I can even rationalize up until almost 10 why’s.
I can’t stop working right now, I’m too busy!
Because I have this job/ task that must/should be finished.
Because I’ve already started and it is easier to just push through and finish it before I take a break.
Because I’d feel better, once I was resting, to not have to see the unfinished task in front of me. I’d be much more relaxed if it was just finished.
Because I’d feel guilty sitting down when there’s work still to be done.
Because I feel valuable when I am productive and get work finished. My value stems from how much I accomplish.
My hidden story is that I believe my value is based on how much I accomplish so my value, in my mind, goes up the harder I work. Clearly there’s a deeper back-story there but, in order to maintain focus, let’s just leave that for when there’s time for self-reflection later and now consider the next step.
The story of “work = value” is an interesting one but is far from liberating and not one that I want to have as a silent director of my actions and decisions. Time for a re-write of that old script. New script says “Working or not, productive or not, I have value”.
To make even a dent in the ancient story I’ve held to as truth for so long, this new script will need to be be expressed verbally every day until it becomes the new pattern. New decisions will be based on the freedom of choice, not within the confines of a claustrophobic story.
I’m famously stubborn so this process might take longer for me than it does you. I already caught myself pushing stoically through to the end of writing this post without taking a break when my mind and body were asking for one. And this is only one of my patterns!
One pattern, one step at time.