Here’s what science tells us about the brain: billions of neurons in a giant network, all capable of connecting and communicating with each other in their cool electrochemical way. In other words, unlimited possibilities.

There are unlimited ways that these points can interconnect and, by doing so, take you to new places. So many points to access your potential and do things you never believed possible. The brain is malleable and receptive to new patterns taking hold. Theoretically.

In reality though, even though you can stop doing things the way you’ve always done them, generally you don’t. And not just you. Everyone. Me too.

Why? Because it’s easier to slide back into the patterns you know. The familiarity feels safe and it doesn’t involve any work. Something triggers an emotional reaction and before you know it, there you are. When you follow the familiar, old way of thinking and doing, the grooves created by neurons bouncing along the same old paths get deeper and more ingrained. You default into the familiar place where everything seems to be against you or just going wrong. And it takes more effort to remind yourself to step onto a new path.

Say, you’re not a stranger in these parts, are you?

These default places feel comfortable but they are not your friends. On the other hand, while they are preventing you from grasping what is really going on, they are also not your enemies. Instead, think of them as sign posts in your mind. Every time you revert to your go-to emotional reaction, you’re getting a piece of information if you care to read the signs.

“Hey, whoah, here you are again.”

“Look familiar? Yup, you’ve been here before.”

“Want to be somewhere else instead? How ’bout heading thataway for a change?”

It’s easy to treat these familiar places (resentment, sadness, rage) like a refuge. It’s tempting to snuggle up and wrap yourself in your anger and fear to avoid doing something different. Or maybe it just seems like the only thing you know how to do is to keep fighting with yourself and the world, even if it’s keeping you stuck.

The road less traveled and a good way to get there (6 steps)

1. Acknowledge
“Okay, here I am.” No need to kick the signposts. It’s useful information to know where you are even if you don’t feel like being there. This is you being angry, hurt or frustrated.

2. Agree
“I’m allowed to feel whatever it is I’m feeling. Guess what? I’m human. I’m allowed to feel frustrated, angry and sad. It doesn’t say anything bad about me.” This is you letting yourself be angry, hurt or frustrated.

3. Take one step back
“I am ready to learn from what this feeling is telling me, without having to step inside it.”
This is you paying attention to your feelings.

4. Recognize a need
“It seems like this anger is trying to keep me safe. It’s a way of not feeling vulnerable.”
Or maybe: “It feels as though this sadness is a way to avoid asking for comfort.”
This is you learning from your pattern now that you have stepped away from it a little.

5. Meet the need (ask for something that fills it)
“Even though I’m used to taking refuge in anger or sadness to protect myself, I’d like to ask myself to find another way to give myself comfort (or protection or trust or support).”
This is you responding to an emotion rather than being the emotion. You are replacing the hurt around the need with the thing that can take care of the need.

6. Recognize the new place
“Every time I do something even slightly differently than before, I’m consciously and actively changing and tweaking the pattern.”
This is you giving yourself credit for being in the process — and noticing the results.

Patterns can trip you up or they can show you where to go

As my teacher Andrey Lappa likes to say, “There is good experience and there is useful experience.” Gradually you will shift your focus from what a pain it is to be stuck again to what you can learn from that stuck moment. Not by fighting with yourself, but by slowly, consciously talking yourself through this process so you can hop over and slide somewhere else. A little kindness is always a good thing too.

It takes some practice but it’s worth it. Here’s the thing: when you can interact with your patterns in a calm, intelligent and creative way, they no longer control you. You have choices. And direction. You get “light bulb moments” where everything clicks. You know what to do and you run with it. No doubt and no second-guessing yourself. And good things happen — every time.

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