Exacerbating your patterns or learning from them?

When I was teaching in Berlin last year, a series of bizarre and marvelous coincidences landed me a house-sitting gig in a gorgeous house in Steglitz, a quiet little neighborhood in the west side of the city. While I know east Berlin like the back of my hand, this part of town was completely new and unfamiliar for me.

To walk to the train station you had to cross a bridge, from which you could see for miles (okay, kilometers) around. If you turned your head to the left, you could determine easily whether or not your train was coming soon enough to warrant picking up the pace.

If you turned your head, that is. Which I could never remember to do in time. By the time I remembered, I would find myself already inside the train station, wondering how quickly to scamper down the stairs, having not the slightest idea whether the train was five minutes away or already about to pull into the station.

This may seem a rather small problem. First of all, as some of you already know, I am blessed with a bizarre form of transportation luck — I rarely have to wait for a train. Second, it’s Germany. Miss one train and it’s no big deal. Another one will show up exactly six minutes and thirty-seven seconds later, or whenever the sign says it will.

Still, it was getting a little ridiculous. I mean, I’m a patterns expert. I teach awareness techniques. And I’d developed a blind spot — literally — where one simple movement of the head could have saved me time, energy and potential aggravation.

Luckily I remembered in the nick of time that even a seemingly innocuous pattern follows the same rules as any other. In today’s “here’s a technique for working on your habits” bit, I’ll explain exactly what I did and talk a bit more about the practice of “learning from your pattern without judging yourself for having it”. Enjoy!

Technique: asking questions; planting clues

You’re a good habits detective, so you’re always asking questions. Even better, you won’t accept the seemingly obvious answers at face-value without doing some digging first.

Note: if you ask a question and the answer you get isn’t very nice, that’s probably your internal distress talking and not the real answer you are looking for. Bear in mind the words of my teacher in Tel Aviv who used to say, “everything that speaks against me is an illusion.” I’ll demonstrate how this works with sample “useful” and “non-useful” answers.

Useful question #1: What am I learning from this pattern?

Non-useful answer: “Um, clearly you’re an incompetent flake who never pays attention, it’s pathetic.”

Useful answer: “Okay, I’m noticing that I tune out when I’m walking. I’m very aware of inner thoughts, but not of my surroundings. I’m also recognizing some guilt around feeling like I “should” be able to be more aware of what’s going on around me.”

Useful question #2: What can I do to acknowledge the feelings that come up in response to this situation?

Non-useful answer: “Get over it already, &@*#.”

Useful answer: “I think I am feeling frustrated when I expect myself to be able to do something, and I’m not able to do it. It sounds like I could use some encouragement.”

Useful question #3: What can I do that can help me implement what I’ve learned, while giving myself what I need?

Non-useful answer: “You can stop talking to yourself, for one thing.”

Useful answer: “It seems like I could plant some ‘clues’ along the road to remind me to be in awareness. That big sign on the cafe starts with an ‘L’ — I can make a point of saying “LEFT!” every time I see it. I can hum a song with the word “LEFT” in it. I can make the whole trip to the train station be about awareness exercises, where I set my mind to noticing all sorts of details instead of defaulting into daydream mode. It could even be kind of fun. And even if it takes me a couple of times to look for the train, at least I’ll be practicing awareness — and getting better at motivating myself through encouragement too.”


Where do you need to have these gentle reminders in your life? When you are lighting the cigarette or opening the refrigerator you are already “in the train station”. Where are the little openings within your default patterns where you can sneak in and remind yourself to pay attention, respond with kindness, and give yourself love?

Your mission

Get on the case and go undercover! Commit to the process by carrying a notebook with you everywhere to jot down your observations and realizations. Tur on all your senses of perception and start building a profile of your patterns. Remember that what seems obvious or trivial isn’t necessarily so.

Detective exercise for being in the process
Carry a notebook with you to jot down clues. What are two things you notice about yourself when you’re on the street? At work? While purchasing something? When you are helping someone? There are clues and messages everywhere! Get going!

Fill in the blank

“My life would be so much better if I could just ________________.”

Or maybe actually:

“My life would be so much better if I could just stop ________________.”

That’s a clue.

The Fluent Self