Stuck patterns: How to break a bad habit

Stuck patterns: How to break a bad habit

Are you in a “stuck pattern” that’s holding you back from the life you want? Angela Buttimer, MS, NCC, RYT, LPC, a licensed psychotherapist at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont, says these patterns are called “habit energy” and can be very strong.

These habits or patterns can be physical, mental or emotional. Some examples include regularly:

  • Snacking all day

  • Having dessert after dinner

  • Ordering takeout instead of cooking a healthy meal

  • Getting distracted by technology or television instead of making progress on a goal

  • Letting emails overwhelm your workday instead of making progress on important tasks

  • Needing to be right or get the last word in

  • Needing to be all things to all people

  • Thinking obsessively

  • Overtalking

What causes stuck patterns?

How do these patterns develop in the first place?

“Sometimes, your life circumstances introduce you to these habits and you get some level of comfort or satisfaction from them, so you keep doing them,” she explains. “Humans largely resist change, so even if we know a habit is causing pain and suffering, it can be hard to stop.”

How to know if you need to change a habit

“Sometimes people know they don’t feel good, but don’t know why,” Buttimer says. “They don’t know why they are suffering.”

If you think something in your life isn’t quite right:

  • Coach yourself. In a journal, ask yourself “why” repeatedly. For example, ask, “Why do I feel ‘off' today?” Once you’ve responded, ask yourself “why” again. Repeat this exercise a few more times and you’ll likely get to the root of what’s bothering you.

  • Meditate. Spending quiet time in reflection and stillness can help your mind gather its thoughts. It’s hard to know what’s wrong if you don’t slow down long enough to pay attention.

  • Seek support. “We are not islands and all need support,” Buttimer says. “That help could come from a counselor or coach, accountability buddy or a support group.”

How to break destructive patterns

Learn your “why.” If you don’t know your underlying need or motivation behind the harmful habit, you’ll set yourself up for failure. You have to understand why that pattern is important to you and how you’re going to substitute another positive activity that meets the need. If you’re not getting your needs met in the new behavior, you’ll fall back into the stuck pattern, she says.

“If you’re a smoker, your ‘why’ for smoking might be because it gives you social time with your peers on work breaks or it reduces your stress,” she explains.

So, you’ll need to find other activities that offer stress reduction or socialization instead of smoking if you want to quit for good.

Practice the “5 Second Rule.” Buttimer likes to use a technique from thought leader Mel Robbins called the “5 Second Rule,” where you count down “5-4-3-2-1-GO” and then do a task right away, such as getting out of bed instead of hitting the snooze button.

“When you do something right away, your brain doesn’t have a chance to slam on the emergency brake, which it will do when you’re trying to introduce change,” she explains. “Robbins found that when people were not given enough time to talk themselves out of it, they were able to execute on their goals.”

Switch up your routine. Drive an alternate route to work, put your clothes on in a different order or open doors with your subdominant hand.

“This helps you practice the vibration and behavioral pattern of getting outside your comfort zone,” she explains.

Be compassionate with yourself. Having a compassionate internal voice will support forward movement on your goals, while having a critical inner voice will sabotage your efforts, she says.

“Compassion doesn’t mean self-indulgence, but being merciful to yourself,” she says. “You’re a human being. We’re not looking for perfection; we’re looking for progress.”

Learn more ways to reduce stress and improve your well-being.

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