The article was originially published in Dunfermline Press in January 2015.
So much of our lives are governed by cycles, habits and patterns. We may have learned how to do something in a certain way when we were younger and never stopped to consider that there might be other ways of doing it.
When that involves mundane acts like lacing up a new pair of shoes or the best way to roast potatoes then it’s not too important and doesn’t have that big an impact on our lives. Where accepting and following patterns can become more damaging though is if they affect our emotional lives as well as our physical lives.
Often, you’ll hear people remark about how they keep ending up in relationships with the same negative outcomes. Gradually, they lose their resilience when it comes to dealing with these situations. Their self-esteem drops, they begin to expect bad things to happen and eventually they find themselves entering into situations that can become self-fulfilling prophecies.
I remember seeing a great sign at a hospital reception desk one day, “We can’t control the things that happen but we can control our reaction to them”. Nobody can guarantee that upsetting things won’t occur in life but what you can work on is building your resilience to them and making sure that your life keeps moving forward. After all, we make worse decisions for ourselves when our self-esteem is low.
Negative patterns don’t have to involve relationships, they can be about anything that involves making a decision. Should you go for that night out instead of studying or preparing for a job interview? Should you pick up the phone to order that pizza when you’re feeling down about your weight? Should you hold onto that grudge when the other person forgot all about things years ago?
Your brain is like any other part of your body though; through the right exercises it can be improved. We’ve all seen images of people going from skinny to muscular, from overweight to svelte. If it’s possible for our bodies to make those changes then it’s also possible for our brain to learn and implement new approaches to life.
How does that happen? Well, in much the same way as physical changes come about. From being prepared to look at what isn’t working for you and to change it for other behaviours. Identifying negatives can sound daunting – like some kind of punishment or judgment – but it’s not, it’s the first step. Once you know what’s wrong, you can set about fixing it.
Sometimes people try to cling on to even the bad things in their life. Phrases like, “But I’ve always done things this way”, “This is just the way I am”, “Why should I change?” …all of these are common. The thing is, we all have our own quirks, traits and mannerisms (and thank goodness for that!) but unhappiness isn’t a trait.
You’re entitled to try to be happy and to do something about it. By breaking a routine you actually change how your brain processes things. You’re effectively re-training yourself to think more positively. Through repetition, you can create a new ‘default setting’ for your mind, helping you to cope with things and move forward.
Remember learning to write or to drive? It was a step by step process, which you repeated until it became automatic. Learning to give yourself the best chance of happiness is the same.
Photo by Jesse Freeman used under Creative Commons License.