Lasting Change, Step 3: The Power of Patterns

“Changes begets change as much as repetition begets repetition.”

(Bill Drayton)

Mini Review Ok! Look at you! You listened to all three brains and started to understand all the ways you feel about the change you want to make in Step One. Then you used that information to do excellent preparation. That helped you clear away at least most of the obstacles so that doing the new thing is easier in Step Two. Now you’re ready for change, right?

Sort of.

Oh, come ON, Tiffany! Get me across the finish line for crying out loud!!

Patience friend. Do you want this change to last? Take your time and do it well.

New Step, New Strategy All of that great work in Steps One and Two will get you started, but they won’t keep you going. All of that enthusiasm you felt in the beginning will be like that crush you had in 5th grade. There was a time when you couldn’t even imagine not breathing the same air as that person!

And then they became your Lab Partner! And you found out that they had terrible breath, and only did their part of the project when you threatened them.

It took work to keep chipping away at the project. You weren’t sure if it was worth it. You really wished that your grade wasn’t dependent on this kid. But it was.

So you kept going.

Welcome to Step Three, friend!

Novelty v. Patterns The human body has an overriding agenda: To keep you alive. It acts sort of like a neurotic dog, constantly on alert, darting back and forth in front of you, always trying to find the next threat. It is convinced there’s a threat out there, and it will find it!

This is exhausting. Exhaustion can kill you too, so the neurotic dog within has to put that threat down as well. The usual method is to identify as many patterns as possible so that it can stop paying attention to that particular issue. It creates some “set it and forget it” items to give it more energy for the less predictable threats.

Neural Paths Neural paths are like the computer algorithms the body lives by. It does a thing more than once and tells itself, “AHA! I have a PATTERN going!” The more often you fall into the pattern, the deeper the neural path gets. Now the brain seeks out the familiar path. That particular chain of events becomes an increasingly irresistible path of least resistance. (See why making that path easy in Step Two was so important?)

These patterns are terrible for learning new things. The brain doesn’t learn by repetition; It learns in novelty. You have to shake it up and confuse it a little if you want your brain to learn something new. Yes, that does mean that all that time you spent doing the same kinds of problems over and over again when you had homework as a kid was an absolute waste of time. The only thing you learned is that homework is the creation of some sick sadist who wanted kids to suffer.

It also means that the hours and hours I spent practicing hard passages of music redundantly in the first 20 years of my life only taught me how to make the same mistake each and every time. But hey, if I had known then that shifting to something completely different and then coming back to the music would have made me a much better musician, I might have never changed directions and become a therapist and you wouldn’t be reading this right now. So, enh. Tradeoffs.

Creating the New Pattern Now that you have created the new behavior, it’s time to use that neurotic dog within to fold the change into a new lifestyle. For our hero, Person “A”, (or “A” as we affectionately refer to them,) that means “doing the thing we do” again and again, even if they do it poorly. Establishing the pattern of rolling out of bed at least twice a week before they are awake enough to notice that they don’t want to, is moving “A” right into the heart of their desired change. The clothes are right there, ready to go, and the electrolyte water is waiting for them in the fridge. They really want to know what happens next on their junky tv show too! So they do it.

And then they do it again.

The third time their work out is ridiculously terrible. But you know what? The simple act of getting up and doing it is a victory! In fact, they aren’t very happy with how Wednesday’s workout went, so pride and momentum pushed them to do it an extra time in week two. The pattern is taking root!

After about 4-6 weeks of this pattern getting traction, “A” now has a new neural path established that gets them up and moving in the mornings.

While the status quo body loves boring patterns, the curious brain does not. The very tedium that the new neural path is creating prompts the brain to seek some exciting novelty! “A” starts to vary the workout, try different intensities, push to do more, harder, better.

Ironically, This is Where the Donuts Come In I promised you donuts when this series first began. I swear to you… next time, there will be donuts. Übersweet “health rings,” (I never said it was good health,) are about to usher you into the 4th and final stage of lasting change! Stay tuned, and go cut some good neural paths!

Would you like some help creating lasting change in your life?

Contact Tiffany today and let’s make a plan!