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Pattern Interrupts: What Are They?

Can you relate to this? The day starts out fine. You had a good morning. Your meditation went well or you got to the next level on your workout. But then something happens. You’re on your way to work or to drop the kids at school when you encounter a car in front of you. And it’s driving under the speed limit. You’re not in a huge hurry, but you can’t get around it. You start to feel a tension. The longer you have to stay behind this slow person, the more tense you feel. It starts to throw you off your game. Something in the outside world is cutting into your good mood. Or should I say, you have allowed it to affect your mood.

This is when a pattern interrupt is most useful. What is a pattern interrupt? I’ll get to that in just a moment.

Have you heard the Native American tale about the two wolves? I’ve come across two versions of the story, one is told by a Cherokee grandfather and the other by a Navajo grandmother They both have the same message and it’s powerful.

The grandparent speaks to her grandchild:

I have a fight going on in me. It’s between two wolves. One wolf is coming from the negative side. He is angry, envious, sorrowful, regretful, greedy, arrogant, self-pitying, guilt-ridden, resentful, egotistical, and he feels inferior. The other embodies the positive aspects. He is filled with joy, happiness, love, hope, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, and compassion. These wolves are fighting to the death. And the same fight is inside you and everyone else too.

The granddaughter reflects on this for a moment. Then she looks up and asks, “Grandmother, which wolf will win?” The wise one simply says, “The one you feed.”

In other words, in which direction are your thoughts and emotions generally pointing? Negative or positive? The goal is not to stamp out the negative altogether but to direct your stream to mostly flow in the direction that you want. Which I’m assuming would be in the direction of love, joy, and happiness.

Enter the pattern interrupt or PI. A PI is anything that forces a change in a habitual pattern of thought or action. This is a technique that originates from neuro-linguistic programming or NLP. A PI can help you break out of unwanted or unconscious responses. You recognize the unwanted pattern, disrupt it, and substitute an alternative desired behavior.

You can use a PI for anything.

Do you have a habit of road rage? Are you judging other people who don’t share your views? Do you have negative self talk about your looks or abilities?

As soon as you notice that your thoughts are going down an unwanted path, try a pattern interrupt.

These first two work best if you are alone in your home or car:

Just yell, “Stop!” It's a little shocking. And it may even make you laugh at yourself. But it works.

With your hand, make a cutting-off gesture across your neck region while you say the word “cancel” in a firm voice. Or you can make a hissing noise with your mouth.

These sound simple, but trust me, they are potent. This next one is good for when you’re out in public:

Keep a rubber band on your wrist and snap it when you notice you’re starting down a negative thought pattern. It stings which helps reinforce the benefit of this PI. Alternatively (and my favorite PI), wear a silicone bracelet and snap that. You have to pull harder than a rubber band, but it works just as well. Bonus, it doesn’t cut off the circulation to your hand.

(See my video on pattern interrupts for more clarity.)

Use one of these techniques anytime you catch yourself in a negative pattern or mindset. Do this often enough and you will quickly see your habitual negative patterns start changing for the better.

Once you use the PI to interrupt the negative pattern, you will want to replace it with thoughts that are inline with who you really are. The more you do this, the greater momentum you will have to propel yourself forward on your path of life discovery. My next blog post will cover how to build your momentum.

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