Why Do the Same Things Happen Over and Over?
It’s a lament I hear often:
“Why do the same things keep happening? Why do I get in the same horrible relationships? Why do I pick the wrong jobs, wrong people, wrong everything? Why does everything always go wrong for me?!”
It’s easy to say something back like . . .
“You simply make the wrong choices.”
Does that usually help? No! It rarely helps at all. It just adds to the sense of helplessness and victimization. It feels like blame. People don’t usually willingly and consciously create and recreate the same bad situations over and over, but clearly they have some role in making it happen.
Here’s a truth that if really thought about and believed, can help you start to make some headway in a different direction.
We get the same situations, same problems, and same challenges over and over until we master them.
If you shoot a free throw and keep throwing it just slightly to the left or right, it will hit the rim and come back at you every time. It’s not until you throw it at just the right height and angle that it goes in, and when you really master it, it not only doesn’t come back, but it’s all net. Swoosh!
Until we actually grapple with something that keeps coming up, and we work it through and master it, it will keep cropping up. It’s like groundhog day.
So if that’s the case, then there is only one real way to change directions and that is to face the problem, define it, and do something different then you’ve been doing.
Here’s my best list of things that can help you master negative patterns.
Step #1: Identify the pattern.
What is the pattern that is being repeated? If you know how it started and find that helpful in making a change, that’s fine, but it’s not necessary.
What’s more important is to assess your part in perpetuating the pattern. What do you contribute to keep it coming, and how attached are you to it?
It may seem strange to think you are attached to a negative pattern that you really don’t like or that causes you pain, but it happens all the time. Don’t be put off by that. Just look at and really assess what part you play.
Step #2: Ask yourself what you gain by staying where you are.
Bad patterns are familiar. They can become comfort zones because we know them and they are home to us.
It’s much easier to fall into what we know then gather the energy to make a change that is unfamiliar and requires sustained effort. Our subconscious mind, the neural paths we’ve created in our brains, and all of our emotional associations with an established pattern work to keep us there.
If you’ve ever talked to someone who quit smoking, they will tell you that after the physical withdrawal was over (3 days), they had to break every association they had with smoking a cigarette. That was the hard part, and it takes time. You have to stick it out with a bit of faith that when you accomplish the change, you will be happier for it.
One of my favorite metaphors for this kind of process comes from Jack Canfield. He says that you can drive a car all the way from Florida to California in the fog, as long as you can see 10 yards in front of you. It’s the same with this kind of change.
Step #3: Make a decision to try a different path and map it out.
It’s fairly easy to make a decision, particularly when you feel energized and hopeful that things can be different. The hard part is implementing it, and this takes more effort.
In order to be successful, you have to set a goal, and then a series of smaller goals that will lead you to your major goal. Then you need to list what behaviors you will be changing, and in what order, and when. This may mean writing out a list of tasks that you put on your calendar, or maybe just some small successive behavior changes you implement daily or weekly. Either way, you have to be specific and give yourself a timeline.
Step #4: Ask for help.
Help comes in many forms. Depending on what pattern you want to change, you may look for books you can read, or programs you can enroll in, or courses you can take to help you reach your goals. If the problem feels more psychological in nature, then counseling or therapy might help you figure out the right way to proceed. Maybe a mentor would be the right choice.
The idea is to use everything at your disposal to help you set goals for change, and create and complete the right steps to succeed. People get very fired up when they start a new direction, and then when the novelty wears off they let it go and retreat back to old patterns. This is why lotto winners go broke. If they are used to being poor, they find their way back to that and stay there.
Step #5: Check your beliefs about yourself.
This one is probably the most important one. There are always underlying beliefs that keep us where we are.
“I’m not smart enough, lucky enough, capable enough, rich enough, educated enough, pretty enough, healthy enough. I’m simply not enough.”
Another common train of thought is . . .
“I’m too tired, too old, too beaten down, too depressed, too overwhelmed, too busy. I can’t.”
Instead of these beliefs, try to use these affirmations in their place and say them to yourself daily.
“I’m not a victim unless I think I am.”
This doesn’t mean that you may not have been victimized by someone or by a situation, but it means that your willingness to take on the continued role of victim will perpetuate a repetition of similar circumstances and situations. Decide that you don’t want to be a victim and take charge of what happens from here on.
“I have what it takes to work through any problem.”
You are the only one who has what it takes to master your problem. No one can do it for you. You are also unique and have your own unique talents, approaches, and creativity to accomplish what you want.
“I do have choices, and ultimately I can decide what’s best for me.”
Not making choices is a choice. It’s a choice to stay put. As adults, no one else is responsible for how our lives pan out. Regardless of your history, once you hit 18, you are in charge. You take charge of life, or it takes charge of you. You decide.
Step #6: Set up checkpoints that make you accountable.
Accountability is really important when it comes to making changes. Some people like to go public and shout out what they are going to do. This certainly can hold you accountable, but it can also dilute your intention and drive because you have to deal with everyone else’s doubts, advice, and commentaries.
I suggest not going public in a big way. You may have one person you can select to report to about your progress that has your best interest at heart, and is someone you can rely on to help you stay with your resolution. That usually works better.
You should also have a system of review on a weekly basis so you can track your success. It will give you a chance to tweak things if you see you need to change your direction or add something new to the plan.
The hard part of any change is the sustained effort and it’s good to be ready for that ahead of time so you have a plan in place when you feel pulled back toward your default pattern.
Step 7#: Write it!
I’ve mentioned this already, but it really is helpful to see exactly what you’re doing on paper (or computer!). Write out what you’re changing, what your goal is, what you’re steps are to meet the goal, and what the actual tasks are. Put them on a calendar. Review them daily. You might also like journaling about your progress as you go. That will give you a chance to delve into your emotional reactions to what you’re trying to accomplish.
As always, please please please share with us your thoughts and experiences on this subject. It’s always amazing how many little tricks and ideas people have come up with that are so helpful. Let’s hear em!