For the third day in a row, I notice that it’s 2 a.m., and I’m still working. There have been no breaks for exercise or time outside. While it may look as though I’ve adopted a certain pattern of behavior, what actually is happening is that I’ve defaulted into a pattern of Being.
I have an always-on, forever-desire for freedom. As such, my pattern is to store up weeks of work, then tackle it in a single night. An unstable childhood taught me how to gather everything important to me in a vice grip to manage for my survival. This instinct still comes up when I’m scared, and nothing scares me more than a threat to my freedom. Once activated, it triggers a series of unhealthy behaviors, such as eating weird, sleeping weird, and getting annoyed with my kids asking for – How dare they? – dinner.
In order to break this pattern of being – or any pattern – you need to start by noticing the internal machinery. Think about what it feels like in your body when you’re behaving in the ways that activate this state of being? What feelings start the patterned behaviors in motion? How is this different from when you are out of that pattern and more at ease?
When I have this much work to do, it’s like walls closing in on my freedom. It feels as though the work in front of me extends past my line of sight, and like a trapped animal, I just start digging my way out. In this state I have no clear thoughts, no perspective, and no care for my well-being. It feels like a fire in my solar plexus, a rushing in my heart, even a slight headache, as though I am trying to pour my brain into a single point on my forehead.
But when I don’t have deadlines or piles of work infringing upon my freedom, I feel a sense of ease and relaxation. I can do what feels like the next right thing. There’s a spontaneity throughout the day in my movements, both physically and emotionally. I can breathe.
Components of a Pattern
Internal Momentum: The physical sensations that arise when one enters a pattern of being are the indicators of the internal momentum that propels your pattern. These big forces can include your values, your traumas, your coping strategies, and all the emotions surrounding these. To break the pattern, you must have respect for these forces.
I have an internal momentum for control of my time, my energy – my freedom. This momentum is a beautiful and positive thing in my life that enables me to condense many weeks of work into a single night. I can and will do anything in the name of freedom.
Internal Habits: Internal habits are less powerful and less noticeable components of our patterns of being. They are often very easy to change but difficult to identify. They are the thought patterns that our internal momentum sets into motion.
Let’s say that I manage to dig myself out of the work hole after a couple of rounds of burning the midnight oil. But because of my lack of perspective and brain state of being a mindless robot to my internal momentum, I don’t notice that I could chill out today. The internal momentum keeps my work gears turning. I finish one task and without considering my energy level, my hunger level, my desires, or anything else, I jump to the next thing on the list.
External Support: We collect scaffolding for our patterns. We gather tools, people, and corresponding circumstances that will support us in continuing to do things in the way we are used to doing them.
For example, I work in my bedroom. This is very good for comfy workdays, but it’s also very good for 2 a.m. work sessions.
Undoing the Pattern
Consider what aspects of your life reinforce this pattern in your life. Can you remove them or temporarily change them? Let’s revisit the components and see what that might look like.
Internal Momentum: To break the patterns of your internal momentum you may have some deeper work to do. Uncovering your values or integrating trauma may be a big part of interrupting your momentum. Honor your feelings. If you know what is important to you, protect it. If you know what scares you, comfort yourself.
I can ensure that I have an unscheduled day every week. I can sit with my feeling of fear and meet it with compassion, rather than putting it to work.
Internal Habits: The best thing you can do to break up internal habits is to have a mindful practice. Take time every day to stop the gears. Notice your thinking and update your perspectives. Please note that your success here may be short-lived if you do not address the underlying emotional patterns mentioned above. Your trauma and values often have the power to overrule you.
When I am seeking to shift my internal habits, I give myself time to meditate and sit in nature. When I am still, I can see how the pattern has taken hold of me. So, I make a new choice. This frees me from the momentum of it, and my energy returns back to me to use in a way that preserves my wellbeing.
External Support: Consider what scaffolds you have in place that are supporting your current pattern of being and corresponding behaviors. Are there things you can do to dislodge them? When I am shifting out of manic work mode, I leave my laptop in the living room before I start my bedtime routine.
Creating a New Pattern
Consider what it is that you do want to be habitual. Is there a way you wish your pattern of being to be? Take these steps to reconfigure your way of being.
Step 1. Name it. “I have a great sleep schedule! And I never overwork myself.”
Step 2. Take one minute. (Time it.) Think about how the new way of being would feel. Then allow yourself to feel it. Enjoy it. Breathe it in. “I would feel freedom, peace, fun, love, joy, accomplished.”
Step 3: Believe. Consider how possible this is. Gather belief. Gather evidence. “This is possible because I love myself because I have a team who cares about my wellbeing, because I am in charge of my schedule, because I can be so much more efficient with my time during the day, because I’ve been able to do this many times in my life.”
Step 4: Put your support systems in place. For me, this looks like:
Scheduling my downtime.
Having a goodnight agreement with my sweetie.
Turning off notifications and social during my work time.