People talk about habits a lot; especially moving toward a new year. Habits, goals, and renewal in general. We hear less about patterns. Yet, working with people over years, and being a journaler with an over-abundance of self-reflection, I notice patterns in life.
Some patterns serve us well.
Many patterns are unhealthy or self-defeating.
Let’s start with a definition. Pattern of life (POL) or behavior pattern describes a recurrent (e.g., normalcy) way of acting by an individual or group toward a given object or in a given situation.
On a simple level, most of the world has a pattern of setting new year’s resolutions and before the month of January ends, abandons them.
On a more complicated level is a person who consistently gets into relationships that are unhealthy, or more specifically, turns every relationship they enter into a co-dependent relationship. In this example, the person moves towards co-dependent behaviors because it is what they know. On some level, it works for them….until it doesn’t, and things turn bad.
An unhealthy pattern I have is to move toward “couch potato”. I didn’t exercise at all until about 8 years ago. Even now, I know that if I miss a few workouts, it is more likely for me to naturally return to “the couch”.
Cultivating Healthy Patterns In Life
All patterns are not unhealthy though. We also have healthy patterns in life. And, I believe we can cultivate healthy living patterns if we are intentional about it.
One of my healthy patterns is intentionally planning and setting goals. I am an ENFP Myer’s Briggs type. We are not known for structure or maintaining routines. However, I have always had a bent toward purpose and productivity. Creating goals and plans provides a direction and the purpose I seek.
The reason I say it is a pattern is two-fold: 1.) I proactively look to create goals and plans every year to start the new year, and I DO stay focused on them and track them all year. 2.) When things go crazy i.e. a worldwide pandemic, a stock market crash, an economic shift, I immediately move toward planning and goal setting through the turbulence. It may be a need for control in some way, which may not be the healthy part, but I do always seek the Lord throughout the process. I have learned through my Christian walk, that I am not the one in control. Thankfully, we have a Savior who is.
How To Identify Unhealthy Patterns In Life
The number one best way to see unhealthy patterns in our life is to keep a journal. I have written a lot about journaling and I do most of my journaling to God. It keeps the Lord forefront in my life and, if you think about it, a God focus will more likely move us towards healthy.
I can tell through my journaling if I am obsessing about something. Usually, the aha moment comes when I write….
Lord, I know you are sick of hearing about this. I am sick of me, so you must be too.
That is always a sign that I have moved back into an unhealthy and unwanted pattern.
I also tend to review my journals every few months. I may look back at the last few months. I may look at old journals from prior years. If you are seeing a repeat in issues or places you do not want to be in life, this may be evidence of an unhealthy pattern.
[If you aren’t a person who journals, try bullet journaling. It is painless even for those who don’t like to write.]
How Do We Change an Unhealthy Pattern?
Much research will point to systematic habit changes in order to change our patterns in life. I have a slight variation to just sheer, disciplined habit changes. I believe it is important to identify core motivations and/or match our personalities when replacing unhealthy patterns with healthy patterns. If we go with brute discipline, when we are at our weakest, our discipline may fail, and we will return to the unhealthy pattern.
If we can refocus our unhealthy patterns on healthy ones that match us, our chances of sustaining them are much greater. They become true patterns in our life.
One of mine is the exercise example. Even though it hasn’t been my easiest shift in life, I have consistently worked-out for the past 8 years. How, when I didn’t for 48 years? Here is a step by step of how this change occurred.
- Identify the Unhealthy Pattern. Constantly journaling about back pain, knee pain, and lack of energy. Watching my mother barely able to stand up and requiring a walker in her early 70’s. I have to try something different than temporary fixes of pain relievers, coffee, and physical therapy. I need to move. I need exercise.
- Match change to my personality and/or core motivations. We have joined every gym in town and paid for years without ever going. I knew if I was ever going to sustain any type of work-out I needed to have personal help and accountability. I don’t like to let people down. (Again, an ENFP) If someone is expecting me at a certain time, I will show up. I joined a gym with a personal one-on-one training program. Soon my husband found us a boutique gym with small training classes. A group of people expecting me to show up, including my husband, has made all of the difference.
- Be Consistent. Without a consistent approach to new patterns, it is inevitable that we return to old patterns. We can’t just get a jump start and sustain it on our own if we have an unhealthy counter-pattern in life. That is why new year’s resolutions don’t work. I had to commit to a schedule of workout classes that have a trainer, and a consistent group of people that I know are expecting me.
- Measure. I am a tracker. I track my goals, track key indicators in my business, and track my health. By tracking my workouts (automatically with an app) I see the progress. Yes, you would think that the lack of joint pain and a significant boost in energy would be motivation and results enough, but consistent tracking keeps it top of mind and keeps me focused on my movement goals.
- Notice Triggers. We all have triggers that can move us back towards unhealthy patterns. My triggers are injuries or poor eating. Injuries are obvious. It is hard to work out with an injury. But, if I stop moving all together it could be years before I start back. I have tried to continue working out around injuries, even if it meant modifying almost every exercise in the class. I still showed up. Another trigger that stops my movement is poor nutrition. Holidays are a significant trigger. It is hard to want to work out when you are offsetting all of your hard work with poor eating. Yes, the easy answer is to just work on your eating patterns, but in general, mine are decent. When I get off track eating, I no longer associate it with moving. This is where it helps to have accountability from my spouse, the workout group, and the trainers.
- Maintain. Again, for me creating healthy patterns that match my core motivations and personality makes maintenance a no-brainer. Because working out is now a “healthy pattern”, I am pulled towards it. It doesn’t require sheer discipline. I am uncomfortable when I miss.
- Pray. And I still journal to God, pray for Him to keep me moving, and commit to doing all I can to maintain my mobility and health.
I think the two keys are to find solutions that match you individually and commit to consistency. Without both of these, it is difficult to change.
My challenge to you if you want to start to change unhealthy patterns in your life are:
- Start a journal in the new year to begin to identify unhealthy patterns in your life.
- Choose a simple healthy pattern, that you know will serve you, to practice the above steps and get an easy win.
Happy new year and healthy life patterns.