How we perceive and experience the world around us is based on patterns. Many patterns in your world experience are out of our control, such as the planets orbiting the sun. You can’t change those patterns. Other patterns are automatic and unconscious repetitions of behavior that occur inside what you think of as your “self.” It’s those patterns that can turn into addictions. It’s also those patterns that can be changed.
When Patterns Turn Into Addictions
Some of your patterns are obvious, such as the daily routine you go through in the morning or the route you take when driving to work. Other patterns are based on stories that you may not even be aware you have. It is these stories that often drive patterns of compulsive behaviors. A step toward stopping addictive behavior is becoming aware of your patterns and uncovering the stories behind those patterns.
For example, Henry had a story he subconsciously believed about himself that he was lacking in some way or was not as “good” as others. This story was played out in scenarios of what is generally called low self-esteem. As a way to cope with these negative feelings, Henry turned to the “high” or “rush” he got while watching pornography.
Gradually, Henry became addicted to the feeling he had while watching porn. Consequently, he became locked in a pattern of behavior that repeated itself to the point where Henry believed he couldn’t stop. Once Henry became aware of the pattern and that it had turned into an addiction, and subsequently realized that he was not that story, he was then able to work on changing the pattern. From there, Henry took concrete steps towards breaking the stranglehold of his addiction.
Creating New and Healthier Patterns
1. Notice when you are in an addictive pattern based on a story you have about yourself. Consciously choose to break the pattern by refusing to engage in the addictive behavior and, instead, do something positive such as taking a bike ride, working out, or meditating.
2. Creating new and positive patterns takes attention, focus, and repetition. Repeating healthy patterns can lock them in place and help you supersede the negative patterns. One positive action is to visualize yourself doing the positive pattern rather than the negative one. Positive visualization has helped professional athletes achieve their goals.
3. Make small but steady changes in patterns. If you are acting out in a sexually compulsive way such as watching porn for hours, make a small change by setting a time limit and sticking to it. Then, day by day, reduce that time while at the same time work on increasing the time spent on positive patterns.
4. Give yourself positive rewards after making positive decisions. Positive reinforcement has been shown to be effective in behavioral changes. As you consciously decide to less time in negative patterns of addiction and more time in positive patterns, reward yourself with a favorite food, a hike, or listening to music.
5. Set up a reminder to help you remember to make a decision to engage in positive patterns rather than addictive behaviors. A post-it note on your computer can serve as a reminder. A rubber band around your cell phone could be a reminder.
You Are Not Your Patterns
Although you may believe that you are the habitual patterns that you’ve had all your life, they are not your true identity. In other words, the patterns are actions you take. They are not who you are. Most people allow their patterns to become unconscious automatic reactions which can take the form of coping with uncomfortable emotions. For example, sexually compulsive behaviors are typically coping actions.
A step to stopping such compulsive behaviors is to be continuously alert to the choices you make. Notice when you are in the well-worn groove of a negative pattern. Consciously choose to step out of the negative groove and begin to form a new and positive pattern that results in a healthier lifestyle and a happier you.