You’re smart. You’re capable. You pride yourself on doing a good job with your work and all your other responsibilities but you’re also stressed out and not coping with it very well.
With everything else, you can accomplish a lot but you’ve tried to cope with your stress and nothing changes, which is super frustrating and makes you feel anxious sometimes and depressed sometimes.
The truth is you feel completely stuck.
You want to change, you know you need to make something happen because life should be better, but you can’t, you don’t know how. And it’s taking a toll, you’re down on yourself and struggling inside.
Here’s some really good news:
- It’s not your fault you feel stuck.
- Getting unstuck is simple.
First, let’s focus on why life can feel like being stuck on a hamster wheel of stress: because our brains are wired to find and follow patterns. For example, it’s likely you have the same morning routine every day.
Here’s mine: wake-up, stretch in bed, make the bed, pee, weigh myself, use my tongue scraper, brush my teeth and hair, drink 24 oz of room temperature water, then (finally) coffee.
This is a strong pattern in my life and it generally happens no matter where I am or what’s going on.
And we all have these types of patterns in our lives.
In addition to our daily routines, there are patterns in the way we use our bodies like the way we sit, stand, walk, get in and out of bed, get dressed, get exercise, or not.
All habits like drinking coffee every morning, biting your nails, picking up your phone at red lights, eating fast, procrastinating, taking vitamins, and even worrying are patterns in our lives.
We also have well-established patterns in the way we think, like our political views, our likes, and dislikes, being indecisive or jumping to conclusions, seeing the glass as half-full or half-empty.
Just about anything we do over and over again becomes automatic in our brain, something we don’t even think about, we just do, and it’s super easy to be swept up in our patterns: our routines, habits, attitudes, and beliefs, and forget that we have a choice about all of it.
Here’s a way to think about how patterns are established in your brain and therefore your life.
Imagine a herd of deer that sleeps on one side of a forest every night and eat wildflowers in a field on the other side of the forest every day.
They have to walk through the forest to get to the field of wildflowers and back, twice a day.
The first time, they had to make sure they were going in the right direction and figure out any obstacles they came across, but after using the same route for a while, a well-established path was created.
Once their path was established, the deer didn’t have to think about which direction to walk through the forest, they just followed the path and automatically end up where they wanted to be.
This is exactly how patterns are established in our brains. When we do or think the same thing repeatedly, the neural connections strengthen and a well-established path is created.
This type of pattern makes life easier because you don’t have to relearn how to do everything every day, like your morning routine, knowing how to drive, and understanding how to interact with others.
But we also can have well-established patterns in our brains and lives that are, let’s just say, less helpful.
Some examples might be slouching over your phone, being impatient, judging yourself or others based on appearance, not sharing your feelings, jumping to conclusions, and believing that stress is bad for you.
Like any pattern, these are reinforced by repetition and can become automatic and even unconscious.
And because strong patterns, whether helpful or not, are easier to follow because our brains are wired to follow them, we can end up feeling stuck and unable to change things we’ve been repeating in our lives.
Despite how it feels, your thoughts, behaviors and therefore experiences are not out of your control, but the reason you feel stuck is because it feels like they are.
If you’re intentional about your routines, habits, attitudes, and beliefs, you can change patterns in your life that are not working for you and even shape your experience to be what you want.
This sounds great, but let’s be real, getting unstuck from well-established patterns in your life isn’t easy because, as I already mentioned, our brains are wired to follow our patterns.
So how do you start to get unstuck so that you can be more intentional about the patterns in your life that aren’t working for you? First, know that feeling stuck is a sign that something needs to change.
But you knew that already. ❤️
Let’s go back to the herd of deer and imagine a wolf has found their trail. (If you’re dealing with the vicious cycle of chronic stress, you may experience a frequent sense of dread, like a wolf is on your trail.)
The deer have been using their well-established path to get from one side of the forest to the other for a while so it’s become their automatic pattern, they don’t think about it at all.
But then the herd is confronted with a wolf.
They are able to run fast enough to escape the wolf so they keep using their same path, but it has become very stressful because they’re living in survival mode and can’t relax.
At some point, they realize that fearing the wolf and being in survival mode is wearing them down and negatively impacting their health and wellbeing.
They acknowledge they need to make a change. (Like you, these deer are very smart.)
Which brings us to the 2 steps to getting unstuck from a pattern that’s not serving you:
- Be aware of the need for change.
This may seem obvious, but you might be surprised by how many people struggle their entire lives without acknowledging the need for change! Because you’re reading this, it’s likely you’ve already completed this incredibly important step. Please give yourself credit for this, it’s not a small thing, and I’m really proud of you.
- Recognize opportunities to choose intentionally.
Think about it this way, when the deer set out to cross the forest, they must recognize that even though taking the well-established path is what comes automatically, they can consciously choose to take a different way. And you too have the opportunity to deliberately choose to do things differently at any time.
At first, it may be hard for the deer to take a different way because they have to go against a strong pattern in their brains, but after making a choice to create a new path and consciously choosing this route repeatedly, the new way becomes a well-established path and the old path goes away.
This happens in your brain too. Recognizing opportunities and choosing a different way of doing or thinking can be practiced in simple ways to build your ability to change patterns that aren’t serving you.
There are dozens of ways to do this in your daily routine. Here are some ideas:
- Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand.
- Put your pants on with the unfamiliar leg first.
- Cross your legs the opposite way.
- Carry your bag on the other arm.
- Take a different route to the grocery store, or go to a different one.
- Consider another perspective when something frustrates you.
- Give a seemingly obnoxious driver the benefit of the doubt.
You get the idea. Practice getting off autopilot because this is the #1 reason you’re stuck.
And knowing how to get unstuck paves the way for you to transform patterns that aren’t serving you into catalysts for massive personal growth. I share the surprisingly simple 3-step method for this in my free webinar.
Let me know how you start to practice getting off autopilot in your life or ask any questions you might have in the comments below.
It’s an honor to support you.