4 Steps to Break Patterns Undermining Your Success and Happiness

by Tom Koulopoulos

4 Steps to Break Patterns Undermining Your Success and Happiness

Being aware of what you’re doing wrong isn’t enough to change. These four steps are…

We’re all works in progress, trying to grow and change. But there’s no way around it, we carry with us good habits and bad ones. Often those bad habits are pretty well entrenched; not likely to be dislodged by even a direct nuclear hit.

Many times you may not even be aware of the behavior patterns that limit you and undermine your best intentions. Your heart is in the right place but a lifetime of habits conspires against you to obscure the path toward personal and professional growth.

As a leader you have two primary obligations to yourself. First, be aware of the habits that undermine your success. Second, and this is the tough one, do something about them. If you want to inspire others to be aware and grow, you’ve got to take the lead.

Having coached hundreds of seasoned professionals, I know from the standpoint of objective observer how tough this can be. But in full disclosure, I’m not immune from the same phenomenon. I’ve let my own bad habits stand in my way on many occasions. Sometimes the consequences have been trivial, perhaps a simple misunderstanding. Other times, however, my inability to both see and take action to change my behaviors has had devastating effects on me professionally and personally.

“Nothing says Groundhog Day like the consistency with which we fall back into old modes of doing things — if we don’t get slapped broadside across the face to change.”

It’s in these moments of crisis that we have a very simple and clear choice to make. Change the behavior or repeat it. We’d like to believe that just by becoming aware, we change. We don’t. Change requires awareness, conscious discipline, compassion (toward ourselves), and a plan of action. If any of those are missing, you can expect to revisit the crisis over and over. Nothing says Groundhog Day like the consistency with which we will fall back into old modes of doing things — if we don’t get slapped broadside across the face to change.

The fact is that a crisis can be the best thing to come your way, because it gives you the chance to make that choice. You may not make it the first time, or even the second or third, but at some point you need to take accountability for shaping yourself into the person you know you can be, rather than simply being the person you’ve always been.

So, how do you take action? Here are four simple steps, for whenever you find yourself slipping back into an old pattern.

1. Stop being defensive.

Our natural instinct, whenever we are taken to task for our actions, is to push back. And why not? After all, we’ve spent decades perfecting our patterns of behavior. We own them. We are proud of ourselves and therefore must defend that pride. Stop being so black and white! Patterns are not binary. They can be modified and incrementally changed, but only if you open yourself up to the fact that they do exist and something needs to be done to change them.

2. Listen — no, really listen.

Once you open yourself up to criticism, internalize it. Think about why it’s happening. What are its triggers? When does it rear its ugly head? My own experience has been that I usually accept criticism with mostly open arms, even when it’s not delivered in the most tactful way. But I have a hell of a time listening to the details. I try so fast to correct the problem that I loose sight of the deeper issues, the details, without which change can never be accomplished.

3. Get an ally.

Many people tend to dismiss coaching; mostly because there are far too many coaches who can’t coach. Coaching is not about rah-rah-kumbaya! It’s about having someone who has compassion, will withhold judgment, and has your best interests at heart, but also has the ability to understand the bad behavior. If you’re going to be coached to be a world-class gymnast, you don’t get a golf pro to help, right? The same applies here; find someone who has been there, done that; who tells it like it is but also has true compassion and insight. In many ways you’re looking for the equivalent of what you’d be looking for in a solid relationship, namely somebody who will stick it out with you because they care about your growth and believe in your ability to grow.

4. Create a new pattern by practicing new behaviors.

Patterns of behavior evolve over many decades. They may start well before we have any adult recollection of their origins. I’ve noticed that many of the people I coach have had early life experiences that shaped them in dramatic ways. These aren’t always easily remembered but they leave an indelible imprint. Breaking that imprint takes conscious hard work and a definitive plan. A simple analogy is a couple who has hit hard times in their relationship. One or both have fallen into patterns of focusing on everything but the other person. The easiest way to break that pattern is to make a permanent “date night” on their schedules.” I’ve seen friends do this and turn around a marriage. Simple? You bet it is. But sticking to it is the tough part. The same applies to any behavior. When I coach people I keep them on task. I ask how they are performing against their own plan. Excuses often abound. But the excuse is really just an inner voice saying, “But I like the old pattern, it’s familiar!” Exactly.

These four steps sound easy on paper. But the challenge is that we are all human, and following a pattern is what we’re wired for. Psychologists tell us that it takes 30 days to establish a new habit. But it takes a lifetime to reinforce it.

I can guarantee you that even after you embrace these four steps, the same triggers will spur the same initial reactions in your mind; fight, defend, rage, flee, argue, detach, and many more than I could possibly list.

But here’s the good news, any one of those may be your first reaction, but they need not be your last! It’s your pattern; it’s your choice.

This article was originally published on Inc.

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Thomas KoulopoulosTom Koulopoulos is the author of 10 books and founder of the Delphi Group, a 25-year-old Boston-based think tank and a past Inc. 500 company that focuses on innovation and the future of business. He tweets from @tkspeaks.

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