Sometimes we become stuck in unproductive patterns: action patterns, thought patterns, patterns of relationships. Although these do not bring us closer to our goals, they have been overlearned and thus take on a life of their own as habits. Very often, today’s unproductive pattern is one that was useful at an earlier phase of life. If I grew up in an emotionally volatile household as a child, I may have learned ways of avoiding conflict. That could have helped me maintain stability. Now, as an adult, that same conflict avoidance may create problems in a developing romantic relationship.
There is always a three-step process to changing our patterns:
1) Becoming aware of those patterns and their consequences – We generally don’t sustain change efforts unless we are emotionally connected to the costs of our patterns. Without that emotional connection, it is too easy to relapse into familiar routines.
2) Making conscious efforts to modify the patterns – Change, initially, does not come automatically. We are always unlearning one habit pattern and cultivating a new, positive one. Research suggests that we are most likely to achieve and sustain change if we work on our patterns on a very regular basis.
3) Rehearsing new patterns until they become new habits – In general, it’s not too difficult to initiate change. The challenge is sustaining change long enough to create constructive habit patterns. Without efforts to sustain and consolidate initial changes, we again fall prey to relapse.
I was recently interviewed for an interesting article on the SciTech Now site. The topic was the use of apps and online counseling/therapy for helping people make changes. There is no question that apps and online interactions can be useful in a self-help context. When it comes to changing ingrained patterns, however, the efficacy of online tools is less clear.
Research into psychotherapy process and outcome suggests that the quality of the helping relationship is the number one predictor of positive change. We are more likely to achieve change if we can internalize something positive in a good working relationship. Indeed, any form of counseling or coaching can be thought of as a leveraging of a caring relationship to achieve desired ends. That relationship not only helps a person see their patterns and their costs in a more objective way. It also creates a platform for sustaining the motivation to sustain and internalize change.
It’s not always necessary to enter a therapeutic relationship to achieve life changes. Think of parenting. Think of personal trainers. Think of mentors in career settings. The right relationships are positive vehicles for change. One of the best change strategies is to connect with someone who wants the best for you and make change efforts a shared project. Some of the best therapy occurs in loving relationships.
Further Reading: Creating the Right Life Mirrors