Shifting Stuck Patterns

Chris Johnstone's excellent book Find Your Power: Boost Your Inner Strengths, Break Through Blocks and Achieve Inspired Action describes how to develop personal power - the ability to move in the direction you want to go. One key issue he addresses is how we can shift our stuck patterns - those habitual ways of thinking and acting that give us those "here I am again!" moments.

Chris suggests that every stuck pattern has 3 types of causes:

  • Predisposing causes: which are those factors which predispose us to behave in particular ways, such as our genetics, family upbringing and cultural context.

  • Precipitating causes: which trigger the pattern in the moment.

  • Perpetuating causes: which keep the pattern going by creating a reinforcing circle.

To successfully change you have to:

  • Change those predisposing causes of the stuck pattern that you can (eg if you know you tend to be more irritable when your blood sugar is low, ensure you eat regularly).

  • Identify the precipitating causes by noticing which events trigger strong emotional responses. Then get curious about the needs such responses might be attempting to meet and find different ways of meeting those needs.

  • If this doesn't work and you still find yourself getting caught by the old patterns, then you need to tackle the perpetuating factors, the loops that keep the behaviours going.

For example, perhaps I micromanage my staff because I don't trust them to do a good job. There are 2 loops in play here. The first is a short-term balancing loop in which each journey round the loop makes me feel more in control and so reduces my tension. So my micromanaging brings me immediate relief and reinforces my behaviour.

What I probably won't see is the second longer-term amplifying loop where, over time, each journey round the loop increases my tension. This is because, by micromanaging my staff, I prevent them from demonstrating their talents, and deny myself the opportunity to learn to trust them. My tension remains and so I keep micromanaging my staff.

One way to break the habit is to reframe the tension as something to be sought out - because when you're feeling the tension, you're not micromanaging!