How Do I Change A Thought Or Behaviour Pattern?

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July is pattern month here at SCB. Check out the intro post here. You can view all the posts here.

So, you’ve noticed a pattern you want to change, acknowledged and sat with your feelings, now want to make some changes. Awesome! Let’s go.

The methodology of changing things is going to be different depending on what the pattern is, where it came from, what needs changing etc. But here are some ideas, examples, and tips for making slow, sustainable changes.

  1. Decide what you want to do instead
    You know what you don’t want to do, what would you rather do instead? Setting an alternative to your pattern will make it easier to focus on making that happen. It could be that you’re not sure, and there’s a couple of different things you want to try. This is fine, define all of them, and then see which one fits.

    For example: if you want to speak up calmly and set boundaries, writing those out can help you remember them in times of stress and anxiety.
  1. Set yourself up for success
    If the pattern happens in a certain place, or time, or repeated experience, try to set yourself up to be in the best position to break that pattern. This might be making sure you have support from people around you, trying to give yourself more time and space to approach the instigating event, or maybe even removing yourself from people or a place for a while.

    For example: if your pattern is around drinking alcohol, you may restrict drinking to times or places where you feel more in control.
  1. You deserve to change these things
    If something you’re doing or a habit you’re stuck into is making you feel bad, or leading to negative outcomes, you deserve to change those things. It might be really difficult, and maybe people around you would rather you went along as you always did, but trust that you deserve to do this work for yourself. Focus on that.
  2. You may fail
    Changing things is really hard. Accept that failure is an option, and plan how you’ll get back on track. Accepting that you will most likely fail, and planning for that will reduce the possibility of you giving up the first time you falter. Resilience is your ability to recover from something. Planning on recovery and getting back on track after a wobble is part of resilience.
  3. Practice compassion
    Berating yourself when you fail or stumble will only add to feelings of anger or shame. Instead, be compassionate towards yourself. Be aware of why you wobbled, look for any patterns or pitfalls you weren’t aware of before, and be curious about the reasons. Be kind but firm with yourself. You failed, but that’s fine, because it was part of the plan (see 4. Above), so now, it’s time to take a break, re-evaluate and then continue, either the same as before or changing to incorporate the new information.
  4. Check in with yourself regularly
    Make sure you’re doing okay regularly. How’re you feeling? Are you noticing any changes in your mood or emotions or how you feel physically as a result of the changes you’re making? Keeping an eye on yourself is really important all the time, but especially when you’re making changes to yourself.
  5. Celebrate your wins
    Make sure to celebrate your wins. Handle a situation differently/better? Celebrate it, note it down. This will make it easier to see your hard work paying off, making the change easier to keep up. It will also give you a bit of a payoff. Doing a change in behaviour or thought patterns don’t necessarily have an end. You don’t reach a goal and then you’re done. It’s part of a longer term change, which means celebrating wins as you go can give you that sense of achievement you would normally get from a completed goal.

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