Tired of the Same Old Everything? Break the Pattern.
How Africa helped me recover my life back home, and how you can redirect and refuel your life from anywhere.
“So this is what it’s like to be fully present,” I thought to myself, as I danced with two dozen kids vying for my attention under the hot Ugandan sun. They were the happiest little bunch. Something as simple as a high five, fist bump, or group hug could make them laugh with delight. We sang, played games, and ran around, as if it were the most normal thing in the world for me to be there, seven thousand miles from home. I felt my heart being stretched in the best possible way, and all of a sudden, I felt fully in place for the first time in a long time.
In place. Attentive. Present. Not over-analyzing the past, or trying to figure out the future.
It’s not that I didn’t want to be present back home. I have a good life, one worth being present for. It’s just that the pull on my thoughts was strong. And that pull consistently took me forward or backward, rarely deeper into the moment.
The reality is that most of us play the same thoughts on repeat day after day. According to the National Science Foundation, as many as 95% of our thoughts are repetitive, which means our thought patterns are strong, and getting stronger, and they occupy — by far — the largest portion of our mental landscape.
I needed something to break the pattern and pull me into a new way of being, and Africa delivered.
There’s something powerful about intentionally stepping outside your routine. By interrupting the pattern, you create space for something new. It allows you to get a fresh perspective, and to challenge some of the thoughts you’ve been playing on repeat.
For me, this included learning to see my past failures and disappointments in a different light. I had been judging myself for not being able to wrangle the results I wanted out of a job I held for years. I knew, intellectually, that I had produced results for those who employed me, but because I didn’t get the things I wanted out of it, it felt like a failure.
A dear friend shared this analogy with me: We like to approach life like we’re in the swimming pool business, meaning we think we can control the water, and carefully balance the environment. In reality, we’re more like surfers. The water will be what it will be, and our job is to learn to balance ourselves.
He told me I was too hard on myself, and that no one else expected me to control the wave. They were just impressed that I stayed on my feet. They assigned no judgment to where the wave took me. Only I did.
And I could let go of the story of “failure,” if I wanted to.
Step one is simply gaining awareness of the pattern. If we unconsciously repeat our patterns day after day without realizing it, it’s not likely that anything will change. If we tell the same stories over and over without ever questioning them, it’s not likely that we’re going to feel better.
As a coach, I often find that my first role with a new client is to help them articulate what they think and feel because it has all been so tangled in their head and heart that they’ve been in a fog. Those thoughts are playing on loop just below the surface, without ever quite breaking into full consciousness.
Awareness of the pattern provides an opportunity to change the pattern. When we can draw our thoughts into the light, we can do something about them.
Please hear me: This doesn’t mean you’ve been doing anything wrong. You developed your patterns for a reason, and they served a purpose at one time. But maybe at some point, they became constricting. Or maybe you started craving something fresh, something expansive, something that would help you grow.
I’ve had to learn — and am still learning — to be kind to myself, even as I purposefully discard my old ways of being, and cultivate new ones. I did the best I could. It was enough. And now I know better, and I want to do better.
It takes a tremendous amount of self-compassion to meet ourselves where we are, and own our stories such as they are, while also opening up to new possibilities.
This is to be a shame-free zone.
Interrupting our pattern allows us to reclaim our mental ground. It allows us to shut down the same old stories, and the same old voices that tell us we’re not good enough, or smart enough, or lovable enough. It allows us to question things in a really healthy way, and to move forward with perspectives that are both healthy and helpful. It allows us to recover pieces of ourselves that we may have lost along the way.
So, how do you interrupt your pattern? You certainly don’t need to fly to a different continent. You can build awareness from anywhere. You can choose to step outside your routine from anywhere. Here are a couple of ideas to consider:
1.) Unplug. Put all of your electronics away for a day. Or a week. So many of our patterns are intertwined with technology, that the removal of technology can break our patterns instantly.
2.) Work with a coach or therapist. Allow some healthy questions in your life. This can help you build awareness, and address old patterns that no longer work for you.
3.) Travel. This doesn’t necessarily need to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but remove yourself fully from your routine, and create time and space to get back in touch with yourself. Reflect. Process the feelings that come up. Grow.
4.) Try something new. Allow your brain to experience something novel, and open up to new possibilities. Pay attention to what resonates with you, and what doesn’t. Be intentional about what you add to and subtract from your life.
Sometimes, we cling to comfort zones that aren’t even that comfortable because they’re familiar. Growth is challenging, but it cracks us open in the most beautiful way and allows us to step outside the patterns that have held us captive, and to create new ways of being that feed our souls and allow us to thrive.
It is worth it.
You are worth it.