“Human behaviour flows from three main sources: desire, emotion and knowledge.”
— Plato, philosopher in Classical Greece
If you could describe your life as a movie, what would it be?
The other day, a friend told me her movie would be Groundhog Day.
For those unfamiliar with the premise of the movie, a self-important TV weatherman, assigned to cover the annual Groundhog Day Event in Punxsutawney, Pa., finds himself caught in a time loop and destined to live the same day repeatedly.
When asked why her life resembled the movie, she told me that every new day was like the one before — ungratifying, predictable and boring. It’s interesting to note that in the movie, things only change when our weatherman learns some valuable life lessons and puts them into practice. I wondered if she should watch the movie again.
Her comment also made me a little sad, as that was how life used to feel for me. When asked how my day was going, I would invariably answer, “Same (stuff), different day.”
If every day was like the one before, then I had to be making the same poor decisions day after day. At every fork in every road, I was choosing the same direction – and ended up going in circles. It was time to make a change, and that started with raising my awareness.
To do things differently, I started looking back over my life, watching for recurring patterns of behaviour. You can try this too. As best you can, become the witness to your life. Move your point of consciousness around to that of an objective observer. Watch your interactions with others.
In my search for recurring themes, I began to look for interactions that invariably sent me in a negative or non-productive direction: made me feel angry, sad, rejected, unworthy or frightened. Much to my dismay, there were scores.
Someone asked me an insightful question the other day: “What was the primary emotion I experienced growing up?”
After some thought, I replied, “Fear.” I began to realize that my entire life had been spent trying to run away from or avoid frightening people and situations. Avoidance of conflict, judgment, confrontation and intimidation had become a recurring theme in my life, colouring my choices and perceptions.
The first step in shifting any long-standing pattern of behaviour is to make new and better choices. Not as simple as it sounds. Keep in mind, there’s a natural ebb and flow through resolving old patterns: noticing, sensing, consciously acknowledging the pattern, opposing the pattern and expressing the pain. Seldom does breaking a pattern occur the first time. Be gentle and forgiving with yourself during this process.
Once you unearth a pattern and decide you want to heal it, the first challenge you’ll likely face is resistance. Resistance is an automatic survival mechanism. Generally, these patterns were put in place as a form of protection. Unconsciously, there may still be a strong desire to preserve the pattern. Fear and resistance may indicate you’ve unearthed a pattern genuinely worth exploring and resolving.
In my experience, when you uncover and begin to challenge old patterns, you find a tremendous amount of repressed emotion coming to the surface. In this temporarily “unfrozen” state, I found an almost overwhelming amount of anger, sadness and self-loathing bubbling up from the depths. This was indeed uncomfortable, but trust me, you must allow the pain to be expressed. Ask for help, if necessary, to move through this process. Here is where the healing begins.
I like to keep a quote from American author Brenda Hammond in mind: “If fear alters behaviour, you’re already defeated.” Be courageous. Persevere.
It’s a glorious moment when an old pattern finally releases, and you begin to experience peace and release. Groundhog Day finally ends.
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert.