We often ask “why” it is so hard to overcome negative patterns but asking “why” won’t get us to where we want to go. “Why” may help us to become self aware but it will not prevent us from binge watching Netflix, talking instead of listening, over spending, over-reacting, over-doing, or whatever our particular unwanted pattern has become. I’m interested in interrupting the pattern.
A personal pattern that I have wanted to change is my tendency to fill up space with my own talking. As a good storyteller, I have amusing material, which people seem to love to hear. The problem is not that I share my stories, but more that the space gets filled up with too much of me. I then lose my opportunity to explore the uniqueness of others, and since I already know all of my material, I’ve learned nothing that I don’t already know.
Lately, I’ve become aware of the rush and exhilaration that I get from talking. I am animated; I can feel the flush in my face when I’m “on.” It’s not easy to stop at that point, but I’ve begun to mistrust this quality and have been on a personal path to change it.
Pema Chodron, the Buddhist teacher shares a simple technique to interrupt negative habits. She teaches the practice of pausing by encouraging us to take three conscious breaths.
We practice the power of the pause by stopping in the middle of any activity and taking just three conscious breaths. There is no need to change your breathing at all. Just stay conscious for three full inhales and three full exhales. That’s it!
Try to practice this frequently throughout your day and right in the middle of whatever you are doing. Do it often enough so that you begin to re-wire your nervous system. In fact, do it right now while you are reading this blog. Do it while you are washing your dishes, brushing your teeth, in conversation, stopping at a red light and between forkfuls at the dinner table. I find it helpful to begin practicing when there is no urgency.
When I practice pausing to interrupt my pattern of talking, I can feel the tension of holding this energy in my system. It is uncomfortable to contain it, but I also know it is important. This quality of containment puts me in the driver’s seat.
By pausing, or slowing down our nervous system, we create a gap in whatever we are doing and this little gap becomes the monumental difference between a habitual reaction and a conscious response! We now have the time to catch our breath and decide.
Shifting deep-set patterns requires patience. Our habits have likely taken the span of decades to develop and they won’t change overnight. We also need the belief that change is worth the effort. My favorite thing about this pattern interruption is its clean simplicity and ease. All we need is to remember to do it. Give yourself a little more white space in your life by pressing the “pause” button and taking three conscious breaths.