5. Look for patterns

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I remember when I swerved after completing a Master’s in Clinical Health Psychology to a Doctoral program in Physical Therapy. Quite a few people made comments- like “wow- that’s quite a leap.”

While the actual day to day tasks of jobs in those fields are quite different- it didn’t really feel like a huge leap to me.

In the Master’s program, I worked primarily with people with chronic health conditions – chronic meaning the shit had been going on for a long time.

How do you treat chronic conditions? You look for patterns.

Patterns of behavior that make the condition worse. Patterns of behavior that make the condition better.

Cognitive patterns that make the behavior worse. Cognitive patterns that make the behavior better.

This is obviously way oversimplified, but that’s the context I used to think about much of my work.

I found that Physical Therapy was exactly the same.

There are certain patterns of things that lead to certain patterns of injuries to which we can apply certain patterns of rehab techniques.

Okay. Cool. More patterns.

And then when I switched careers again to nutrition coaching people said the same thing, “wow- that’s quite a leap.”

And again. It really didn’t feel like it.

Again, I was looking for patterns.

What are the patterns of behavior that aren’t working? How can we disrupt those patterns and create new ones?

What cognitive patterns/ belief systems aren’t working? How can we disrupt those patterns and create new ones?

Same with weightlifting. The whole sport of weightlifting is designed around a very specific pattern of movement with your ability to make lifts dependent on your ability to execute this pattern of movement at speed under increasingly greater loads- if the pattern of movement fails, generally you fail the lift.

You can think about patterns as rhythms too.

Even if you don’t have a daily schedule (which I think you should- see post here) your day likely has a pattern or a rhythm to it.

I think acknowledging these patterns in crucial to creating change.

Lets say you want to stop your habit of excessive (to you) snacking in front of the TV when you get home from work (during 2020 this might mean you’re already home- lols).

Lets say your pattern of behavior when you get home from work is kitchen- snacks and TV. That’s the pattern your brain has engrained as what you do when you get home from work (or finish with your work hours if you WFM right now). Kitchen- snacks and TV. You probably will notice that even if you’re not actively thinking about it- you’ll end up in front of your TV with snacks. This is how brain patterns work. They work together- one thing leads to the next thing and to the next thing.

Which makes our job in changing these patterns relatively simple- we just need to insert a new pattern.

A reasonable intervention might be something like when you get home (or done with work for the day) you start a 20 min timer on your phone- you’re not allowed to enter the kitchen until the timer goes off. In those 20 minutes before you enter the kitchen you can take a shower, take the dog for a walk, stand on your head, vacuum, etc etc. Planning what you do with these 20 minutes will help especially in the beginning- then eventually you probably wont need to plan. Then after those 20 minutes, you’re allowed to go in the kitchen. You can have a snack if you want it. And you can eat it sitting at the table. Then if you really want to watch TV then you can watch TV.

In this example, we’re disrupting the pattern everywhere. Changing the first activity when you walk in the door (or when you finish with work for the day). And then separating the other parts of the pattern from each other.

You likely don’t need to do all of those things but you do need to disrupt the pattern somewhere so your brain can start to create new pathways corresponding to the new patterns of behavior that you want to do.

You can also do more drastic things like turn the TV around so you literally can’t watch it or you can stop paying for cable/ Netflix/ etc or you can sell your TV/ give it away- lols. Those will all definitely work as well, but interventions definitely don’t need to be that drastic.

Homework questions:

  1. What behavior do I want to change?
  2. What pattern does the behavior exist in the context of?
  3. What part of the pattern am I going to change?
  4. What is the new pattern of behavior I will practice?

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