Changing patterns is hard. We are wired to find a groove that works and stick with it. Life would be impossible if we had to figure out what to do in every moment, if we had no memory or routines. Imagine: my eyes are open, what do I do now? OK, I stood up, hmm, I think I’m cold and I should put a bathrobe on, etc. etc. Instead we have this great capacity to categorize and compartmentalize which saves enormous amounts of brain space and energy. I can go through my morning routine without really thinking at all.
Clearly habits have their place. But the problem is that situations change. Our actions and reactions need to change with changing circumstances. And that requires us to make conscious choices instead of going with the preprogrammed option.
Understanding the progression of the change process can be a helpful tool. I use “awareness, acceptance, action” as a mantra. Awareness comes when it comes. Eventually we figure out, or someone points out, that an existing pattern is not working. Usually it’s not until the pattern is causing some sort of pain. The diet and lifestyle that used to work fine have added 20 pounds. Taking everything personally leads to resentment and reactivity. I’m sure you can come up with lots of examples where an old treasured pattern is no longer working.
I and almost everyone I’ve worked with have a tendency to skip the second step and go straight to action. You’ve identified the problem, now we implement the solution, right? Except that in my experience that doesn’t work. There has to be a stage in between where we really get down and dirty with what’s going on.
I used to think that acceptance meant just rolling over and letting something happen to me. Now, I understand that acceptance means living in reality. It means that I have to accept in my deepest core that the old pattern is not working. Basically I have to go through all the stages of grief to let go of an old pattern.
In my case, there are several foods that my body does not cope well with. My process goes something like this:
Denial: Gluten can’t really be a problem. Everyone eats it. I’m not that unique. Plus it’s convenient and is part of most of the foods I like.
Anger: Why do I have to change? It’s such a pain in the ass.
Bargaining: Maybe I can have just a little here and there. One piece of pizza isn’t going to kill me.
Depression: That piece of pizza didn’t kill me but it sure made me feel awful. I’m never going to be able to let go of gluten. I’m never going to be healthy again. This is too hard! I should just give up trying.
Acceptance: I really don’t like feeling like this. In fact, there are many people who are living gluten free and many resources to help me on this journey. I am ready to let go of my mental and emotional attachment to gluten and find new options.
It’s important not to skip over or rush through the acceptance stage. If we do, the changes we make are unlikely to be lasting or feel fulfilling. Our subconscious will keep pulling us back to the old pattern. When we are really living in acceptance then the choices we make are based in reality instead of in habitual or wishful thinking. We can move on to the action step knowing that our actions are much more likely to be successful.