How to break out of bad behavior cycles

In life we all experience shifts in momentum. During some periods, everything feels easy. We learn new things, we make progress, we feel happy and we fulfill are objectives. At other times though, everything seams to be a struggle. We are low on energy, we are in a constant low mood, and nothing gets done.

I call these negative momentums “bad cycles”. When we are not making progress on becoming who we want to be. We are feeling unhappy, we are stagnating or worse going backwards.

These momentums go in cycles. The truth is, there always will be highs and low, periods when we go forward, and periods when we seem to go backwards. Setbacks are part of life, adversity can kick the front door wide open, without being invited.

That doesn’t mean we are victims of the hazards of life. There are things we can do to care for ourselves and get back on track quickly when facing hard times. In this article, I will explore how to do just that.

Because these cycles happen to us, for a reason or another, the skill of being able to bounce back from these periods becomes and important life skill.

Our overall rate of progress in life might not be only dependent on how well we do when we are doing well, but how well we manage ourselves and bounce back when we are not doing so well. On the rise to the top of the mountain, we always fall faster than we climb, so damage control is as if not more important as knowing how to improve.

The momentum of becoming, which is always automatic, and sometimes conscious involves three parts: Thinking, feeling and acting. These three parts form our behaviors, which are determinant of our future selves.

Because we become by thinking, feeling and acting, it is also through these aspects that we get into bad cycles, and stop going in the direction that we want to go.
We are feeling bad, we’re not thinking straight, and we act poorly, in ways that do not sustain our progress and well-being.

In order to bounce back as quickly as possible, we need then to get in touch with these three aspects of ourselves, and managed them in a way will move us forward. With practice, bouncing back form bad cycle becomes easier. We recognize the warning signs faster and know what to do to get back on track and to feel good again.

Because I want to give justice to this vast and important topic, this article will be the first of 2.

STEP 1: Recognizing where we are at:

The first step in breaking out of a bad cycle, is to recognize that we are in it.
The warning signs are often clear, but in these periods, we can also be good at denial, and pretend that everything is fine.

Strong signs that indicate being in a bad cycles are:

-Consistently feeling strong negative emotions, or not feeling good throughout the day/week/month/etc

-Consistently being stuck in negative though patterns, negative judgments about ourselves and the world

-Acting in ways that do not support our well-being: giving in to addictions, obsessive behaviors, isolation, procrastination, instant gratification, stopping good habits, etc

It is important to pay some time to really notice where you are, ask yourself:

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, where am I at? On how “well” I am doing? On how I feel? What does that number mean to me?
  • How have I been feeling/thinking lately?
  • What are the struggle and issues that I am currently facing?
  • What addictions and coping mechanisms do I give into? How much?
  • What’s my normal? Am I above or below normal right now?
  • Are there metrics/data I can use to evaluate objectively how I am feeling?
  • What are some of the things that I could be doing to get better/stay well, that I am not doing now?

STEP 2: Practicing mindfulness day to day

Spending time to ponder and answer the questions above is great. It can give you overview and insight on your current situation.

Nonetheless, it is sometimes difficult to evaluate how we are actually doing day to day, moments to moments, unless we start paying attention.

Mindfulness is one of the skills that can have a great impact on being able to recognize where you are now and get out of a bad cycle.

Mindfulness allows you to:

-Pay attention to how you are now, your state of being, feeling, state, thoughts, actions

-Help to determine what are the factors involved in behaviors such as Trigger/cue, environment, needs, rewards (see later)

-Being able to let go of unnecessary baggage, guilt, stress, anger

-finding creative ways of breaking a cycle

-separate the situation and the experience

-Allowing yourself to be at peace even if your situation is not perfect

-becoming non-judgmental about yourself

So How do you do mindfulness?

Mindfulness starts by paying attention to how you feel, think and behave in the present moment. Observe yourself doing and going through your life as if you where a witness watching someone else.

Start small, pick one activity during the day when you feel you have high amount of concentration. Then try to be your own witness during that activity. After doing that for a few days or weeks, see if you can extend it to another activity, and then another, until you become more present throughout most of your day.

By paying attention to your feelings, thoughts and actions, you might begin to discern what are the motivations, needs, triggers and cues, behind your behaviors.

Starting a breathing practice everyday might not be for everyone, but it is one of the fastest way to begin a journey/process into mindfulness.

On top of that you can practice asking yourself theses questions throughout the day:
-how do I feel right now?
-What was the purpose of me doing that? What is my motivation for doing that?
Some apps, such as Youper, are good at giving you cues and help you evaluate how you are feeling.

Practice listening to your thoughts and pay attention to the language inside your head.
What are the things you say to yourself on a regular basis?

It might help to journal these thoughts, feelings and actions once a day. It will give you an overview of how you are doing over a longer period of time, and let you evaluate it objectively.

Hopefully by now, you have a good sense on how to find out where you are. Next I’ll give a general overview on how to break a bad cycle. I’ll get into more specific points in the next article

STEP 3: How to turn a cycle around (general tips)

Cycles are influenced by momentum. Often time, changing a few negative aspects of our routine into positive ones will tip the balance, and everything else that was derailed gets back on track.

To do that, it is helpful to identify the key habits that creates positive momentum, good energy, and good willpower. Most common key habits are; some form of activities and/or some form of mindfulness practice. Including them in the daily routine will most of the time create positive momentum and/or support you during bad times.

A bad cycle can simply be the cause of a burnout, of lack of energy and chronic stress. Take some time to pause and relax. Find ways of getting more energy, maybe by sleeping more, eating better, prioritising better, and getting active to create the right kind of fatigue.

Start implementing small changes, not everything has to change at once. Every little changes adds up, often to a tipping point, until your find yourself looking at the world through new lenses and moving forward again.

Moods and cycles are often a conclusion of many events, decisions and micro-behaviors, blended in an accumulative fashion.
You are in a bad mood because you have an accumulation of bad thoughts and bad feelings.You are in a bad cycle because you have an accumulation of bad behaviors.

We often can have an “all or nothing” attitude that can be more damaging than beneficial. Accepting setback as part of life, will encourage us to move forward, even if everything is not perfect. It will help us learn from our mistakes. Accept and expect setback and failure, plan for failure. Screwing up is part of the process, we’re just human beings.

Being specific and planning ahead of how your going to get better and the positive things you are going to do for yourself can support you through the process of progressive change. That means scheduling important activities and “me time”, as well as having a strategy/ visualizing how it is going to happen. “Failing to plan can be planning to fail”.

Sometimes, it can mean going beyond what you feel like doing. During low periods, we might not be drawn to what is good for us, but by coping mechanism instead. We can seek instant gratification and pleasure over long term gratification and well-being.
If you know that a activity is good for you, don’t listen to your resistance and show up anyway. Force yourself to go though activities like exercising, meditating, socializing, etc. Just being there will most of the time have positive effect, and lift you up, bit by bit.

Remember what is it that you want. Think about what is meaningful and purposeful to you. We can get distracted or lose hope because we lose sight of what is important to us. Keep reminding yourself of your priorities, of the things that you want out of life or want to accomplish. Regularly spend some time sitting with your purpose to keep your sense of direction.

Be open to change your life. Believe in your capacity to change and for your life to get better. If one is stuck in a bad momentum for long periods of time, a lot of negative beliefs can be associated with the self. We can lose hope of things ever getting better. This mindset itself is limiting, find a way to suspend disbelief and accept that you can get better. What would being better look like and feel like? Visualise and feel yourself there, make it possible for you.

It can also be useful to seek help. Either from a friend, a close one or a professional. Being able to talk through our problems can be liberating. Others might offer perspective that we haven’t considered. On top of that, it helps to create a sense of accountability, which might push us in the right direction.

Remember: Accept slowing down

An important step to be able to bounce back from a negative cycle is to first accept slowing down.

Deep down, we are often angry and disappointed at ourselves for “not doing as well as we should”, feeling guilty about not meeting the expectations that we have of ourselves.

Unfortunately, this mental attitude is not helping. The more frustrated we become with ourselves, the more likely we are to bit ourselves down into an even deeper hole.

This means, taking extra time to rest. Even though we are busy, and we would like to do more, bad cycle are often correlated with lack of energy. By trying to keep up, we maintain ourselves in a low state of energy, swimming against the current, never reaching the shore.

To find time to rest, we might need to let go of some goals for the time being. It is important to focus on the priorities, to accomplish the “must haves” in the responsibilities an objectives, and letting go of the nice to have. It often means doing less for now.

It can be difficult to accept a slower rate of progress, especially if you were on a roll before, accomplishing more without difficulty during a positive cycle.Slowing down, might be the space you need to rest, which will allow you to bounce back up later.

In such situation is helpful to capitalise on the progress that has already been made. Cling to the good habits, the good beliefs, mindsets and relationships. Focus on keeping these up, let them support you instead of focusing on establishing new things. Remind yourself of your history and the positive foundation of accomplished challenges and goals to keep your spirit up.

Take time for yourself, allow yourself to relax and practice self care. It means, doing things that might not be productive but give you satisfaction, relaxation and energy. What’s your go to way to relax? Enjoy yourself? From meditation, to sports, to even binge watching TV if that’s what you need for a while. There are plenty of options

To conclude:

Here is a brief overview of the things you can do to start getting back on track and feel better. In the next article, I will focus more specifically on how to deal with each specific cycles:

-How to deal with thoughs and beliefs, and negative thinking cycles

-How to deal feelings and states of beings

-How to deal with habits and actions

I hoped you have found this article useful and enjoyable, do not hesitate to share it with others so that they may benefit to.

I am grateful for your time and attention, and hope that I served you well.

All the best

Vince

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