This is another post that is slightly off topic, but is something that has been occupying my thoughts for quite some time.
Breaking Cycles. What are cycles? They are patterns of behaviour that get repeated over and over again unconsciously because either we don’t know the difference, we don’t realize that our problems are caused by repeating the same bad choices time and time again, or we don’t realize we have any choice in the matter.
Let me give you an example from my own experience. For years, all my relationships ended badly. When I say badly, I don’t mean just tears and hurt feelings. I mean attorneys and suicide counselling. I never understood why this kept happening to me. I was engaged three times, and all three cheated on me and used me. My first “ex,” as I call her, was a dancer and musician who had a whole list of people she wanted to sleep with and she expected me to let her finish the list – even if we were already married before the list was finished (and she was still adding names to the list even after we were engaged). My second ex was a talented painter who was seeing me on Friday nights and seeing someone else on Saturday nights. We both asked her to marry us within a couple of weeks of each other. She ended up dating a short, old, married version of me, broke up his marriage, got him to pay for a boob and nose job, and then married someone else altogether. My third ex was a poet and juvenile delinquent who was married when we met. In addition to being the other man, I started a business with her to publish a poetry journal that had been a “kitchen table” operation of hers for a number of years. As soon as we incorporated as a non-profit, she got “writers block” and never worked on the magazine again, leaving me to deal with unhappy subscribers and impatient state agencies. When I found out she had moved in with another guy a few miles down the road from her estranged husband, I broke it off and resigned from the company, but I still had to deal with the state agencies because she neglected to file any of the required annual reports or pay the corporate taxes. It took years to straighten that mess out.
It wasn’t until after the third debacle that I started seeing the patterns and recognizing that the problem was within me. The thing that attracted me to them wasn’t because they were artists (dancer/musician, painter, poet) or because they were “hot,” it was because they all played the “little girl lost,” which I always found irresistible. It gave me the chance to play the “knight in shining armour” and ride in to save the day. It never occurred to me that they were just playing me – using me – for their own ends and that I never really meant that much to them at all. After everything went bad with ex number three, I finally saw that the recurring patterns were in my own thinking, which gave me the ability to recognize why I kept making the same mistakes. Once identified, I was able to change my thinking/behaviour and break the cycles that were unhealthy and unproductive in my life. When the next “little girl lost” came along, I recognized the signs immediately and walked away before it began. That’s what set the sequence of events in motion that led to me meeting my wife, the love of my life, who was a cycle-breaker herself.
Recognizing cycles isn’t all that hard. All it takes is a little honest self-evaluation and the ability to recognize recurring patterns. What is hard is being willing to admit to ourselves that the problems we are having are caused by our own actions or behaviours. Human nature is to always look outside of ourselves for the answers to our problems. We look for someone else to blame for our misery, we seek out psychics and fortune tellers to tell us what to do, we blindly obey advertisers and marketers – anything that keeps us from taking responsibility for our own actions/thinking and solving our own problems ourselves.
Breaking cycles requires three critical ingredients. The first ingredients are responsibility and discipline – two things that are sadly lacking in society today. We don’t teach personal responsibility any more, and we, as a society, have been rebelling against discipline for decades. As a result, these two words and the behaviours they represent are alien to most people today. That’s why so many people are caught in self-destructive cycles and can’t seem to find the way out. They are unwilling, or incapable, of looking within and seeing that the cause for these cycles is in their own behaviour and their own thinking. As someone once said: “When you do what you’ve always done, you get what you always got.”
The third critical ingredient is courage. Breaking cycles is about understanding the triggers within ourselves that cause us to make the same mistakes over and over again. What is it within us that makes these behaviours seem normal? What is it within us that keeps us from recognizing recurring patterns and putting a stop to them before they cause the same results as every other time? Is it because we’re blind to the patterns, because we’re too lazy to really examine ourselves, or because we’re too scared/ashamed/arrogant to think that the root cause for our problems lies within ourselves? Whatever the reason, we can never be truly free from self-destructive cycles of behaviour until we find the courage to be humble enough to admit that we are the problem. Some people never reach this level of humility until these behaviours bring them to the edge of the abyss. Some people see the abyss in front of them and find the courage to face their problems before they reach the edge. Some people, sadly, never find the courage, and their behaviours send them over the edge into the abyss, from which there is no return.
Just as the problems in our lives are largely the result of our own thinking and behaviour, so, too, is the ability to break the cycles and make positive changes in our lives. To make these positive changes, we need to take responsibility for our actions, have the discipline to examine ourselves to root out the cause for our own mistakes, and the courage to take the first step, be humble and realize that our problems are our own fault and our own to correct. We all have it in us to break the cycles in our lives. It’s our choice.