How to Break Free from Toxic Patterns

David Andrew Wiebe
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez/Unsplash

Patterns rule our lives.

Positive habits lead to desired outcomes, while negative habits hold us back from what we want.

But that knowledge doesn’t change lives. Because people often find themselves unable to break away from toxic patterns, even when they want to.

Here’s how to break free from your toxic patterns once and for all.

Become the Observer of Your Thoughts & Acknowledge them

The problem is that we often end up identifying with our thoughts.

So, by default, every thought we have carries too much importance, even when it doesn’t need to.

Thoughts like:

  • “I’m too old.”
  • “People don’t like me.”
  • “I need to win a popularity contest to achieve my goals.”

For every rule there’s an exception, and you can find example after example of people who’ve accomplished great things regardless of age (Colonel Sanders), likability (Steve Jobs), or popularity (Gwyneth Paltrow – rated the most hated celebrity by The Cut).

Which points to one thing – that we aren’t required to believe every thought we think.

When we do, we tend to get caught up in the game of comparison.

Business and mindset coach Quazi Johir explains that we can begin to break free from harmful patterns by observing and acknowledging our thoughts:

When we identify with our thoughts, self-judgment kicks in, leaving us unable to break patterns.

But when we become the observer of our thoughts, we’re able to choose, more intentionally, the actions we want to take.

There is power in being able to choose the thoughts we want to give weight to.

In spring 2019, I created the possibility of becoming a digital nomad. That summer, I started travelling, and later that fall, I moved to a new city.

I’m glad I placed importance on that thought rather than thoughts that would have held me back from taking a chance.

Create Your Future from Your Future (Identity Shifting)

American author Werner Erhard spent a lifetime developing technologies to transform the human experience.

He’s famous for saying:

Create your future from your future, not your past.

This is a powerful statement when we understand that we are always living into the future we envision for ourselves.

The question is, what future are you living into?

Have you taken the time to define the future you want to create?

Otherwise, by default, you are living into your past. And you can’t create anything new from something you’ve already experienced.

No wonder you get stuck in old patterns. You aren’t an active participant in the creation process.

Based on what we’ve already learned about thoughts, you could say to yourself:

“I am the kind of person that _________.”

And begin to fill those blanks with the kind of person you want to become.

For examplke, you could say, "I am the kind of person that exercises four times per week."

Behavior modification is painful, difficult, and often ineffective.

Intentional creation, on the other hand, is all about identity shifting.

When we shift identities, whatever is incongruent with that new identity tends to fall away.

As Psychology Behind explains:

We are who we are right now because of the way we think. In particular, we are who we are right now because of the way we thought about the decisions we’ve made in the past. This thought process will affect our ability to make future decisions. And how we make those future decisions will be the result of our identity.

Focusing on individual actions and habits isn’t just exhausting. It also doesn’t produce much by way of results.

An identity shift is a macro transformation as opposed to a change in behavior, which is micro. You do differently because you are different.

Because my creative career has taken me down a variety of paths – visual art, music, new media, writing, and more – being able to shift identities based on circumstances has allowed me to adapt and thrive in a myriad of situations.

Create a new identity for yourself, and you will break free of toxic patterns.

Allow for Spontaneity & Experimentation in Your Life

In a recent blog post, I argued that there are three major enemies of clarity:

  • Addictions. We all have our vices – be it alcohol, video games, shopping, social media, or otherwise. These serve as escapes and do not facilitate clear thinking. The dopamine release we experience from engaging in our addictions can fool us into thinking we are successful, even when we haven’t accomplished anything of note.
  • Routine. Your routine is a powerful productivity tool. But if you have no time or space for spontaneity, deep thought, reflection, or journaling, you can end up enabling your toxic patterns instead of breaking free from them.
  • Busyness. If you’re hustling and grinding all the time, not only are you sacrificing your health, but you also end up sacrificing your ability to change. It’s hard to think clearly when you’re always busy.

The main takeaway here is to ensure you leave space in your life for the novel, because you never know what you might discover about yourself in the process.

Lately, I’ve been live streaming a lot. Not because I see it as a business opportunity. Not because I think it’s leading somewhere.

I do it for the novelty of it. It’s something different I wouldn’t normally do.

It puts a healthy pressure on me to figure out the technical glitches, communicate with an audience, and entertain them.

If you’re feeling stuck, but aren’t trying anything new, it might be time to embrace more spontaneity and experimentation in your life.

Final Thoughts

Don’t forget – habits form the foundation of success too.

Meaning a successful life can be a boring life also. Because it’s the daily repetition of the right habits as opposed to the toxic ones.

To get there, first, we must shed the failure habits we continue to enable and entertain in our lives.

We can do this by:

  • Becoming the observer of our thoughts and acknowledging them
  • Shifting our identity
  • Allowing for spontaneity and experimentation

You can break free.


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