Tension Pattern Breaking

As humans it seems like there is only so much we can take before we explode.  We’ve all been there, to some degree, at some time.  We find something is so frustrating we just sort of snap.  What I’ve noticed in working with clients is that there is often a pattern—or dare I say a “dance”—to this progression.

Think for a moment about how couples fight. There is a dance to that right?  She says X, he says Y, then she counters with X on steroids, and he follows with Y on steroids, and they are off to the races.  It’s a well worn groove in their relationship.

Unfortunately, these patterns can be harmful and destructive to us and others.  And they are deeply ingrained, whether it shows up in road rage or the same argument over and over with a family member.

How do you know if you are stuck in one of these places?  Well, it shows up like your own personal ‘Ground Hog Day’ movie.  You keep repeating the events.  You have the same arguments, with the same results.  Perhaps you keep falling into the same traps in your family?  You to do something to try and please them, and find yourself being criticized for it.  Then maybe you blow up at being treated that way, and then end up having to apologize.  Somehow,  a couple of weeks later, it all happens again.  Yipes!

Yes, it’s messy, complex stuff, and it can have you feeling trapped and helpless.

There are all sorts of ways to deal with this.  I’d like to share some thoughts I have about one way that you may not have considered to both look at it and to change the pattern.

Long ago I read a piece in a book that was about the tension of seeing and wanting the shoes in the shop window.  The author talked about the tension that the desire created, and how it builds.  He then pointed out that the way the tension gets relieved is that you actually buy the shoes!  This a really interesting revelation to me, and really has helped me with a lot of clients.  The recognition that we can only take the tension so long, and then we somehow have to resolve it.  (I would love to share the book with you, but it turns out I have no clue as to where I read it!!!)

So that relief of the tension thing is what happens with a lot of those places where we are frustrated beyond our edge and some how lash out.  We don’t want to keep running around in circles, but we feel stuck, so we do something that resolves it, ends the event, blows things up—whatever.

That leads me to a different book and an idea on one effective way to change this.  This book I have and know!  It’s The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.  He talks about how habits have a Trigger — Routine — Reward pattern.  While we are talking about these negative results allow me to take the liberty of changing one word to make his process more accessible to our challenging situations.  My re frame is Trigger — Routine — Result.

Take a moment to see how this pattern of Trigger — Routine — Result  shows up in the places where you get emotionally challenged and caught.  The Trigger is the thing that gets it started.  It’s seeing the shoes, or noticing that something is happening that you don’t like. The Routine is what you do in response to the trigger.  For example you pine and fret about the shoes, or you complain about what you don’t like.  The Result is you buy the shoes, or end up in an argument.  Your example may, of course, be more complex and sophisticated.

Okay, we are up to the place where we change the behavior!  And the change is all about the Routine.  It’s really the important thing to change.  Most of the time you don’t have control over the Trigger because it’s about what someone else said or did.  But you do have a choice around the routine.  You can choose to do something different!  Duhigg’s book really is all about  the idea that we can’t just stop a habit or pattern—we can replace it.  I love this idea.  Part of why I love it is that it reinforces the notion that we have to do something different if we want different results.  So if you change your routine, or response, to the trigger you will create different results.

Try it out, perhaps start with something that isn’t emotionally charged and see if you can’t create a different Result by changing your Response to an old Trigger!  It’s worth trying!


Shell Tain, The Untangler

If you’d like some support in changing your messier patterns, just give me  a call at  503-258-1630 or check out my website at www.sensiblecoaching.com.