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Repetitive cycles are behaviours that are acted out in response to something that we do over and over again in similar situations or relationships. They are part of learned behaviours that we adopt during our early years of development and contribute to repeated cycles we find ourselves in as adults. These can often be behaviours that are not serving us; quite the opposite they cause detriment to ourselves, our relationships and well-being.

As children we learn through a feedback system of observation, communication and reinforcement from our home environment and the models we had, our parents, or primary caregivers. We also learn through repetition, which is why cycles, or patterns of behaviour form so early on, unconsciously, which is why they become ingrained in us in adulthood.

Identifying our patterns of behaviours and repeated cycles are helpful in overcoming self sabotage, addictions, obsessions, low self esteem and negative self talk. Beginning with a process of observation and enquiry with mindfulness one can adopt new patterns of behaviour and create confidence, boost self esteem and overcome self sabotaging behaviours and thus end repeated cycles.

Mindfulness is raising awareness of oneself and what is happening from moment to moment; to thoughts, feelings, emotions and sensations in the body. Bringing attention to what’s happening in the present moment provides an opportunity to observe patterns and tendencies we have as they arise and begin to understand them. Through understanding repetitive cycles one can choose a different option and therefore support oneself in overcoming them.

How do repetitive cycles form in the first place?

Conditioning is what is known as the result of what we experience growing up that we have learned and has been taught to us. As children we learn from our external environment, which includes the behaviours that were modelled for us by our caregivers, or parents. During our developmental years, we are forming beliefs, attachments, knowledge about the world and experiencing feelings and emotions.

What we experience becomes part of our internal world. Conditioning is also the result of reinforcement over time, which is why our environment and the people in our lives play such an important role in early childhood development. For example, if we learned it wasn’t safe to try new things because we were told, shown or shamed for making a mistake then we learn to hide our imperfections, we develop a fear of making mistakes and need to compensate somehow by perhaps striving to perform well at tasks.

In addition to the home environment, the culture, country, generation, history and belief systems that we are born into also impact and contribute to our conditioning and repeated cycles. For example, if a culture believes that making mistakes is a form of weakness then this is further reinforced in the institutions such as education where formal learning takes place. Such conditioning is invisible; it is running in the background of our psyches that influence and shape our perceptions.

As we grow up, our conditioning solidifies into what we experience as our thoughts, feelings, emotions, behaviours, habit patterns that become automated responses. Repetitive cycles show up as predictable ways of reacting to external stimuli such as people, conversations, situations and out into the wider collective groups, society and culture.

It is critical therefore, to be able to understand where repeated cycles begin and how they can be overcome.

Identifying repetitive cycles

Most of the time we are unaware that conditioning is operating and influencing us, that is why it is difficult to understand, or initially change, repetitive cycles even though we may have awareness of them. You can think of some examples about yourself and what you’ve noticed in others that even if you don’t want to do you still find yourself doing it.

Repetitive cycles affect:

  • Relationships
  • Emotions
  • Mental health
  • Confidence
  • Self esteem
  • Mood
  • Physical body
  • Motivation
  • Sexual expression
  • Attitudes
  • Outlook on life/perspective
  • Spiritual development

Behavioural examples of repetitive cycles:

  • Addictions
  • Withdrawal/escapism
  • Avoidance
  • Confrontation/aggression
  • Procrastination
  • Passive-aggressiveness
  • Over indulging (eating, exercise, financially, consumerism, sleeping)
  • Over controlling of self and others
  • Over or under communicating

Thought examples of repetitive cycles:

  • Negative self talk
  • Criticism and judgement of self and others
  • Comparing self to others

Beginning with raising awareness to these tendencies and being able to objectively examine our internal dialogue and resulting behaviours we can identify and begin to relearn healthier and functional ways of relating with ourselves and others.

The role of Mindfulness

Mindfulness is an awareness based practice that brings focused attention to the present moment. It is repetitive in nature, for the purpose of connecting back to yourself in the present moment, rather than being caught up in cycles of drama, mundane and suffering that occurs in our lives that we give energy to. It is draining to keep ourselves in repeated cycles of dysfunctional behaviours and reactions.

Mindfulness has been extensively researched, written and talked about in health, personal development, science and well-being as being a practice to alleviate, and with persistence, break cycles of repetitive behaviour that you haven’t had success in overcoming. Mindfulness supports the brain to wire new neural pathways, also known as neuroplasticity, which directly relate to repeated cycles of behaviour.

During early development our brains were wired to think, feel, respond and act in certain ways according to our conditioning. Our neural pathways solidified over time which is why these behaviours tend to be ingrained in us, because they are! Through the application of mindfulness one can rewire the brain, create new neural pathways and thus functional, healthier behaviours.

The role of mindfulness is crucial in overcoming repetitive cycles of destructive behaviour. Once we are able to identify and accept what we have learned, there is the choice to change. Mindfulness cultivates compassion through bringing awareness and understanding of the cycles we have been hiding or denying in ourselves. With compassion comes renewed self esteem, confidence and feelings of harmony and contentment.

Overcoming repetitive cycles with Mindfulness

The following considerations are techniques to bring deeper awareness and create steps to overcome repeated cycles.

  • Journaling – writing down, capturing the thoughts, feelings and emotions as triggers arise can be helpful to provide space for uncovering entwined and hidden stories. Noticing the language you can identify whether the words are harsh, critical, judgmental or whether they are wrapped around outdated beliefs. Over time you will spot patterns as you find yourself writing about the same themes.
  • Vocalising – thoughts, feelings, behaviours to yourself out loud, perhaps recording them as you are experiencing repetitive cycles, or triggers. Vocalising validates and reveals the nature of the narrative, aiding you to identify whether they are over critical, judgemental and unsupportive to your overall well-being.
  • Connect to your Inner Child – They hold the key in uncovering present day wounds and learned behaviours from the past. Spending time with your inner child to listen, affirm, support and heal wounds connected with conditioning that is no longer serving you.
  • Affirmations  – are phrases, sentences and words that affirm a particular aspect or theme such as confidence, self love and self worth. Saying them out loud each day, reaffirms changes to conditioning you wish to transform. For example, “I am bringing confidence into my life today.”
  • Ask for support – Seek support in trusted circles, whether that comes from a friend, family member, support group or therapist, assists the healing process of breaking repeated cycles you wish to overcome.

As with all work on shifting perspectives, beliefs, altering conditioning, it will be reflected outwardly in your life. Breaking the cycles allows one to see them for what they are and builds on trust within yourself to transform long held patterns into behaviours that serve you, which then extends to those around you.

Cycles take time to truly transform

The roots of conditioning are deep, therefore mindfulness is a practice to cultivate over time to bring understanding and light on our triggers that lead to repetitive cycles. We may identify on an intellectual level and see clearly our behaviour patterns and automatic emotional reactions, yet the practice comes with real time presence.

There are various techniques such as journaling, inner child work, affirmations and seeking personal and professional support in identifying, understanding and breaking repetitive cycles that are no longer serving you in your life. The benefits to breaking repetitive cycles includes greater confidence and self esteem, more harmonious relationships, positive self talk and enhanced well-being overall.

Due to the correlation with when and how conditioning occurs through the presence of parental modelling and reinforcement, it might be beneficial to explore the past and reconcile past wounds in order to build self esteem and the quality of life and relationships. You can find out more about inner child workshops that use mindfulness based techniques and read more about self talk and well-being in this article.

A key takeaway is that awareness is the first step in approaching repetitive cycles and beginning the journey of releasing old conditioning and relearning functional ways of relating and subsequent behaviours that enhance well-being.

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