Breaking the Pattern

by Charles Platkin, PhD

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact genesis of this book. In a way, it begins with my life as a thinking adult responsible for making my way in the world. Even though I had some success, I couldn’t help but wonder if there were a road map or instruction manual to living right—an infallible guide that would tell me what to do, how to act, and what to avoid. Of course, there was none.

I’d been in several romantic relationships that were not successful. Each relationship seemed to end the same way; the personalities of the women shared a common theme—and, of course, I blamed them for what went wrong. In addition, I had been fat most of my life. In my 30s, I was nearly 50 pounds overweight. I tried every diet known, but they were all no good— and I blamed the diets. Professionally, I had been involved in several entrepreneurial partnerships. Each partnership ended badly, and all had a common theme. Again, I thought it was all of them that were at fault. I took no responsibility for the fact that I had chosen these women, these diets, and these business partners. It was much easier to make excuses, or to blame others or destiny for my lot in life. In a more concrete way, the idea for this book started as a letter I wrote to a friend I hadn’t seen in the 14 years since our graduation from college. It seemed like a simple task to write Marie—just a newsy missive about what I’d been up to since we last saw each other. I envisioned only a few pages. Once I began writing, the simple task grew into a monumental undertaking. If you’ve lived into your 30s and beyond, you understand how this can happen—in telling the news, you become deeply autobiographical and reveal more about yourself than you’d expected. At 35 years old, I was ripe for self-reflection and my friend was getting every image of me.

This letter to my friend helped me to see the story of my life a little more clearly. Writing it helped me synthesize and clarify certain issues and thoughts that had long interested me, or patterns of behavior. In fact, I’d already put in years of research on certain patterns, such as the effects of an exaggerated fear of failure, how one does or doesn’t take responsibility for one’s own life, how step-by-step goal—planning works for optimum performance, and the results of various strategies for living a life of achievement. I was very focused on ways to improve my life.

I was trying to figure out how these ideas impact each other and how they could be combined and harnessed positively to bring about greater satisfaction—in my own life and in the lives of others. It became clear that to make meaningful changes in my own life, I had to find a way to consciously bring these patterns to the surface for closer examination. To change, I knew I had to not only go wide, but also go very deep. After years of research, self-reflection, self-examination, and my share of failures, I realized that many of the things occurring in my life were beginning to look familiar. I found something they had in common, that is, patterns and outcomes I had experienced before, which drove me to the same places that I didn’t want to see again. They were repeats. It felt as if I were having that vaguely annoying realization that I’ve already seen the film I just rented, remembered that I disliked it the first time, and definitely didn’t want to sit through it again.

Of course, I am not the only one repeating patterns like these. I wanted to know how others dealt with their own patterns and therefore I started asking questions. Through interviews and discussions with professionals and friends, from reading about the lives of people who had struggled to succeed, and by being an interested observer, I’ve learned that most of us repeat and maintain certain patterns throughout our lives, and that we often do so unconsciously. The experiences that patterns produce may seem different and unrelated, but if you look at the effects, you’ll see this sense of difference is an illusion. The experiences may have different casts of characters, are changed by different times and places in slightly altered circumstances, but if you are still trapped by patterns that don’t serve you well, it’s all the same.

We’ve all been there, and have told ourselves time and time again:

  • “It’s that lousy diet—I knew it wasn’t going to help me lose weight.”
  • “I don’t understand it. I always get the worst bosses. I’m so unlucky.”
  • “This is my fourth relationship in four years. Aren’t there any good men out there?”

These observations of behavior, others’—and my own—led me to an inescapable conclusion, which formed the basis of this book: When we examine our successes and failures honestly and carefully, we can see the outline of very distinct patterns. By being aware of these patterns, we can analyze them, break them down, and focus on not repeating the negative behavior that has led us to failure and disappointment. We can also learn to capitalize on our positive patterns, thereby making huge advances in both our personal and professional lives.

I have found it impossible to break a behavioral pattern by simply wishing or willing it so. For long-term change, the only way to “break the pattern” is by following the five critical Principles required for real change—and for changing the way you live. The following are the five Principles to help you change and remodel your life:

  1. Patterns. Here you will review and evaluate various stages of your life, reflect on those stages and, especially, look for your underlying negative patterns.
  2. Failure. To be successful you can’t be afraid to risk failure. Failure is an opportunity to learn and grow, and is an integral part of achievement, not separate from it.
  3. Responsibility. By focusing on individual responsibility, you can learn to accept the fact that you are responsible for the choices you make in your life. This opens you up to opportunity—only then is real change possible.
  4. Goals. Reaching your goals requires planning ahead and developing a strategy. When you set goals and believe in them, you have a greater likelihood of achieving them. Your goals must also be S.M.A.R.T.—Specific, Motivating, Achievable, Rewarding, and Tactical. Achievement is not something that happens to anyone by accident—it is planned for, visualized and relentlessly pursued.
  5. Achievement. Understanding that achievement is the result of action-oriented behavior will encourage you to develop tactics and strategies such as being proactive, learning personal values, paradigm shifting, and being “opportunity ready.”

These Principles are the components that have helped me overcome my negative patterns and live a happier and more rewarding life. This book offers concrete techniques to help you evaluate and assess your behavior and actions so that you can make a difference in your life. One underlying question these Principles will answer is: Why do certain people achieve their goals while others do not?

Let me first clarify my definition of “achievement.” Achievement is reaching a level of success based on a specific or general goal you have set. It is not based on society’s interpretation of achievement, but on your own. The creation of realistic goals for personal achievement allows for better living, and I believe we all deserve to live better.

If you’re reading this book, you’re probably more concerned with ridding yourself of negative patterns, than with reinforcing positive ones. It’s important to recognize that you have both. The areas of your life that are going smoothly do not consume as much attention as those that are not going well.

Working on yourself so that you can achieve meaningful goals and have the life you want isn’t easy. Negative or undermining patterns can be deeply ingrained and hard to overcome. You need both motivation and discipline for the task. But to rid yourself of negative patterns, you must first be willing to look unflinchingly at yourself.

Be your own toughest critic and your own most enthusiastic supporter. Remember and draw strength and self-esteem from your successes in life, however minor they might seem to you. By consciously establishing some islands of competence, you give yourself the necessary confidence to take on greater challenges.

Where Will Change Take You?
In Breaking the Pattern, the objective is not necessarily to help you get rich or to make you feel blissfully good about yourself every waking moment, but rather to help you define and set your goals, and then show you how to work effectively to achieve them. If the byproduct of Breaking the Pattern is that you get rich and are joyful all the time, it’s a bonus. But I can tell you from firsthand experience, there’s no magic formula or quick fix. Nor is this book a recipe for success for which you just add water and stir. If you think something will jump off the pages of this book and change you without your own committed input, don’t walk, but run back to the bookstore and get your money back. However, this book will give you the essential ingredients and strategies for breaking negative patterns, and for defining and achieving your individual goals. Breaking the Pattern will not do all the work for you. That’s something you have to do for yourself. But first, you have to believe that you are worth it.

To do so, you should be willing to overcome what I call the “Corniness Factor.” The information and suggestions in this book range from the scientific to the “corny.” I’ll be asking you to make declaratory statements like, “I am going to change my life and achieve my goals.” It sounds exaggerated, overly simplistic, and sophomoric, if not completely uncomfortable. But in researching this book, I was continually surprised by how many successful individuals—many of whom I’ve interviewed, including artists, writers, chefs, directors, CEOs, people who have lost weight, quit smoking, and improved their lives—used this statement as a starting strategy for personal achievement and breaking patterns. I can assure you that the successful people in your life who you admire apply many, or all, of the techniques described in this book. Success is no accident, nor is it unconscious. People who achieve their goals are almost always acutely aware of what directions they take in reaching their destinations. They also use very specific techniques, which I’ll ask you to implement. In order to change your life, you have to be serious and committed to self-discovery and self-growth.

Rather than take responsibility for what happens to us—or even how we react to the events in our lives—it seems easier to make excuses or blame others (or even destiny) for what we have and who we are. Individual responsibility and control of your life don’t stem from dodging or avoiding difficulties, but from strategizing and coping with the difficulties that come your way. Nobody’s life is free of obstacles, conflict, and struggle. As unpleasant as it appears, conflict forces us to make decisions, shaping and strengthening character along the way.

These ideas on personal responsibility led me to another realization: We may not be fully responsible for every event in our lives; accidents do happen, both lucky and unlucky ones. However, we are solely responsible for how we respond to these events, and how we allow these events to shape us. Many of our own patterns—which we are in control of—bring us opportunity, success, and failure.

To break patterns, we must recognize them as our own creations and transform them through concentrated goal setting, discipline, perseverance, and achievement. This book will walk you through these Principles step-by-step.


Excerpted from Breaking the Pattern, © 2002 by Charles Stuart Platkin. Order Breaking the Pattern

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