How to Avoid Falling into Old Patterns?

Dear Stephie,

I’m on the cusp of making some changes in my life. That feels beautiful and overwhelming at the same time. For too long I’ve felt like I’ve haven’t been living life, just surviving it. Surviving through the hours of the day, the days of the week…well you get it! Satisfaction and fulfillment haven’t been present. I try to be grateful and I am excited that I’m in a position to make a change in my life. However I’m nervous that I’ll fall back into the same patterns, find myself reacting and surviving through life, instead of living it and feeling it deeply. What’s holding me back? How do I avoid old patterns as I enter into a new chapter of my life?



Dear Nervous,

Something about your letter resonated with me so deeply that it took me a while to realize exactly what it was. Even now, as I sit here writing my response to you, I find myself attempting to weave 15 different stories into one, not quite knowing how to tie them all together. 

I think it’s because, like you, I struggle with deeply ingrained habits that I am constantly working to shift. 

I have been a nail-biter for as long as I can remember. And while I mostly have that habit under control, I still find myself with my hand in my mouth. 

In the case that you’ve never been a nail-biter, I’ll explain how it works. 

First, there is a moment of discomfort, which is really just another word for anxiety, which is really just another word for trauma. 

Same. Same. 

That discomfort then drives us to fidget, running the pads of our fingers over and around the edge of each nail and bed, in search of a snag. Then, apparently unconscious of our own actions, we bring the found defect to our mouth. Tightening our jaw and then clenching the tiniest sliver of cuticle or nail between our front teeth, we tear it from its source. Gnawing at the imperfection, we search for the smooth that never comes. Still, we keep biting. 

Over the course of the last 35 years I’ve tried everything under the moon to aid me in letting go of this habit, intolerably spicy oils, horribly acrid polishes, sitting on my hands, wearing gloves, giving permission to loved ones to smack the living shit out of me, talk therapy, and the most recently and effectively, hypnotherapy. 

I have quit more than a dozen times only to find myself falling back into old habits. 

Even now, as I sit here writing to you, I have a nail file within arms reach. Just in case. 

Because the truth is Nervous, I’m not completely convinced that we ever really heal from old habits, we only get better at understanding what triggers them -at what’s underneath the habit- and how they unfold to affect our life. I believe it’s within that that we finally find freedom.  

My advice to you Nervous, as you enter this new chapter of life, is this: 

Don’t try to “avoid falling into old patterns”, instead, get curious about what causes you to trip in the first place.

“Living and feeling life deeply” will most certainly follow.

Heart in my hand in yours,

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