Our minds are infinitely malleable, in fact we change our minds several times per second depending upon circumstances, however as we grow and build up a lifetimes experience our thought begin to build pathways that are regularly used.
These become our habits, not only of behaviour but of thinking too.
If we have a particular way of thinking about an event, and it is something that has been with us for many years and we regularly ruminate about it, then we build up neural pathways that are easy to traverse. Just as when we learn to play a musical instrument or drive or ride a bicycle our brains create easy paths for us to follow until the pattern becomes automatic.
They become paths of least resistance in our minds and we need to find a way of breaking out of the same old pattern so that we can introduce a new way of thinking.
Path of Least Resistance
Behaviour patterns or Programs (the P in NLP) all have a similar structure:
Trigger – Something that starts of the pattern, also called Anchors.
Operation – The behaviour or habit that we undertake.
Test – To see whether we have met our desired goal…have we got the result we want from the behaviour? If not, then we keep doing the Operation.
These patterns are very rigid in structure and when they get broken then we will go back to the beginning (our Trigger) and start again. We see extreme examples of this in people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) where they will get stuck in the O<—>T loop.
These patterns or TOTE structures become habits because we go through then time and time again, to break out of them we need to stop them before they complete.
Putting a Rock on the Path
A pattern interrupt is the technique of stopping a pattern as early in the cycle as possible between the Trigger and Operation, it MUST be done before the first occurrence of a Test condition. Once the Test is reached then the pattern has almost completed and your impact will be limited.
Pattern Interrupts are simple to execute, it is just a case of making the subject stop and think about something different, the equivalent of butting in and changing the subject during a conversation, the only difference being the conversation is going on inside someones head.
In reality a pattern interrupt is really a very basic pattern re-program. We are not removing the pattern, we are changing its direction. Just as a rock on a path means having to change direction around the rock, so a pattern interrupt forces the behaviour to produce a different result.
There are three keys to an effective pattern interrupt.
1The Bigger the Rock the Bigger the Diversion
Perhaps the biggest mistake NLP Practitioners make when attempting a pattern interrupt is timidity. They often try to remain polite and calm and in doing so they do their client a disservice. When it comes to pattern interrupts the bigger, more extreme the better.The purpose is to break someone out of a long term, easily followed mental process, and it’s going to take far more than a tap on the arm, or cough to make an effective ‘snap’ in the internal processing.
We are attempting to introduce a new emotional state into the pattern, one that wasn’t there before and that is incongruous with the current one. For example, if the pattern is to be depressed, then adding humour is out of place, the greater the dichotomy the better the interrupt although the key is difference.
The more extreme and ridiculous the interruption, the more success you will have in creating a new pattern. Pull faces, make noises, be physical in some way (Anthony Robbins tells the story of dumping water on a woman as an interrupt).
2Timing is Everything
To become really effective at pattern interrupts you need to dive in as early in the process as possible, which means paying close attention to the person you are working with to ensure that you know when the pattern is beginning i.e. when the trigger event is taking place.The ideal time for an interruption is directly after the trigger but before the process really takes hold, this is likely to be an incredibly short period and you can spot it if you are observant. Often it will help to have the person run through their program a couple of times for you…No you don’t have to ask them to show you, just ask them what the problem is, they will show you the process.
Often it will be a recalled memory, you will see them go inside themselves (it’s different but similar for each of us) and then they will start to alter, physically and emotionally. The point to catch them is just before that transition. If you watch carefully, you will see it blossom throughout their entire demeanour.
3Repeat Until Done
The final step is the most important. You need to repeat the Pattern Interrupt several times to really see the results, and it isn’t just a case of doing A pattern interrupt, you must do THIS pattern interrupt.
If your interrupt is an Irish Jig, then you need to do the same Irish Jig at the same time in their pattern. If you throw water a-la Anthony Robbins, then you need to throw water each time. Just as they have consistently applied their pattern until it has become second nature so you must apply the new pattern until it totally breaks the old one.
How Will You Know
It’s the big question. How will you know if your Pattern Interrupt has worked? Simple, when the client attempts to run through their old pattern they will ‘bounce’ out of the process and into the new emotional state. If you had a humorous interrupt they may laugh or smile, if it was surprising then they may startle themselves, if shocking then they may be taken aback.
You may get no response (not even the negative one) which is as good a result as any, as then you know that you can move forward with future change work unimpeded by old unresourceful patterns.