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On Repeat

Writing each week forces me to live just a bit on ‘high alert’. While I’m not looking for a threatening invasion, I am on the lookout for what God might be trying to show me in order to ‘put it out in the world’. Sometimes, I think I over-estimate my ability to pay attention.

If I’m being honest, I think at times I over-spiritualize it too. Which is a bit ironic for me. As someone who beats the drum of being ‘holistic’ (believing we are created as complex, interwoven beings, needing to pay attention to each ‘piece’ of ourselves: emotion, spirit, physical, mental), you would think I would look at each area of life with equal intent.

But more often than not I am looking for God to show me something in quiet moments; in meditative, spiritual places; forgetting that ‘spiritual’ can present itself in many forms. And sometimes, I can forget that God works through other people to grow us and show us what He wants us to see.

And so it was with what and how He showed me what I am sharing this week. In conversation at a table filled with very wise women, each with a heart to help the hurting, they helped me to see and hash out what you’re reading today.

We discussed patterns that repeat in generations, which got us thinking about behaviors that repeat as well; be it inter-generationally or in our own lifetime. Although, one could make the case they are inextricably connected, given we act and react out of both nature and nurture. There is so much to say on this subject. More than this one post will allow. So for now, let’s narrow our focus to our behaviors. Specifically, unhelpful/unhealthy ones.

In this enlightening conversation, one creative thinker in our group made the observation that our behaviors can resemble a record with a needle stuck on part of the song. Another mentioned it being like having a song stuck in your mind. Another drew the lines more clearly as to how this resembles our lives sometimes.

I think we can get a lot of mileage from these metaphors. Let’s follow them through and see.

As for the record, the longer the needle stays in one place, the deeper the grove becomes, making it less likely it will move forward on its own. If left there too long, it can ruin the record.

And what about the song stuck in our mind? How many times have you found a portion of a song on ‘repeat’ in your brain? You might not even know how it got there. Perhaps you haven’t heard the song or thought about the artist in a long time. But there it is. Stuck on repeat. Growing louder. More intrusive. Driving. You. Crazy.

For me, this sums up how I have felt about my own unhelpful/unhealthy behaviors.

Maybe you feel the same way? Tell me if you can relate.

We get into a behavior and before we know it, we’re stuck repeating it. Often we aren’t even aware of how it got started. But there it is. Driving us crazy. Intruding on our life.

Sometimes, destroying it.

Our brains are like the record and the song on repeat. When we engage in behavior (or even thought for that matter), we create neural networks that are specific to that behavior. The more we engage in it, the stronger, or ‘deeper’ those connections become. The longer we engage in the behaviors, like the needle deepening its groove, the greater their potential to bring us harm. And if we’re being honest, sometimes our behaviors bring harm to others too.

But there is good news. Hope. Just like we can unstick a record or those lyrics, we can ‘unstick’ our behaviors too.

To unstick the record we need to move the needle forward. Give it a gentle bump or pick it up and place it in a different spot.

And the lyrics? I think that remedy is a more accurate metaphor for our behaviors. "Research" shows that if we go back to the beginning of the song and sing it all the way through, then VOILA! We are free!

Here’s how I see its similarity to our behaviors.

It can be most helpful to understand where or why an unhelpful/unhealthy behavior began in the first place. Why?

Well, for a couple reasons. Often, just ‘changing the behavior’ or telling ourselves to ‘stop it’ doesn’t work. Usually, by the time we recognize the behaviors’ negative impact on our lives it’s so deeply ingrained that a mere behavioral change isn’t sufficient. In all likelihood, the impact is destructive enough that we’re swimming in some shame because of it. Getting at the root of the problem behavior can help to dissipate the shame.

It can be freeing and shame-reducing to realize even the unhealthiest of behaviors can be born out of our brain’s desire to protect us. This ‘deeper work’ of understanding ourselves is important. While sometimes, we can address our issues through a behavioral change alone, that work is done in, with and through our conscious mind.

Yet much of the time our thoughts and behaviors are driven by a deeper, more subconscious level of self that can ‘overrule’ our conscious motivation to change. At times, physiological issues need addressing as well but as I said before, we don’t have room in this post for all of the discussion this topic deserves.

In other words, like our song lyrics, we need to go back to the beginning and ‘sing it’ all the way through to understand it and break its hold on us.

Unfortunately, there is no VOILA! And freedom may be not be immediate. But it can come.

Now, here’s where our helpful metaphors break down. While we don’t need a new song to prevent the lyrics from ‘sticking’ again, we do need this with our behaviors and thoughts. We need new, helpful/healthy alternatives. Otherwise, we may find ourselves stuck again.

As we begin to think and act differently, we create new neural networks that strengthen every time we engage in our new behavior.

The really good news is that as we engage in this new response, the neural networks that were responsible for our old, unhealthy/unhelpful behavior begin to weaken. I think in part it’s what God refers to as being ‘transformed by the renewing of your mind’. (Romans 12:2)

I know that breaking behaviors isn’t simple. But I do know it can be done. Granted, not overnight, and not with precise, linear perfection, but it can be done nonetheless. I know because I’ve done it. And I’ve had the distinct privilege of walking with others who have as well.

Sometimes, the greatest challenge will be admitting what the behavior is and how it’s preventing you from living life to the full (which, by the way, you were created for exactly that…a full life).

Frequently, the next challenge is to not be taken over by shame or fear. Those are really difficult things to fight on your own.

So, please don’t.

Get help with this. Even if the help is to identify the behaviors, that’s an important first step. If you’re not sure how to take it, contact me and let me help you get started. You don't need to be alone in this.

There are wonderful, qualified people out there who want to help you on your journey. Professionals who have more than likely walked the road themselves and understand the struggle is real. If you don’t know where to find them, I will help you look.

Let them help you get ‘unstuck’. Let them help you understand your story better and let them help you find your new song.

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