by Monika Walankiewicz

It takes radical honesty and a good dose of self-compassion to recognize a repetitive pattern. Sometimes our recurring behaviors and experiences become so ingrained they feel like a part of our identity. When we repeatedly find ourselves in a similar yet unwanted situation, or when we replay the same scenario over and over again, not knowing why, it might mean we are caught in a repetitive cycle.

The first step to freeing ourselves is recognizing the pattern for what it is. One of the ways to do so is to step back and look at the situation through a wider lens.

Many techniques can help us gain some helpful distance from our thoughts and emotions, meditation being the most well known. However, journaling, especially stream-of-consciousness writing, in which you don’t censor yourself and just let the words flow on the page, allows you also to gain the distance necessary for pattern recognition. So, pull out a piece of paper and reflect on your past and present.

Are you currently in a situation that triggers a familiar sense of discomfort? Does this situation remind you of something from your past? Usually there is an active link between the past and the present. Ask yourself what led you to where you are. Do you notice any situations that tend to repeat themselves—like always getting involved with a similar type of person or continuously bypassing opportunities because you don’t feel you’re “good enough”? Sometimes it’s not so obvious and visible, but the essence of the situation might be the same—meaning it makes you feel the same way. There is a strong sense of familiarity or déjà vu, although the circumstances might be very different. It feels like home, but not in a good way. Take note of that. It’s your clue, leading you to uncover a pattern.

Next, look for patterns that are more internal, like a pattern of negative self-talk. Maybe you continuously put yourself down or tend to catastrophize. Those patterns lead you to make specific choices and behave in a certain way, so, sooner or later, they will manifest externally. The same is true of emotion. Is there a negative emotion that’s always there, in the background of your life? Are there emotions you are experiencing on repeat? Do you seem to be recycling the same feelings, and often they are not reflective of what’s happening in your life at the moment? These are clues leading you to identify a pattern that could be potentially sabotaging your conscious efforts.

Once you recognize the pattern, you can start looking for the beliefs that created it, and this is how you release it. Identifying the pattern is the first step in the healing journey it’s a positive step because you can’t heal what you don’t know.

I mentioned self-compassion for a reason, as seeing our patterns in a bright light of the day can be difficult and cause us to feel guilt or shame. You want to avoid falling into this trap. Treat yourself as you would your best friend or someone you love. Every single one of us carries emotional baggage, does things we are not proud of, and fails from time to time. It’s natural and human to react to old hurts and stories by forming some patterned behaviors or experiences. What you are doing is an act of courage, so extend yourself some love and forgiveness.

Monika Walankiewicz is a CiPP graduate, UX designer, coach, speaker, and facilitator. She holds Art Therapy Certification from Northwestern University, and helps her clients to overcome adversity and release repetitive psychological patterns that are preventing them from taking action in their lives. Monika is leading organizational change at Allstate Corporation by spreading tools of positive psychology within the company to increase levels of well-being and satisfaction. She takes a unique approach that blends intuitive and creative inner work with evidence-based methods based on behavioral science and positive psychology, and shares her expertise in personal growth via workshops, corporate speaking and one-on-one coaching. Learn more about her work and schedule a free initial consultation at