Getting Unstuck

When October turned into November, the weather here turned from blue skies and flaming trees to drab, dark, wet, and cold.

I know I’m not alone in feeling like wanting to just stay curled up in bed with a hot beverage and a book – or a video game. My to do list is definitely not getting done. The thing is the longer this goes on, the harder it is to back on track. What to do?

Common advice is to shake things up by going for a walk, taking a different route in your daily routine, watching something funny or uplifting.  These activities can work for a temporary stall and are worth trying if you haven’t already.

But I’m going to suggest something more subtle and more powerful.

The basis for it is the concept of the pattern interrupt.

Pattern interrupt is a practice used in neuro linguistic programming to jar our thinking out of a dysfunctional or non-productive train of thought. If you watch Tony Robbins during his live events working with people, you will see him use it: it’s a statement or question that comes out of left field that leaves both you and the person being coached going “huh?”  I have a friend that used to call this knocking your mental hamster off it’s wheel.

But the pattern interrupt idea can be used in lots of other ways: in marketing, sales, interpersonal relationships, even visually to make a space more engaging.

Basically by introducing the unexpected, we wake up the right side of our brain (the non-linear side that notices novelty) which opens us up to change.

So to get out of a rut, think of some ways you can change your environment that will kind of startle you for the next few days: re-arrange your furniture or décor, get a different haircut, paint a wall. Work in a different space for a while. When I worked at an office, I used to take my laptop into an empty meeting room or the cafeteria for half a day once a week. Now I do the same thing at home when I notice I’m stuck: I take my laptop to a different part of the house or to the library. Or just change my screen saver!

Don’t change more than one thing at a time though: otherwise your brain shifts from “ooo, novelty!”, to “yikes, overwhelm!”

A really productive pattern interrupt is to de-clutter the horizontal spaces around you. We are calmed by floors and tabletops that are clean, clear surfaces. Or at least when the things on these surfaces have an organized pattern.

Think about the difference between a dinner table nicely set before a meal and the mess on that same table after the meal. Or the difference between a bed that is made and one you just climbed out of.

Pretend you’re about to vacuum and don’t want to move anything: that’s how you want your floor; it’s just as much a pattern interrupt to remove objects we have grown used to as it is to re-arrange them.


Make a list of pattern interrupts you can introduce into your routine or environment and keep it handy for times when you are falling into apathy or need a brain boost.

And if you’d like a post on how to use pattern interrupts in your marketing, let me know, and I can do a post on that!


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