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A Step-by-Step Process for Overcoming Compulsive Work and Living More Intentionally

See your challenge as a pattern (instead of something that you “just are”), and understand it is a repeated experience that can be changed. The following is adapted from BusinessOutside.

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Do you regularly work twelve-hour days and can’t seem to stop doing so, even though you know your actions are increasing your stress, relationships problems, and health issues? 

The first step to breaking that cycle is changing your mindset. To improve our lives and be more purposeful and conscious, it’s critical to develop an awareness of our limiting beliefs and patterns—those thoughts and behaviors that we repeat over and over unconsciously that aren’t serving us.

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If you’re stuck in a pattern that is not serving you, it’s likely there are beliefs acting like mental programs running in the background of your mind, causing you to continue this pattern—whether you’re aware of these beliefs or not.

To get to the bottom of how compulsive workers can get to the root of the problem, I interviewed Erin Pheil, the founder of The MindFix Group, a boutique consulting and coaching company that helps entrepreneurs and leaders get unstuck and thrive through extraordinarily effective, one-on-one rapid transformation programs.

Using insights Erin shared with me, I’ve outlined a step-by-step process to show how you can overcome your negative patterns and live more intentionally.

Step 1: Determine Your Pattern

Get a clear picture and understanding of the pattern that doesn’t serve you. What is actually happening? What do you actually do (or think or feel) that is causing you frustration? Use very specific language, details, and numbers. You want to pinpoint and define an exact pattern—because you won’t be able to shift it if it’s too broad.

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For example, “I’m a workaholic” is a label, not a clear, specific pattern. The statement is too generic and is therefore not useful when it comes to being able to change what’s not working in your life.

“If my business’ checking account balance drops below $500,000, I feel anxious, start having thoughts that I’m not capable enough, and can’t allow myself to leave work before 8:00 p.m.” is far more specific and useful. It is a specific pattern that we can work with.

When you see your challenge as a pattern (instead of something that you “just are”), you understand it is not you—but instead a repeated experience that can be changed.

Take a few minutes now to get curious about your behavior and clearly identify a pattern that isn’t serving you.

Step 2: Ask Yourself an Honest Question

Ask yourself: Do I actually want to change this pattern? It’s important to do this before you explore what might be underneath your pattern.

Erin explained that there have been occasions in the past where her team worked with someone for weeks and they still experienced resistance to change. Oftentimes, they’ll get to a point where they say, “You know what? Now that I think about it, I don’t really want to change this about myself. I don’t actually want to let this pattern go.”

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This step is obviously critical to the process, and the response needs to be genuine. If you don’t want to change, you won’t, and in that case you simply need to acknowledge that pattern will be there until you truly want something different.

So, you can save yourself time by first asking yourself if you are truly interested in letting go of your pattern. If you get a “Yes” answer, proceed to Step Three.

Step 3: Brainstorm Beliefs

Let’s generate a list of the possible mental programming (beliefs) that could be behind your pattern. Ask yourself the million-dollar question: What would I have to believe to be true in order to keep (doing X)? 

In our example about not being able to stop working twelve-hour days, this question would be, “What would I have to believe to be true in order to keep working twelve-hour days, even when it’s hurting me?”

Brainstorm a list on paper.

To help you with this process, here is a list of possible beliefs that might keep you stuck repeating the pattern of behavior noted in Step Two:

  • What makes me valuable is working hard.
  • What makes me important is working hard.
  • What makes me worthy is working hard.
  • To be successful, you must work long hours.
  • If you’re not working long hours, you’re lazy.
  • Success requires struggle.
  • I’m a fake, fraud, or phony.
  • I can’t trust others to do a good job.
  • In order to be a good leader, I must work harder/longer than my team.
  • The harder I work, the more money I make.
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Keep in mind, you may consciously disagree with some of the beliefs causing your patterns. It’s possible that only a part of you may be holding on to them and, if this is the case, it’s important to be able to acknowledge that part of you. This self-honesty is absolutely critical; you can’t shift your mindset until you can first admit to yourself what you, or part of you, believes to be true.

Step 4: React to Your List

Review the list in front of you. Say each belief out loud to yourself. If any part of you believes the statement to be true, you will likely have some type of reaction—even if small. You might feel slightly sad or anxious. You might notice a subtle physical sensation in your body. Some people say their stomach tenses up or their throat tightens.

Contrast these subtle reactions to what happens when you verbalize a silly statement that no part of you believes, such as “I am a giraffe.” Notice you have no reaction, other than a possible chuckle, when you make such a statement.

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Step 5: Experiment

Engage in a short thought experiment:

  1. Choose one of the beliefs from your list that feels strongest to you.
  2. Close your eyes and take a deep breath.
  3. Imagine that belief being completely gone from your mind when you wake up tomorrow morning.

Try it out now. Take thirty seconds to quiet yourself and relax, and then imagine what it would be like waking up tomorrow without that belief. (Focus on the beliefs and patterns that are relevant to you if the example of the workaholic is not.) Try it with as many beliefs from your list as you like. For many, this is a fast, powerful experiment.

While this exercise won’t necessarily clear away your problematic programming or belief for good, it will give you a glimpse into what it feels like as if they were gone, which is eye-opening for most.

Many people experience a profound sense of relief when they experience what it would be like if the beliefs were no longer looping in their minds. This final step shows you how you would suddenly feel and act differently. It shows you what is possible.

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You Don’t Have to Be Stuck

When I tried this exercise for myself, I realized I had a fear of being judged. I was worried about what other people thought of me and my actions. After working with Erin, however, I had an epiphany—I realized that I did not need to worry about what others thought of me. I could eliminate these negative thoughts and press forward with confidence and conviction.

Following this exercise, the process of actually clearing these beliefs from your mind (instead of just imagining they’re gone) can feel a bit like trying to scratch your own back. Your brain has constructed roadblocks to make it challenging for you to change what you believe to be true. 

The good news is that you can use this process any time you want to start down the road of changing your beliefs and transforming your life. You don’t have to be stuck. You don’t have to keep looping in circles that don’t serve you.

For more advice on living more intentionally, you can find BusinessOutside on Amazon.

Bart Foster is the founder and CEO of BusinessOutside®, a facilitation and training company focused on engaging, inspiring, and empowering individuals and teams to get outside in nature and outside their comfort zones. Bart is an entrepreneur and seasoned global executive who began his career at Kellogg’s and Novartis. After climbing the corporate ladder and building a successful healthcare startup, Bart found his true calling as an advisor, speaker, and coach to executives throughout the world. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife and two kids. Most mornings, he can be found hiking the peaks above town, usually with someone in tow, discussing business, outside.

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