Sometimes, we see life repeating itself and we ask ourselves how we can start recognizing the patterns, so that we won’t keep making the same mistakes. The voice of the inner critic pops up to say: “Not this [same problem], again! When are you ever going to learn?”

So what can you do when you see life repeating itself ? How can you start to recognize the patterns at work in time to actually change your habits and make different choices?

Pema Chodron writes: “You can leave your marriage, you can quit your job, you can only go where people are going to praise you, you can manipulate your world until you’re blue in the face to try to make it always smooth, but the same old demons will always come up until finally you have learned your lesson, the lesson they came to teach you. Then those same demons will appear as friendly, warmhearted companions on the path.” (The Wisdom of No Escape).

So let’s get started, seeing what it is that these habits and life patterns are trying to show us. If you can find out where the habits are in place, you might see a connection and realize why life repeats itself and what you need to learn.

Exercise: Recognizing Patterns

First, make a list of the top five problems you’re noticing in your life, right now.

Next, for each problem, free wrote on the following sentences:

With this problem, I notice myself feeling…
I notice myself saying…
The situation would be improved by…

Access the body as you complete this exercise, noticing whether or not there’s a particular discomfort as you fill out any one aspect of the exercise.

Then, don’t do anything else but hold on to what you’ve written. Start paying attention over the next week. Start noticing if, across all different problems, there’s anything in common between them. Perhaps you’re feeling the same feelings or sensations in your body. Is there a specific way that your stomach dips right before you get upset? Is there a pattern of reacting quickly and then realizing later that you over-reacted?

Pay attention to the words you choose when thinking about this issue or speaking about it. Across all categories, are you saying, “It’s not fair” (which points to a sense of powerlessness) or “If _____ wouldn’t happen, it would be fine” (which points to non-acceptance)?

Notice what impulses you have around how the situation would be improved. Maybe you’ll discover that you’re pinning all of your hopes in one place. Maybe you’ll realize that you already have the solution that would clean up the five biggest issues you face–talk about striking gold!

By recognizing patterns , you’re in a clearer place to work with it. It’s entirely possible that you might be walking through your life thinking XYZ are your problems, when in fact they all are rooted in one central issue: for instance, chronic blame or a belief that money fixes things.

When we penetrate the surface of our lives and look a little deeper at our fear routines, we start recognizing patterns and see a few central truths.

One is that our behaviors are motivated out of love or fear.
Another is that we’re so much more alike than we are different.
Another is realizing that the surface stuff is drama, a hamster wheel of distraction from the real issues.

And the most courageous one that we can come to is this: realizing that the real issues are but opportunities in disguise, never so terrifying as we might think.

The “issues” are our (dysfunctional, fearful) warmhearted companions on the path. It’s the places within that contain the challenges we’ll use to define the content of our character. It’s the fodder for our growth and our gold.

How lucky we are that, as we prepare to shift something in our lives, none of it is hiding out, obscure–the issues are obvious, waiting, tireless in being our guides, in shining light no matter how much we don’t want to look over there and see… and perhaps not so demonic after all.