“Two steps forward, one step back seems
to be the way a lot of progress goes.”
Jim Parsons

Several of my clients recently told me they’d achieved their goals. Their chronic issues had resolved and they no longer felt imprisoned by their patterns. I enthusiastically endorsed their success, and cautioned the work wasn’t over yet.

Sure enough, within a few weeks all three of them reported hitting unprecedented lows. Life had found new and creative ways to mess with them, and now all the old issues were up with a ferocity they’d thought long gone. I congratulated them on their progress, and explained why it was progress.

First, it helps to know that patterns are literal grooves in the brain. When a thought is practiced over and over it connects to emotions and physical sensations that make up the wrinkles of the brain. These then run as electric circuits on auto-pilot when triggered. For example, if you’ve struggled with money your whole life you will have thoughts and feelings that show up when it’s mentioned that are so familiar you almost don’t notice them. Patterns are the “that’s just how life is” story of the mind.

However, if a pattern is particularly uncomfortable you might be motivated to change it. This is the meat of my long-term work with clients, and involves no longer feeding the old story. As you interrupt the circuit-run of “that’s just how it is”, and practice new responses to triggers, the grooves that make up the original pattern actually begin to smooth out and physically disappear.

It’s the disappearing process that causes trouble.

In the course of smoothing out, the grit that was at the bottom of the groove rises to the surface on its way out. This is the deepest layer of the pattern, where the feelings are the most intense. It usually happens within a few days of feeling like you’ve finally conquered it and are the king of the mountain.

Sometimes events in life will trigger it, as notably happened with one client. Other times nothing noticeable will occur, you will just feel suddenly worse and like you haven’t made any progress, as happened with the second client. And still other times, things will get better and good things will start to happen, as happened with the third client.

In all three cases it wasn’t events that made them feel so bad, it was the deep grit of the old pattern releasing. The client for whom things got worse had events to point to and explain her feelings, but the other two didn’t and were confused by their pain.

The good news is that at this stage in healing, the difficult emotions – while more intense – have less staying power. You may find yourself at the bottom of a ditch for a few days or weeks, but as long as you respond in a healthy way the pattern will finish releasing and you will never experience it the same way again.

For myself, it’s been about five years since I fully went through this process with one of the most difficult patterns in my life. Since then there have been several instances where I had a strange reaction that felt vaguely familiar. It took some time for me to recognize it as my old story. There was enough of the pattern left for it to run on auto-pilot, but I had changed so much the thoughts and feelings felt alien to me and my new narrative. I have other patterns I am now working on, but the one that caused me the most pain has ceased and joy has risen in its place. I know within a few weeks my clients will be able to report the same success, as they respond appropriately to their thoughts and feelings.

The response process at this stage is the same as at every other when dealing with a pattern. Prioritize self-care, treat the feelings as real even if you can’t discern the cause, and don’t take them personally or believe the story they tell. Remember it’s an automatic circuit, like a computer program. Every time it runs a new layer is rising up to be released. Let it go and it will go.