Clever Squirrel’s 8 Steps to Stop Repeating Destructive Patterns

Smart people sometimes do not-so-clever things. We know who we are. After all, we’re bright, right? We’ve already figured out that we’ve hit the repeat button a few too many times with less than satisfying results. Maybe we’re in the wrong job, and then we’re in another wrong job, relationship, town, group. Maybe we have toxic friends. Whatever it is, it saps our energy and keeps us from living healthy, fulfilling lives.

I did all of those listed above over and over again for many years. It took the perspective of time, distance, self-reflection, and therapy to recognize the tendencies, and even more time, distance, self-reflection and therapy to change. But here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Awareness – First we have to see, and admit to, the problem
  2. Desire –  Then we must passionately want change
  3. Help – We must seek out sources of support, self-help books, therapists
  4. Trigger – And uncover the deeper issues that prompt the behavior
  5. Courage –  Then we need to be brave enough to revise our responses
  6. Practice –  And commit to making different choices
  7. Forgive – We must show kindness to ourselves when we slip backward
  8. Transform – The goal is to become a whole, happy person

Easy, no. Possible, yes.

There’s a catch. Most of the patterns that run our lives are written in the subconscious. That’s why, in the case of relationships for instance, what appears on the surface to be a radical new choice becomes the same problem with a different face. Have you been there? Doesn’t it feel like betrayal? Have you ever said: And I thought this time I had it right!

Some things we can change. Others are embedded in our DNA so indelibly that nothing short of complete abstinence will suffice. It’s recognizing those addictions that is the most challenging, and I’m not talking about alcohol or drugs. We can be addicted to shopping, to overwork, to google, gaming, gambling, to love.

After therapy I was convinced I could recognize the devil in the bushes and avoid making the same mistakes. Wrong. I stumbled right back into misery. But that was the wake-up call I needed. For stubborn issues, or lets call them what they are, addictions, number six on the list becomes: Abstain.

Hard truth. But accepting the truth, no matter how hard, and making those adjustments to my behavior gave me freedom. For me it was love. I believe in love. I’ve always believed in love. But time and again my programming attracted mates with patterns that were mutually destructive.

After five marriages and five divorces, I am committed to a single life. I don’t trust myself to ‘get it right’ and I don’t want to put me, or anyone else through that heartache again. But the decision has allowed me freedoms I wouldn’t have experienced as a partnered woman. It has forced me to self-actualize, something we were really into in the 60’s and 70’s when Maslow’s, Hierarchy of Needs, was all the rage. Self-actualization was at the pinnacle of the pyramid. When all other needs were met, a person was poised to achieve her full potential.

I haven’t given up on love, but I’ve redirected it. My life oozes with loving, healthy connections, none of which are romantic. (Romance is a bit of an illusion anyway, isn’t it? Smoke and mirrors? Hormones? Chemicals? It feels so good until it doesn’t.) Instead of pouring all that energy into someone else, I’ve gotten to know who I am, what I want, and what I need to thrive, and I give myself that.

indexThere’s an Indonesian proverb that I’ve claimed as my own. Sepandai-pandai tupai melompat kadang-kadang jatuh juga. It means: The clever jumping squirrel also sometimes falls down. Or paraphrased further: Everyone makes mistakes. And we do. But the really clever squirrel figures out how not to make the same ones over and over again.


Part One: Creating a life that fits like skin How it began

I hate to shop. But that day, the day it all started, I was shopping. As I thumbed through the racks holding too many choices, my eyes stopped. My thumbs kept going, but my eyes stopped. The fabric shouted drama. Black and white dots, red roses, scrolls and vines had caught my attention and held it.

Logic said, “No, no, no! That isn’t you.” And it wasn’t me. It wasn’t the well put together, careful, classic me that I knew, the Ralph Lauren me, the Ann Taylor me, the boxed-up-and-labeled me. I pulled it out to study it more closely. It was flowy. Loose. Light. I wasn’t. I shoved it back into place, shaking my head. “Moving right along…” I thought to myself and left the clothing.

I picked up a few gift items, browsed jewelry, and headed toward the cashier. That took me back past the racks. “One last little peek,” I thought as I veered off course and re-entered garment land.

No thumbing this time. I bee-lined for the rogue blouse, hoping in some corner of my brain that it would have lost its charm. As I fished it out, the label faced me. BoHo Chic, it said. “BoHo Chic,” I repeated, then again, “BoHo Chic?”

I found myself at check-out with BoHo still in my hands. “Nice shirt,” said the cashier. Was it?

“Thanks,” I said.

At home I stood in front of the mirror. BoHo stared back at me. “Who wears this?” I wondered as I studied the untamed look of that blouse with me in it. The style, the colors, the complicated pattern, unsettled me. Why had I been so drawn to it? I couldn’t say. And yet I was.

A nervous agitation buzzed through my body like too much coffee. BoHo had stirred a yearning that I couldn’t name, and part of me didn’t want to. But the next day, as I sat with my notebook for the morning discovery writing, questions tumbled out. Why do you love that shirt? I scribbled. Because it represents something I’m not, I scrawled my answer. What’s that? What aren’t you? I questioned again. I’m not…. Whatever I had intended to write didn’t make it to the page. The word that came was like a blue-light special, blaring over the loudspeaker of my mind. FREE! I’m not…FREE! Why aren’t you free? I wrote. That opened the floodgates. I hate my job. I feel trapped in a life that doesn’t fit me. I used to draw and paint. I used to play the guitar and sing. I used to write poetry. What happened to THAT me, the Bohemian me? The blouse with its quirky label scrolled across my thoughts. BoHo Chic…Bohemian Chic…a lump rose in my throat.

Awareness came first, then choice. Do I deal with this? Do I allow change? Or do I close my eyes, go numb, and forget I had this conversation?


Living life fully ALIVE

Recovering my lost self and reshaping it to fit who I have become was a mind blowing experience. Over the following eighteen months, I literally wrote a new story, the story of a life that would fit who I was at my core, reflect my truth, and utilize my abilities, a life that fit like skin. As I wrote, what I wanted became clear. As my wants became clear, doors opened. As doors opened, dreams manifested, dreams that I didn’t know I had.*

Part Two: “Why Bali?”

There’s more to this story. Stay tuned!


Bali green





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