The easy way to break an old pattern

close up of screen with programming code

When I was younger, I lived at the mercy of Doom. I was depressed, I was ashamed, I was fearful, but far greater and darker than all of that was Doom. When Doom descended, there was nothing else.

And, with Doom, came a certain inexplicable dread. The dread of Doom. No capital ‘d’ for dread, he was nowhere near as mighty as Doom; he was a mere servant of Doom.

But, despite how many times I’ve mentioned Doom already, this post isn’t about Doom.

Because over time, so very gradually that I didn’t even really notice, Doom retreated from my life. He no longer darkened my doorway, no longer tainted my daily experience of life. But what lingered was dread.

Even now, dread appears for reasons beyond my understanding – sure, it’s triggered by an external event, but what I’m actually dreading is not the event, but the return of the mighty Doom. See, that’s the insidious thing about dread – it doesn’t have a capital letter, it doesn’t have a mightiness, it doesn’t even really have its own identity. It’s the ghost of something far more terrible; the threat; the shadow.

A couple of days ago, an upcoming event triggered some dread for me, and I finally noticed what was going on. I realised that the dread I was feeling was the dread of Doom. And I also realised that Doom had long since retired, and certainly wasn’t invited to the event I thought I was dreading.

So I said to myself ‘I feel the dread, but it’s not dread’. And alongside the dread, I felt kind of amused. And I said it a few more times, until the dread subsided. And then a little while later, the dread returned, and I said ‘I feel the dread, but it’s not dread’. And the dread subsided.

And then a little while later the feeling reared up again, and I said ‘I feel the dread, but it’s not dread’, and as I said it I realised it really wasn’t dread anymore, it was EXCITEMENT. How did that happen? We’d swung from negative to positive.

This naturally got me thinking about labels, which is something I’ve considered quite a lot over the years. Our language is incredibly important to our experience. How we choose to define ourselves, our situations, and our states can drastically affect how we experience them.

By defining something as dread, because I was so trained to, it was a negative experience for me. But as soon as I released that definition and decategorized the sensation, I allowed it to become something else – something positive. And I did it with a wry smile and absolutely no effort. I thought that was pretty cool.

I’m not saying this precise tactic will work for you – I was just riffing in the moment – but hopefully it can inspire you to find your own custom solution. Consider how you’re labelling yourself, your life and your feelings. Consider how you could release or change some of the labels that don’t serve you. Experiment with what you could be if you chose an alternative.

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[photo by Markus Spiske]

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