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Why Do We Always Find Ourselves Doom Looping a Mistake?

Why Do We Always Find Ourselves Doom Looping a Mistake?

Whether it’s the friend who keeps falling for the wrong person, the employer who can’t seem to make things better at work, or the individual who won’t stick to a healthy routine, we all know someone caught in a negative cycle. The concept of the vicious cycle is nothing new. In yogic philosophy, the repeating patterns that manifest in our lives are called samskaras.[1]

Samskaras can be positive or negative. They are reinforced by repetition until they become second nature. Some yogis use the imagery of a butter knife running along a pat of butter as a way to explain samskaras. The knife leaves tiny ridges on the butter, and as you continue to run the knife along the same pattern, the grooves become deeper. When we develop positive patterns, they become easier to maintain over time. When our samskaras are negative, we enter into what is referred to in systems thinking as “doom looping.” Doom looping is as ominous as it sounds–problems compound and initial solutions don’t seem to have a positive effect.

It really isn’t easy at all to get out of a doom loop.

It’s easy to get caught in a vicious cycle. Imagine, for instance, a person trying to lose weight. This person may vow to exercise daily and eat better food. The morning begins full of commitment to the goal of living a healthier lifestyle, but then the person encounters a big pile of doughnuts in the break room at the office. This individual, feeling the mid-afternoon energy-slump that is perpetuated by their unhealthy body and schedule, eats a doughnut or two. He or she gets through the work day on a sugar high, but after arriving home, there’s dinner to cook, the sugar buzz has worn off, and ultimately the person becomes too tired to exercise.

Despite all those good intentions, the individual reinforced a negative pattern that will be harder to break tomorrow. Tomorrow when they get up, they will feel the cumulative effects of poor habits plus their recent failure to stick to a goal. Thus, they have initiated the doom loop.

But breaking the vicious cycle is the only way to stop negativity from coming back.

Employee turnover, poor health, and unhappiness are a handful of the many symptoms of being caught in a doom loop. In some cases, struggle may feel so natural that it is the only condition that people know. The cycle of poverty is a classic example of this.[2] Even though people in this situation understand that there are better possibilities, they lack access to them because of a series of compounding factors. This sort of cycle must be broken at a systemic level, and is not likely to be resolved through the power of a single individual.

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In other cases, businesses or entities may become reactive to problems instead of performing a proper causal analysis. They respond to an immediate need without fully understanding the problem. A company may notice that employee turnover is high, which leads them to increase their benefits package. This may draw new workers, but they fail to address the root of their issue, which is the tyrannical manager that makes every day a challenge for employees.

A school with a poor performance record may develop a turnaround plan that involves firing most of the teachers. Such drastic measures fail to yield results that districts desire in most cases.[3] In this instance the environment has been further destabilized by the reactionary policy.

Whether you are personally affected by doom looping, or you are watching it play out for someone else, there are steps that can break the cycle. The results may not be instantaneous, but they will be sustainable.

Sometimes we are so close to the problem that it can be difficult to see where we’re going wrong. The actions that lead us to this place feel normal to us, after all. Negative cycles can rob us of our power. You may be able to recognize the problem on your own, but there’s no shame in reaching out for help if you feel that you can’t resolve the issue alone.

Here’s a powerful way to stop circling the drain.

One of the main reasons that people fall into doom cycles is that they don’t take time to perform a causal analysis on their situation. If you attempt to tackle a problem without fully addressing its roots, you are putting a bandage on a broken arm. Our fast-paced world values quick results. Self-reflection, the key to breaking the vicious cycle, has become secondary to ideas that provide instant gratification.

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To get to the root of the problem, you can use the “5 Whys” method.[4]

At its most basic level, this method involves naming the problem, and then asking yourself why the problem is occurring five times.

For example:

  1. Employee turnover is high. Why?
  2. Workers are unhappy. Why?
  3. Their work-life balance is poor. Why?
  4. Their manager expects them to take work home with them. Why?
  5. As a company, our goals for this quarter are too ambitious for our staff. Why?

As you can see, this reflective line of questioning can yield some insights into what has led to such a high turnover rate for the company.[5] After this causal analysis, leaders may decide that they need to re-evaluate their quarterly goals so that they do not put inordinate pressure on the manager. By rethinking their strategy, they may be able to keep the manager from asking employees to take work home with them, which may make them feel better about their jobs.

A second way to break out of the doom loop involves using the following line of inquiry:[6]

1. Name a symptom of the problem. What is something that seems to be getting worse for you as time goes on?

I struggle to pay my bills every month.

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2. Choose three immediate and independent causes. What are three things that lead to the symptom you described above.

My job doesn’t pay me very much. I buy things on impulse. I feel social pressure to keep up with everyone else.

3. State the consequences of the causes. How are your behaviors impacting your life?

I’m stressed all the time. My cupboards are always empty. People think I have more money than I do.

5. Demonstrate how the consequences perpetuate the causes. How do the consequences of your actions enable the symptom to continue?

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Since people think I have more money than I do, they expect me to lead a certain lifestyle that involves spending lots of money. This keeps me from saving and causes me to dip into my rent and grocery money.

Break your chains!

Samskaras are a natural part of our existence. When vicious cycles arise from negative patterns, it is up to us to break them. Causal analysis should always begin with self-study. Whether you choose to use one of the methods listed above, employ the assistance of a life-coach or therapist, keep a journal, or engage in mindfulness exercises, persistence will allow you to identify the core of the doom loop.

Don’t allow yourself to be a prisoner to unhealthy mindsets and habits. You are the driver of the change that you want to see in your life.

Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io

Reference

[1] Yoga Journal: Stuck in a Rut
[2] NPR: One family’s story shows how the cycle of poverty is hard to break
[3] Educational Leadership: Research Says… / Drastic School Turnaround Strategies Are Risky
[4] iSixSigma: 5 Whys
[5] iSixSigma: Determine the root cause: 5 Whys
[6] Systems Thinker: Identifying and Breaking Vicious Cycles

More by this author

Angelina Phebus

Writer, Yoga Instructor (RYT 200)

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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