Ah oh! Little toddler Scarlett is crying and crying and crying. How do we get her to stop? Some parents scream and shake and run and wait it out. Scarlett’s father has a very different approach. He uses a series of Pattern Interrupts to break Scarlett’s crying state and move her into a new more positive emotional state.
This is a very good example that knowing the theory of communication, influence, and social psychology is so much better than just knowing a few specific applications or case studies. If you know a case study or a single application, you can apply it to particular situations but not much else . . . however, if you know the theory, you can apply the principles to many different contexts. Many folks learn about the pattern interrupt for sales or for therapy but don’t realize it also is a useful concept for other social contexts, including parenting.
What Is A Pattern Interrupt?
A pattern interrupt is a very powerful technique that any professional, regardless of industry, can use whenever they are speaking to someone stuck in a state.
The concept is pretty simple and straight forward. The ultimate goal of a pattern interrupt is to get the person you’re speaking with thinking about something other than you being a sales person. The technique is to do or say something unexpected which disrupts their normal pattern.
These types of pattern breaking techniques are originally a Neuro-Linguistic Programming technique.
How to Stop Her Crying
Let’s take a look at a straightforward use of pattern interrupt with little Scarlett. Note how her father breaks her state by shifting her attention. It doesn’t matter that his response to her crying seems to be nonsensical or out of place, it works.
I am sure many parents out there will respond to this video with an “it appears to simple” but pattern interrupts should be simple, this does not have to be overly complicated. Yes . . . you really can use this sort of thing with actual humans outside of a training workshop.
Pattern Interrupt or State Break
Our minds are infinitely malleable, in fact we change our minds several times per second depending upon circumstances, however as we grow and build up a lifetimes experience our thought begin to build pathways that are regularly used.
These become our habits, not only of behavior but of thinking too.
If we have a particular way of thinking about an event, and it is something that has been with us for many years and we regularly ruminate about it, then we build up neural pathways that are easy to traverse. Just as when we learn to play a musical instrument or drive or ride a bicycle our brains create easy paths for us to follow until the pattern becomes automatic.
They become paths of least resistance in our minds and we need to find a way of breaking out of the same old pattern so that we can introduce a new way of thinking.
Path of Least Resistance
Most folks with a NLP background will note that behavior patterns tend to have similar structure:
- Trigger – Something that starts of the pattern, also called Anchors.
- Operation – The behavior or habit that we undertake.
- Test – To see whether we have met our desired goal…have we got the result we want from the behavior? If not, then we keep doing the Operation.
- Exit – We finish the behavior and get back on with out life. If we didn’t finish then we would be stuck in the behavior never escaping back to reality.
These patterns can become rigid in structure and when they get broken then we typically return to the beginning (our Trigger) and start again. An extreme example of this would be a persons suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) where they will get stuck in the O< —>T Loop.
These patterns or TOTE structures become habits because we go through then time and time again, to break out of them we need to stop them before they complete.
Disrupting the Sequence
A pattern interrupt is the technique of stopping a pattern as early in the cycle as possible between the Trigger and Operation, it MUST be done before the first occurrence of a Test condition. Once the Test is reached then the pattern has almost completed and your impact will be limited.
Pattern Interrupts are simple to execute, it is just a case of making the subject stop and think about something different, the equivalent of butting in and changing the subject during a conversation, the only difference being the conversation is going on inside someone’s own mind.
In reality a pattern interrupt is really a very basic pattern re-program. We are not removing the pattern, we are changing its direction. Just as an obstacle in a path means having to change direction around the rock, so a pattern interrupt forces the behavior to produce a different result.
There are three keys to an effective pattern interrupt.
- The Larger the Interrupt the Larger the Diversion. Perhaps the biggest mistake NLP Practitioners make when attempting a pattern interrupt is timidity. They often try to remain polite and calm and in doing so they do their client a disservice. When it comes to pattern interrupts the bigger, more extreme the better. The purpose is to break someone out of a long term, easily followed mental process, and it’s going to take far more than a tap on the arm, or cough to make an effective ‘snap’ in the internal processing. We are attempting to introduce a new emotional state into the pattern, one that wasn’t there before and that is incongruous with the current one. For example, if the pattern is to be depressed, then adding humor is out of place, the greater the dichotomy the better the interrupt although the key is difference. The more extreme and ridiculous the interruption, the more success you will have in creating a new pattern. Pull faces, make noises, be physical in some way (Anthony Robbins tells the story of dumping water on a woman as an interrupt).
- Timing is Everything. To become really effective at pattern interrupts you need to dive in as early in the process as possible, which means paying close attention to the person you are working with to ensure that you know when the pattern is beginning i.e. when the trigger event is taking place. The ideal time for an interruption is directly after the trigger but before the process really takes hold, this is likely to be an incredibly short period and you can spot it if you are observant. Often it will help to have the person run through their program a couple of times for you…No you don’t have to ask them to show you, just ask them what the problem is, they will show you the process. Often it will be a recalled memory, you will see them go inside themselves (it’s different but similar for each of us) and then they will start to alter, physically and emotionally. The point to catch them is just before that transition. If you watch carefully, you will see it blossom throughout their entire demeanor.
- Repeat Until Done. The final step is the most important, particularly when building new patterns of behavior or response. You need to repeat the Pattern Interrupt several times to really see the results, and it isn’t just a case of doing A pattern interrupt, you must do THIS pattern interrupt. If your interrupt is an Irish Jig, then you need to do the same Irish Jig at the same time in their pattern. If you throw water, then you need to throw water each time. Just as they have consistently applied their pattern until it has become second nature so you must apply the new pattern until it totally breaks the old one. Obviously, this also depends upon context. In our Scarlett example, the father uses different phrases as interrupts but they are build in conditions of response that he has set.
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