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Ever find yourself in a relationship, a job, a situation that feels uncannily familiar?
Like you’ve been there before and hit the same roadblock, had the same conversation, cried the same tears, faced the same dilemma?
It might be your loop.
If you’re familiar with the HBO show “Westworld,” about AI robots in a simulated Old West town who start gaining self-awareness, you know the kind of loop I’m talking about. If you’re unfamiliar, sorry about the spoiler.
Each humanoid robot in Westworld has a set program—a general script with slight variances to account for interactions with real humans. When robots “die” inside this manufactured world, their program reboots and they start their life over, making the same decisions as before and recycling the same dialogue in a tidy, little loop.
I’m not sure as humans we’re really that different. If you look carefully, you will find that most decisions you make reflect some sort of pattern, and that those patterns combine to form loops.
It’s not a coincidence that your partner’s most annoying habits remind you of a former partner or family member. It’s not a fluke that your new job poses some of the same challenges and frustrations your old one did. It’s not uncommon to spend years working through an issue in therapy only to find yourself back at square one.
Evolution isn’t linear; it’s cyclical. The natural world is chock-full of cycles and repeating patterns—the seasons, the water cycle, the planetary cycle, hormone cycles. Math and physics are based on repeating patterns. Most religions believe in some kind of reincarnation or life after death. The list goes on.
I’d like to believe that we can break free of certain patterns in life, heal, and move on. But I think it’s more likely that loops can only be altered to an extent.
Like a Westworld robot having the same conversation for the 1000th time, we keep cycling back to the same damn problems and predicaments. This means that we can change our circumstances, our job, our partner, our hair, our house—and chances are, we will still struggle with the same things.
Maybe it’s the fear of rejection or abandonment. Maybe it’s the propensity to be hyperproductive and constantly feel overwhelmed. Maybe it’s loneliness or procrastination or a feeling of incompetence or the need for control.
These experiences might feel like they are reactions to external circumstances, but they are equally a product of our own design. What feels like coincidence is often the subconscious recreating familiar circumstances. Sometimes we are not ready or able to fully work through an issue, so we loop back to it when we are older, stronger, wiser.
For this reason, it’s much less effective to try to break the loop than it is to work with it—that is, to become more aware of patterns and the ways in which we are constructing our own realities. Adopting this mindful perspective takes radical self-responsibility and courage but, as with the Westworld robots, it can lead to a higher level of consciousness.
Here is one of my favorite processes when I suspect I’m stuck in a loop:
1. Notice when I’m repeatedly angry, sad, or triggered about something. Or notice where I feel particularly stuck in life.
2. Reflect on past situations where I have felt similarly.
3. Recognize where I am putting myself in these situations and how I am creating this reality.
4. Have compassion for myself and for my lifelong struggles, and appreciate how these patterns are often tied to my superpowers.
It may not be possible to completely break a loop, but it is possible to turn the cycle into a spiral, steadily climbing upward.