Breaking Patterns

“The interpretation of our reality through patterns not our own, serves only to make us even more unknown, even less free, even more solitary.”

~ Gabriel Garcia Marquez

You and I constantly rely on patterns we have designed to make it easier and more efficient to respond to the challenges of living and working. Many patterns are necessary, yet others trap us in responses that get results we don’t want or would like to change. We have patterns for personal care, relationship interactions, how we do our work, and how we think of ourselves. We have patterns for fitness, eating, and getting what we want.

Patterns are formed as a sequence of responses you made to a situation, a need, or a want. These responses are a combination of the thoughts, words, feelings, and actions your mind found that worked at a particular time or in specific situations. When a similar experience or feeling appeared, your mind went back to previous responses used before. In time and with repetition they became a pattern of some kind. They even became automatic and unconscious – you just always did it that way. Personally, I can think of some doozies.

To understand, change, or create new patterns you have to know these three components of a pattern.

  1. The purpose the pattern serves or was designed to serve. For example, to feel better, to make friends, or to get to your workplace.
  2. The responses that make up the pattern. For example, to feel better when stressed you get quiet, go inside yourself and look for a way to escape the stressful situation. Or when you need to get a project done, you identify the easiest and fastest steps and take those, despite the results or a better way that may take more time and be more challenging.
  3. The results the responses are getting now. For example, your stress pattern above keeps you from dealing with difficult situations and avoids confrontations. It also keeps you from resolving situations with positive responses or patterns. To the mind the results don’t matter as much as what works.

Once you have identified the components of a pattern you want to stop or change, some quick pattern breakers can get you started. Use any one or a combination of these actions:

  • Own it. Give the pattern a name and take responsibility for using it (no blaming someone else or your childhood). Play with it as part of a game. This removes the emotional charge the pattern has for you.
  • Witness it. Step away from it and look at the pattern as if it belonged to someone else. Watch it without censoring it or judging yourself for using it. This helps to understand the purpose of the pattern.
  • Over-repeat it. Take it to the extreme, overdo it. Repeat it and repeat it until you begin laughing at it. It will become mechanical as it loses its emotional hold on you.
  • Pause it. Catch yourself in the pattern and give yourself permission to stop it for now. Just this consciousness removes the pattern’s mystery. This opens up new responses.
  • Reward it. The pattern has served a purpose, thank it and appreciate it. Stop trying to reject it. Rather, examine it and embrace it so you can let it go. This is the beginning of changing it.

Patterns are only the patterns that have worked for some purpose in the past. They can be broken and new, more effective ones created. Knowing our patterns, their purpose, the response they depend on, and the results they got to automate them, is the beginning of changing them at any time and yes, for any pattern.

18 thoughts on “Breaking Patterns

  1. What amazes me, Eric, is how we become pretty settled in our patterns even though the results show that they are not working for us. A sense of security always seems to override the necessity for change and a new result. That last principle you mentioned about rewarding the pattern you let go of, is for me such a good one. To try and suppress it or to simply rip it out is not the way to go. As usual, a great post.

    • The path of least resistance; often people’s default choice. To your remark, I encourage people to reward themselves especially when adopting new approaches or for choosing a more challenging possibility. It’s constructive and acknowledges taking action. Always appreciate your wise and prudent insights.

  2. Good points you make. Some patterns are so useful, such as knowing how to tie a shoe effectively. Saves a lot of time. With so many self-help books and speakers around though, it seems as if many people try on behaviors and patterns of approaching problems like clothes that don’t quite fit, but are easier to acquire than creating a unique one. “Almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those we cannot resemble,” from the pen/mind of Dr. Samuel Johnson has always been one of my favorite quotes when I start getting in an adopted pattern rut.

    • Mimicking, mirroring, emulating, etc… it almost seems the default approach for many. I hear and agree with your thought about when people “…try on…” a pattern du jour. Too easy. The Johnson quote is wonderful. Thanks for sharing it and your thoughtful perspective.

      • Always good to have a bit of intraction with you. I have a few “friends” whose lives I enjoy sharing in, but enough “…grankids new bicycle…” posts are enough. Always look forward to your thought-provoking ideas and posts.

  3. “Going with the flow” vs. “following a stale pattern” => NO CONTEST! I’m going with the flow, embracing uncertainty, and exploring NEW possibilities. :mrgreen:

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