Have you ever noticed how much we are driven by patterns?
We are automatically transported through the moving walkway of life, repeating the same cycles over and over, oftentimes without even realizing it. Driving the same way to work even when there’s construction, not drinking the coffee unless we’ve got cream, forgetting where we left our keys once again, yelling at our kids for fighting over the remote… shaking our heads at ourselves as we make the same mistakes time and time again.
We depend on these patterns to get through our days – to remember things, like appointments and brushing our teeth. We teach patterns to our babies: shapes, sounds, sleep / wake. My daughter brings home worksheet after worksheet from kindergarten where she has proudly filled in the missing pieces from colorful patterns.
We are made of cells – themselves repeating patterns – assembled into bodies, patterned after our parents, acting out behaviors passed down through generations. This is how life persists.
When I was in high school, my sophomore math teacher introduced us to fractals, and I was mesmerized. The Fibonacci sequence, the golden ratio—patterns of nature repeating into infinity with graceful intricacy. This magic of mathematics explained snowflakes and fern fronds and cloud swirls, and even the seemingly random acts of nature, like bird migration and bee dancing.
This made such sense to me: patterns, designs, the Yellow-Brick Roads of Life. I loved the consistency and predictability, down to DNA strands and subatomic orbits.
That blind adherence to repetition—of thoughts, beliefs and behaviors—is often what keeps people mired in a place of stagnancy.
Wake up, think anxious thoughts, feel stressed, reach for numbing ‘tool’ (such as wine or food), thoughts quieted, fall asleep…wake up, think more anxious thoughts (+ shame for numbing again), feel stressed…and so on.
Twice this week I received one of the greatest compliments a life coach can get (in my eyes anyway)—”You are calling me out on my bullshit.” Yep, that’s my job! (Here I am, a great lover of patterns, interrupting people’s patterns.)
Sometimes we are in such a place of stress and overwhelm that these patterns seem to be the only thing that keep us functioning in a forward direction. This is how I felt when my kids were very small and I was a full-time mom. My husband worked the night shift, and most days I felt like my head was barely above water. The nightly wine was what I looked forward to all day – just to shut it off for a while. Except when I overdid it, and then I drowned in shame and guilt that I piled on the next morning.
It’s not patterns themselves that are the problem, it is the complacency of monotonous repetition. We’re often holding down the same tired beat for much longer than necessary.
Sometimes our patterns serve us… until they don’t.
I couldn’t get out of my repetitive cycle of stressing and numbing, mainly because I had no idea how else to deal with my feelings without the nightly wine.
The mutation of DNA patterns is what’s responsible for the evolution of life. Slight alterations in cellular structure better suit changing environments and ecological demands. [This is my science-teacher background coming out!] Life wouldn’t be the diverse jungle that it is today without shifting patterns!
Or take music for example—a good beat is meant to be riffed on. The best music takes you on a journey, building on the original rhythm, not staying stuck. If a song is too repetitive, we lose interest.
Our lives revolve around patterns, but we must allow them to morph, just like the fingerlings on a fractal or the vines winding up the side of a building—multiplying and doubling back, branching off, spiraling in on themselves. Without mutations in the patterns of Life, we would still be single-celled protozoa floating in a primeval sea.
What habits are you mindlessly repeating to the detriment of your personal evolution? Perhaps it’s time to allow for a skipped beat, or an extra twist here and there to shift you forward towards the next stage of your life.