Our patterns are very much like those old-fashioned cards used in knitting machines. You stick in a ‘pattern card’ and the machine produces the sweater shown on the card. In the same way, our reactions to problems are designed to give a predictable result, even at the cost of creativity and happiness.
Just as a building reveals something about the architect, each pattern we use points us toward areas within us that are ready to be transformed. No matter how ugly they might seem to us (and others), our patterns are the breadcrumb trail we need to follow to find our way to breakthrough. As weeds are plants whose virtues have not yet been discovered (to paraphrase the philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson), our patterns are possibilities for breakthrough waiting to be revealed.
What Are Some Common Patterns?
Patterns are . . . slamming phones, compulsively working, trying to get in the final word, thinking there is a right way to do something, being inauthentic, gossiping behind people’s backs, playing the fool, avoiding conflict, continuously looking in the cookie jar, reaching for a cigarette, repeated procrastination, and a million more. If you find yourself being rigid, closed-minded, fearful, or lacking flexibility, then it’s likely that you’re stuck inside one of your patterns.
A simple way of defining a pattern is a predictable response to a specific type of situation. It will always be made up of a symphony of HANDS, HEAD, and HEART components. That means emotions and feelings; beliefs, stories, myths, assumptions; and habits, actions, movements. The most obvious patterns are those that pop out when we are tired, feel attacked, in the middle of a conflict, a little ill, or overwhelmed. This is because we have less energy and attention to keep them locked down.
Some patterns are designed to save our lives, such as driving safely. So let’s keep them. Some are useful, like brushing our teeth automatically before we go to bed. Let’s keep those ones too. But when we become ruled by our patterns, we cannot adapt to the changing nature of the world around us and so cannot thrive. Any time we react to a problem with a familiar habit, an established belief system, and a persistent emotion—rather than actively co-creating something fresh in the moment—we are running a limiting pattern. Every time we become aware of a pattern that is limiting us, it is a juicy opportunity to have a breakthrough.
Trigger Unhappy or Trigger Breakthrough?
If we look at ourselves honestly, we’ll probably find that much of what we say or do follows a pattern to some degree, as opposed to being a specific-to-that-moment created thought or act. We might think that reacting the way we do is totally ‘normal’ and ‘what everyone does.’ Yet, on closer inspection, we will usually discover that some elements of it are idiosyncratic. That helps us own them fully. These are our foibles (and breakthroughs) and nobody else’s!
Every problem, every trigger, is a moment to break from the predictability of the past and invent a new possibility that brings more love into the present whilst also shaping the future.
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All patterns stop us being creative in this moment, RIGHT HERE... RIGHT NOW that has never existed before. They suck the creativity out of the system we are in—whether family, community, or at work—imploding fields of possibility and shutting down rich, alternative futures.
Patterns Create More Problems
Think about the various ways you respond when you encounter a problem. What happens to your HANDS, HEAD, and HEART when, for example:
- A driver cuts you off dangerously?
- A trusted colleague or lover criticizes you harshly?
- You’re passed over for a major promotion or miss out on funding for a project?
- You think about the state of the environment or child poverty?
- You want to get your own way and feel unheard?
- You want to get laid (or avoid it) in a bar or club?
- Your children’s bickering has developed into a full-scale war?
- You walk into the gym?
- You read books like this?
- You look in a mirror?
Even if the patterns you run make you look or feel smart, cool, or in control, can you see how they might be preventing you from being tender and open-hearted? Can you imagine they might be stopping you from accessing unique fields of possibility, which are ready to sprout when you respond in a different way?
What Is That Pattern Costing You?
Our patterns were designed to create predictable results. They are there to guarantee an outcome: Either less of what we didn’t like (neglect, criticism, or powerlessness) or more of what we did (praise, attention, or control). Like a train on a track, once we start to roll with our patterns, there can only be one, pre-arranged destination. That might be . . . losing it, floods of tears, avoiding people, shutting ourselves in a room, threats of ending it, or pouring a glass of wine, rolling a joint, or reaching for porn. Whatever the end point, the outcome can only change if we lay down new track as we go.
Established patterns often create more problems than they solve because the old ways of acting (HANDS), thinking (HEAD), and feeling (HEART) are no longer fit for purpose. What worked wonderfully on the savannah in Africa doesn’t work so well in an office cubicle in Savannah, Georgia. What worked brilliantly when we started our career as an intern at a multinational may not work so well in a Silicon Valley start-up. What worked well as a five-year-old to keep our parents happy may not work so well as a lover or spouse.
What Problems Are Your Patterns Creating?
Patterns tend to reduce our fittedness. Once a pattern is locked in place, whether it is to avoid pain or boost pleasure, it stops us adapting, inventing, and thriving in the now. This is why so many of our patterns sabotage our potential. They are rigid and not spontaneous; brittle, and not biodynamic.
It’s easy to see the stuff in the outside world as the problem. Yet the real problem is really how we react. Rely on old patterns that are no longer relevant and you’ll always encounter problems.
The great news is that as your patterns were created at some point, then they can also be uncreated, or broken through, just like LEGO. Adult brains can create new neurons as well as trim and change existing neural pathways. So we can break through our patterns by rewiring our brains (and bodies).
Stop Being a Joker (or Whatever Pattern You've Chosen)
If we continue to use outdated patterns later in life, we risk failing. When I was being bullied at school for being overweight, I made up a whole load of patterns to help me get by. I became funny (well, comical at least). I became smart. I even tried my hand at being cool. Today, all of these patterns can be useful. However, being a joker, intellectual, or hipster can also stop me feeling connected to those around me and limit my scope.
It’s not about rejecting any of these patterns. It’s about being able to choose which is most appropriate, what fits best, and what is going to create the most thrivadelic outcome for all involved. Is it letting out that joke that has just bubbled up into my mouth? Or is it taking a sincere interest in the issue someone is sharing with me? There is always a win–win–win (win for you, win for me, and win for the world) available in every situation, no matter how many competing agendas there are. But if we play out old patterns without choice, without awareness, we are unlikely to find them.
Breaking Through to Your True Potential
As we know, we can’t change things outside our control but we can always break through our patterns. Every addiction, every foible, and every obsession is a pattern that we created to protect us. What once mystified us as inexplicable—such as eating a pack of cookies when we want to look great on the beach in two weeks’ time; or ending a relationship with someone we love—suddenly becomes clear. We are exhibiting a conditioned reaction that was designed to protect us but is now messing us up.
Every problem can be used to wake up from the trance that your patterns hold you in and start creating a more empowered response to life. Almost everybody sabotages themselves in some way with their patterns. Break these patterns, break through the front, and your true potential will shine through.
Although our patterns may seem permanent, particularly if we’ve been trying to break through them for years, any one of them, given time and commitment, can be broken through. Our neural signatures can be rewired to help us respond more creatively and spontaneously to problems in our life and in the world.
Seeing Through the Looking Glass Into Yourself
What pattern did you run with the last person you had a fight or disagreement with? How did it help you? How did it limit you? What is the story you have told yourself about what happened?
A quick way to loosen things up is to rewrite and edit the story. You can design a new one that empowers you as opposed to limits you to your conditioned response. When you change the story, you change the frame through which you see things.
Changing your story reframes everything, including the problem itself. You can choose to see your room-mate’s messy habits as an exuberant expression of creativity. Or, that they are practicing the art of living on the edge of chaos. Or, they are teaching you how to be more spontaneous and free. You get to invent the story, the frame that enables you to be the most creative, most loving, and most authentic version of you that you choose.
Simply the act of spotting a pattern, right now, and then consciously interrupting it, can break through it. However, many of our most ingrained patterns just don’t seem to shift when we try to change them. There is good reason for this. They were designed to protect us and won’t go anywhere until they are not needed to protect us anymore.
If we try to change them with our thoughts, they won’t budge because they are driven by our emotions. We have to get into the emotional layer, the HEART, to rewire them. This is not always ‘pleasant,’ because we must enter our darkside. That means being radically response-able for our own sh!t. The sooner you switch on, the more patterns you get to transform and the more life you get to live.
Subtitles by InnerSelf
©2014 by Nick Seneca Jankel. All Rights Reserved.
Published by Watkins Publishing, London, UK.
Dist by Osprey Publishing
About the Author
NICK SENECA JANKEL is a 21st-century shaman who has helped over 50,000 individuals, hundreds of world-class organisations like Disney, Nike and Pepsi, national governments and millions of TV viewers to ‘switch on’ and break through challenges. He has a triple First from Cambridge University in medicine and philosophy, and is a director of creative management consultancy wecreateworlwide.com and co-founder of ripeandready.com. He is a sought after inspirational speaker and hosted a BBC TV series as a breakthrough coach. Visit his website at http://www.nickjankel.com/
Watch an interview with Nick: Nick Seneca Jankel speaks about Switching On