Patterns, patterns, everywhere!

Last week I wrote about the Hoffman Process and some of the insights I gained at the retreat I attended.

You knew I wasn’t finished, didn’t you? I’m faaaar too wordy to condense a week of material into one post!

So this is more of what I learned. This is my distillation, as I understood the material. This is Hoffman philosophy, as interpreted by Sheila.

I learned a lot. One of the terms I heard over and over was “pattern.” We all have patterns, hundreds and hundreds of patterns. A pattern is the default behavior we develop to address circumstances, and our feelings about what is happening, or what was said, or even what we think someone is thinking about us.

Pattern behavior is launched at the subconscious level…so ingrained we don’t even recognize we’re doing what we usually do in a given situation. Acting out patterns typically comes from lightning fast judgments and assumptions we make, based on everything from physical appearance of another person, a specific situation, spoken words, stress, fear, feelings of low self-worth…oh, the list goes on and on.

Have you ever felt an immediate dislike for someone because they remind you of someone else? Have you found yourself reacting to a situation, based on what you tell yourself others are thinking? Do you find yourself repeating behavior automatically when you’re tired, or nervous about something, or overwhelmed?

Congratulations! You, too, are of the human race, and you have patterns, just like the rest of us!

We generally know we have habits. I brush my teeth after meals, I drink coffee every morning. These are habits. They’re different from the concept of patterns. Patterns are not just actions that I do habitually. They are reactive, not really actions of choice.

Typically we develop our patterns in childhood through adolescence. Our patterns are a reflection of a behavior or coping skill we learned and adapted from our parents, or someone who stood in a surrogate role to us; or, we developed our patterns as a reaction to the people who raised us…as in: I don’t like it that my mom/dad does (fill in the blank), so I’ll do the opposite.

Of course we don’t have that conversation with ourselves. This is all happening at a subconscious level. I think it’s fair to say that a pattern is not necessarily, of itself, destructive or negative. Some may be. But I believe most patterns are neutral behaviors. The behaviors become patterns, and become destructive, when we default to a specific action or attitude based on reaction instead of choice.

Examples: Someone threatens our sense of security, and we become small. It’s as if we shrink back to a role from childhood. Becoming small looks just like it sounds. Your physical presence is diminished…maybe you try to become invisible. You minimize yourself, still your voice, give up your opinion, even your right to have an opinion.

For others, feeling intimidated or threatened leads to a show of bravado. Literally, you embody: “You’re not the boss of me!” You talk loudly, maybe bravely. You stand up, make your presence felt. But it’s not authentic bravery; it’s a show of force to soothe your experience of fright.

You see? Two sides of a reaction to the same stimulus.

It can be confusing, to say the least. And it’s damaging when two people begin to react to each other…each feeding the cycles and patterns, in a crazy dance that grows from behavior learned in childhood.

Here’s another example: You run into a friend who is moving forward in her career, while yours feels stagnant. Your interaction is positive and you make all the right encouraging noises. Then you go and buy something on impulse to cheer yourself up, maybe something you can’t afford, don’t need, or will feel guilty about buying. But you buy it anyway.

You reacted to feeling “less than.” You felt badly about your life, so you defaulted to a pattern that helps you feel better, at least for the moment.

The next concept: vicious cycles. That’s when patterns join together to form a downward spiral. In the example above, you can see several patterns, with more on the horizon. You put on an act with your friend because you know that’s the socially acceptable thing to do. Then to make yourself feel better, you turn to buying something for that immediate fix…must.feel.better.now. Then, when you reflect on what you bought…you didn’t need another thing; you put it on a credit card and added to your debt; you feel guilt; you feel sadness; you wonder why you do this on a regular basis; and you spend the rest of the day vacillating between guilt and frustration.

None of this has anything to do with your friend, and you didn’t spend any time thinking about how to improve your career outlook. Instead you got caught up in self-pity, then buying something to feel better emotionally, then second-guessing yourself and feeling mad/sad/frustrated that you added to your debt.

Patterns are not about the other person, or likely, the real situation…instead, they’re a reflection of how we interpret an event, which we pair with a judgment about an event or others. Then we act, and often the first act only leads us down the path to more patterns…more unhappiness.

To find your way through the maze, it’s important to know what your values are. Knowing your values and having determination to live with integrity helps you to stay focused on the outcome you’re seeking. You don’t get caught up as easily in reactionary behavior. You can listen to your voice and know your mind, rather than being swayed by the opinions of others…or the opinions you believe others have.

It’s especially important to know that a lot of what we attribute to other people…what we think someone is thinking of us…is often just a story we make up to fit the narrative we’ve chosen.

Our narratives may have nothing to do with reality.

Here’s an example from the course, in Sheila’s words: You’re going to a party and you don’t really want to go. But you go anyway. When you arrive, you feel intimidated…others are better looking, better dressed, seem like they’re having a good time already. You feel awkward, shy, “less than.”

See where this is going?

No one really notices you when you come in…everyone is involved in conversation. You tell yourself you’re being ignored. You go stand in the corner, and eventually find someone else to talk to who’s also standing on the sidelines. You talk to each other about the others there…how shallow they are, or some other critical observation.

The reality? Likely, no one thought anything negative about you, intentionally ignored you, or felt any ill will toward you. You made up a narrative to support your feelings of “less than.” And then your experience seems authentic. You felt disrespected and unseen.

Ah, it’s interesting, isn’t it, the world that lives in your mind, and how quickly you can evaluate and react to scenarios? Much of this is lightning fast, happening in our minds as we careen between our thoughts and the reality of what’s occurring, or what’s occurring as we see and believe our interpretation of events.

Think about it…we do it all the time.

This is another example: if we’re late to an event, we excuse ourselves…weather or traffic or something likely unavoidable caused us to be late. If someone else is late, we’re likely to see that person as unreliable. So this narrative that runs in our minds works in two ways. Either: We’re likely to give ourselves a pass, excuse, or benefit of the doubt. Or: we make ourselves the guilty ones, the bad ones, the losers, and elevate others when we write our stories.

Fascinating. Of course all of this is on a continuum. There are extremes to patterns, and some people are more mired in reactive behavior than others. The goal is to become aware of how much we live in a reactive state, and live out of choice instead.

Try this next time someone cuts you off in traffic: instead of telling yourself the story that this person is rude, dangerous, inconsiderate, a bad driver, etc., etc., etc., tell yourself the story that this is a couple racing to the hospital to have a baby. When that’s your story for why someone cuts you off, you feel different about what happened. You don’t get heated, or feel slighted. You feel compassion, understanding, sympathy or even empathy for their situation.

Sometimes we may understand the situation perfectly, and maybe the other person involved really does have bad motives, really does have ill will toward us. But you can still act out of choice. You can decide how to behave in the situation. You can choose to respond instead of react. That’s mature behavior. That’s breaking your pattern.

So I challenge you…look at the last day or two and see if you can find patterns for yourself. See how often you react rather than respond. It’s tricky, because actions can look mature, and yet not really be that.

I think the key is awareness. What do you do that is a predictable reaction, given a particular set of circumstances? When you look at those experiences, you can begin to identify your patterns. And when you become aware of being in a pattern, pause, slow down, and choose.

Choose. Respond instead of react. That’s all you need to do. Isn’t it simple?!

Well, I’ve got a little work left to do on myself…a few hundred patterns yet to address. But I’ve made a beginning, choosing to be more aware, more deliberate and intentional, less reactive. It’s a good road to be on, and it fits well with other choices I’ve also made along the way. Being intentional and living with integrity and choice marches together with my faith. All of this work reinforces the values I already have…I don’t want to go through life making assumptions and judgments based on a lot of false story telling.

I don’t think I do that too much. Do I?

Yes. Yes, I do. I don’t do it in ways that are extreme. But I do it. We all do it. And we can change if we choose.

Don’t believe everything you think. Your mind doesn’t always tell you the truth.

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3 thoughts on “Patterns, patterns, everywhere!

  1. Good food for thought! I recognize patterns in my marriage that can be destructive. That look or that casual comment becomes more because of patterns developed over 25 years of marriage.

    I will definitely have to work on this. Thanks for sharing!

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    • Oh Debbie! They’re everywhere…the good thing is, the more you pay attention to this, the easier it is to spot the little suckers! Hope it’s helpful, it’s been very thought provoking for me!

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  2. Love it! I broke a familial pattern last week .. my oldest brother is often a bully. I didn’t engage in his rants or insults .. I simply .. walked away. Not engaging took the wind out of his (predictable) sails and when he limped back with an apology later (all for my Mom, not my benefit) I reminded him that I’m his sister, I see him once a year, and it’d sure’d be nice to have a conversation with him instead of him yelling at me for absolutely no reason at all. Might never change a thing for him .. but it changed everything for me.

    PS I have practiced the “put yourself in their shoes” mentality with idiots in traffic .. it works. Someone probably thought I was an idiot before, too 🙂 MJ

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