Recently I saw a post on Facebook from one of my friends saying that she was in the process of changing a pattern she has had in her life for years. She was excited and somewhat anxious about the change. She was also wondering what patterns others were noticing in their lives and whether they wanted to change those patterns or keep them.
All of this got me thinking about the patterns and habits in my life and whether they serve me or not. If you are like me, there are things you do habitually. There are patterns in my life that I walk through daily. For example, I follow a pattern of taking off my pajamas before I get in the shower in the morning. I also follow a pattern of brushing my teeth before bed. These habits are helpful. They serve me well. Patterns of behavior like these take the guesswork out of routine day-to-day tasks.
Interestingly, I read recently that eating the same breakfast (or lunch or dinner) every day typically leads to a lower overall calorie intake for the day. I loved reading this since I eat the same breakfast every day when I am not traveling – Greek yogurt and granola. I like it and it takes all the decision-making out of this all important morning meal. I know the protein, fiber and calorie content of my meal and it’s easy. This pattern also seems to serve me well.
Unfortunately, however, habits, patterns and routines can also keep us stuck in certain mindsets. Suppose you work at home and every morning you come down the stairs to your office with your cup of coffee and sit down in front of your computer to answer email. Sounds like a fairly innocent pattern, right? In reality though this pattern may keep you limited in your creativity and openness to new things.
Our patterns of behavior typically belie patterns or ruts in our thinking as well – places where we go unconscious or get stuck. If I am so ingrained in a pattern of behavior that I do it without thinking, then I have stopped questioning, innovating or creating. When we fall into patterns, we turn off our conscious brains and go on automatic pilot.
Now as I have said before, there are certainly times when this serves us but what about when it does not? The key is being aware enough to know the difference. So, how do you allow for automatic pilot when it helps but disable that feature when it does not? In other words, how can you become consciously aware of your patterns so you can evaluate whether they are positive or negative influences in your life?
This is the crux of the issue and also the hardest thing to address. How can you become conscious of those things you are not currently conscious of? I suggest checking in with yourself from time to time during a typical day as a first step toward more conscious awareness of your habits and patterns. Ask yourself two questions:
1. What am I doing?
2. What am I thinking about?
When you ask these questions, notice whether what you are doing and what you are thinking about is aligned. If it is not, then you may have abandoned your conscious awareness of what you are doing and be in an unconscious pattern. This quick check-in will help snap you out of unconsciousness and allow you to look intentionally at what you are doing. Is this something you do habitually? Is it a pattern of behavior? How does the pattern serve you (or does it)? If it does not serve you, examine how else you could do what you are doing so that you are more consciously engaged in the action. What changes could you make in this pattern or habit so that it serves you better?
Becoming consciously aware of patterns or habits we are engaged in allows us to question those patterns and to look critically at whether they serve us or simply keep us stuck on auto-pilot. It also allows for the space we need to get creative. Perhaps we can look at new ways of doing the same thing that might give us more freedom, productivity or fun in our lives. So, I invite you to be open and look curiously at the patterns in your life. And, I’d love to hear what you find.