There are lots of beautiful patterns in nature, from spiders webs to scattered rainbow colours, but patterns that I am concerned about are patterns of regularity in the world, man-made design or abstract ideas that repeats in a predictable manner, and in particular the patterns of our lives and habits. We all have them, the minds preference is to develop habits which saves its energy, it is easier for the mind to repeat something that is already done in the same manner that it did before, it is the foundation upon which confidence is built and is the most energy efficiency way to carry out a regular task, it is very good for the survival of species but it does not necessarily mean it is good for the individual.
Whilst habit are an elegant solution, one of the most impressive things about human being is our ability to do the hard thing in short-term for a better position in the long-term, though this is a skill that must be practised. It does mean that we are able to break our habits, even when on the face of it, we are going against the efficiency of doing things by habit, we can deliberately choose the more energy absorbing option which is irrational in the short-term as we are able to recognise that there are long term benefits in doing so, we are able to imagine ourselves in the future, something no other animal is able to do. Such delayed gratification is a learnable skill, which gives us the confidence that we are able to do such things, and being able to recognise our patterns gives a golden opportunity to practise and use those skills, to do the hard thing.
Most of us would be aware of the value of tackling our poorer habits, getting out of bed late, eating a doughnut with afternoon coffee, doing one low energy activity after another, playing on social media; and I certainly think these are worthwhile patterns to break and change. The point of this article is not just to encourage you to observe your poor patterns, it is to take you to the stage beyond that, to face those patterns that you have determined to be good. Tackling poor patterns often only need to be recognised, and that is a matter of bringing your concentration to your own behaviour and thoughts, whether that is through journalling, recording what you are actually doing by observing yourself through meditation.
Your poor patterns of behaviour should be obvious from the information that you have gathered. Changing those habits comes from the same observing process except you then identify the component parts of each habit. Every habit without fail has a trigger or cue, routine and reward, and you change the routine by switching from a poor one to a better one. This partnering up of swapping poor for better routine is more powerful and double the benefit of just trying to give something up which feels like denial, you are giving yourself something better. Instead of having your afternoon coffee trigger the urge to have a doughnut, you replace that routine with a better one like talking to someone, meditating for five minutes or watching the birds in your garden.
The patterns that are really interesting are the ones that we think of and have labelled as good, the ones that make us think we are a good person. The problem is once we label something as good is that we stop thinking about it at all, we get our little dopamine hit as a reward for doing a good thing but like all habits the dopamine hit can become the good thing even when the routine stops serving us. Good habits feel so comfortable and because they are habits they are easy even when on the surface they appear tough, going for a five mile run is a difficult accomplishment for someone who has never run, the problem is that for someone who runs every day and they run that five miles without fail, it becomes an easy habit to repeat. Worse than that we have a message reflected back to us that we are good person for doing that every day, our friends are impressed and no one will ever tell you that it is easy to be stuck in a habit when on the face of it it seems like such a good habit.
This is incredibly dangerous, if you made a pony climb a mountain every day with a heavy burden on its back and you beat it if it did not do as it was told. Everyone would rightly recognise it as a cruel act even if once the habit had been established the pony did this crazy thing willingly and because it was its habit. Before you mock the poor pony for unthinkingly following the habits that had been given to it, it is worth taking a long hard look at your own life and realising which habits you do without thinking about them just because for a period of your life those are the habits that made you happy, gave you satisfaction and even grew you as a being of consciousness. Just because it was true for while or even a long time, it does not mean that it is true forever, our needs and wants change, our knowledge of who we are evolves, the only constant is change and habits especially good habits are unthought about patterns of behaviours that will repeat forever if you allow them.
To truly know how important a habit, you have to tested them and the ideas that you have around your patterns. To do this you have to abstain from your habit or usual patterns of behaviour, even the patterns that we love, that we value for the feelings that they give us, whether they are ones that give us, social status, good labels or that benefits us in our lives. Unless a habit is examined, we do not know how they affect us, sometimes the results of these experiments are very obvious, if you have a good night sleep every night, you do not truly know how good it is for you until you experience a night without sleep. It is only when we are truly exhausted that we recognise how important that good night sleep is, and whilst the opposite is also true, that you do not know how good a a good night sleep feels if you never actually have one, if you have the belief that you gain more by being awake longer, you can never know if that is true until you experiment and try the opposite. There are no sacred cows when it come to our habits, there is only what we have done before.
We have to be prepared to challenge our assumptions if we are ever to know whether they are true, and if you are terrified that if you miss a day from your running schedule that you will never run again. That is also a assumption that is worth challenging, knowing that you have resilience makes your life better than being scared that you do not, and the only way to practice resilience is by making things harder for yourself, by breaking habits, you force yourself to re-establish them with the knowledge that they are worthwhile, and not just keep on running up the mountain out of habit, but because it is something you truly want to do today.
The patterns of our lives certainly make our lives easier and can give them simplicity and beauty, we are what we do after all. There is meaning in what we keep close to us, what we repeatedly do, the thoughts that we keep on having, a life full of loving, kind and compassionate thoughts seems like a better life than one full of anger, regret and fear. Though we have to be willing to experience everything in order to know what is truly meaningful both to others and for ourselves, we have to know oneself so that we can give to others.
Then we have to make the most important decision of our life of where we are putting our energy. One way to see the world and our place in it, is that there is an universal collective consciousness that reflect our joint experience, each individual is one cell of something bigger than ourselves, and our way of being or patterns of behaviours can add energy to the world or take it away. It is love that adds positive energy that creates a better more joyful world or alternatively we can contribute to one that is slowed down by fear. It is only by examining and being aware of our own action, habits and patterns that we know are we acting with love or fear, and whether we are on the side of loving action and patterns of actions that creates better worlds, which means that your actions matter and are important, so choose to be better for all of us.