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Watch your pattern

I.

Waking up you pick up your phone from the bedside table. You browse through your social media feed. Your emails. Your company chats. The blue light of the screen helps you to fully wake. The torrent of information sends your mind into a whirlwind. Lost is the chance of a calm and deliberate morning. You slowly come out of your bed and move. You take a shower. Eat breakfast. And run for the office while doom scrolling your social media feed. This is your morning every day. 

During discussions, you're more interested in sharing your opinions and ideas than listening to others. You rarely listen to understand. You're never fully engaged in conversions. Instead, while others are speaking, you think about your replies.

When you deal with difficult problems, you give in to distractions. You're working on a complex project, which you don’t enjoy it. While working on it, you check your social media feed, emails, etc every few minutes. Difficult problems bore you. You also have fear of failure. Distractions work as a useful coping mechanism. But you're not aware of this.

You avoid difficult conversations. A client is not happy with work. You avoid the client. Your relationships are a mess, but you don’t want to face them. 

Sales calls frighten you. Fear of failure and rejection stop you from pursuing new ambitions and goals. You put off things for tomorrow. 

You often turn small failures into massive downward spirals. For instance, you commit to exercising. You do it for a week. The next week you miss gym a day. The next day you skip again. After two days, you give up going to the gym entirely. You start a habit and give up in the middle.

You're afraid of showing your work because you don’t know how people will judge your work. Everyone suffers from imposter syndrome. It is common. But you don't any of it. And you don't learn how to deal with your imposter syndrome.

You're already overburdened with work. And then your partner or colleague requests you to take on some extra work, and you say yes, although you wanted to say no. And you know you would hate yourself later for saying yes. You don't know how to say no.

II.

We all have playbooks and patterns that we maintain. We don’t always notice these patterns. Because most patterns run on autopilot. We don’t pay much attention to them. Running on patterns is comfortable. And we rarely take time to reflect on our life and consciously see how we're doing unless some major shit happens. 

There might be even deeper conditions behind the development of some of these patterns. For example, we avoid difficult conversations or difficult tasks because it causes a feeling of helplessness in us. A feeling we developed in our childhood. We feel that things are getting out of control. It frightens us. Distractions work as a perfect coping mechanism in those situations. We find some control in indulging in distractions. 

Understanding our patterns is necessary to be truly productive and live a good life.

Being able to say no when you truly want and need to say no is necessary for your growth and sanity. 

Being able to control your morning instead of going on an autopilot of social media browsing is important for your productivity and mental clarity. 

III.

But how do we break out of our patterns?

The first step is to bring these patterns to consciousness. Many of the patterns that don't serve us well, that are negative, work because we're not aware of them. Because these patterns operate out of our conscious knowledge.

More importantly, they serve a purpose. As we discussed, some of these patterns work as coping mechanisms. So ask yourself what underlying conditions make your patterns necessary. As Gabor Mate says, "The question is not why the addiction, but why the pain".

Go deeper into the underground of your mind and see what is hidden there.

The first effective step to dealing with these patterns is to bring them to light. Paying apt attention to our life and taking the cover off of our patterns.

You may try some of the following techniques:

Notice your emotion: Writing has healing power when you learn how to use it. Whenever I feel unsettled internally -- angry, depressed, worried, I write. It provides clarity. Clarity clears confusion and anxiety. In fact, anxiety is a result of our inability to see reality clearly. We're anxious because we don't know what'll happen and we assume something bad will happen. When you can figure out how bad, it anchors you. Writing helps with that. Pay attention to your emotions. Write down when you feel sad, down, excited, and all your other emotions when they occur. When you pay attention to your emotion, you can see why your patterns exist. 

Journal and time tracking: Use a notebook throughout the day and write down your feelings. I use both a physical and a digital notebook almost all the time. When I feel something specific I note it down. A weekly review is another tool you can use to review your feelings. It allows you to see yourself over a period of seven days. I use a format where I have several questions related to my feelings, mental health, and so on that help me to reflect and understand my dominant feelings throughout the week. 

Bring intentionality into your day: Be intentional about how you spend your time. When making your choices and decisions, be intentional. Do things that you truly want to do. Don’t say yes to something that you internally resist just because your boss or a senior requested you to do it. You can take a 5 seconds pause and think about it before making the decision. In many of these instances, we agree because of the fear of negative consequences, but when you take a few seconds and bring those consequences to reality, it allows you to judge things more rationally. 

Practice self-awareness: Pay attention to your responses and behaviors throughout the day. When you stay aware, you develop a deeper understanding of why you do certain things and avoid others, which can eventually help you develop effective strategies to break out of your patterns. 

IV.

Patterns are comfortable to live with. But comfort does not always bring long-term happiness and meaning. The opposite is true. Living with unhealthy patterns can make our life difficult over time. Then there are patterns such as addictive behavior, anxiety, etc that can significantly diminish our experience of life. 

To live a meaningful life, achieve your goals, and excel in what you do, you have to, as Derek Sivers puts it, “the hours don’t suddenly appear. You have to steal them from comfort”. 

Our negative patterns are usually huge energy suckers. They eat into our productivity and motivation. Unless we find ways to break out of our patterns, we live a limited life. And the first step to breaking out of our patterns is noticing them. 

Updated on October 2022.

Ruhul Kader is a Dhaka-based writer, researcher, and entrepreneur. He is also the co-founder and CEO of Future Startup and the author of Rethinking Failure: A short guide to living an entrepreneurial life. He writes about entrepreneurship, business, strategy, technology, and culture. He can be reached at [email protected]

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