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Thursday, 2 April 2015

Recurring Patterns

A lot of the work I do is about understanding patterns - whether patterns in spend data, patterns in supplier relationships or patterns in our lives.

Yesterday was no different, and started with this tweet from Terry W. Virts on the International Space Station:


Tweets then continued on the theme of patterns - those in nature and in life.

The day concluded with an interesting coaching session, and I share the under lying pattern here (with full and kind permission of the coachee).

The current chapter of the book I'm writing is about the repeating the patterns in our lives. The ones where you say "Not THIS again!", and then, only a few months later, seem to fall into the same pattern and realise here you are AGAIN!

When repeating patterns in our lives it's really easy to get hooked into the 'content' of the pattern. That is we prefer to believe that the other person or organisation is responsible for how we're feeling rather than us being responsible. So you might hear:
  • "I know he is the 5th so 'n' so I've dated but did you hear what he said to me?" Rather than say "Why have I, yet again, found myself staying with a G!t." or
  • "I know this is the 4th job I've had where they've taken advantage of me - but they really do need to get this manager sorted!" Rather than say "Why have I, yet again, ended up with a job where I'm allowing myself to be bullied"or    
  • "I know this is the 6th job where I've repeatedly worked late but they really do need to stop giving me so much work - it's not fair." Rather than say "I wonder why I can't stop work at a reasonable hour?" or
  • "I know this is the 7th friend who has taken advantage of me, and did you see what he said about me on Facebook?" Rather than "I wonder why I can't say "no" more often to others?"
  • And so on.
The clue is the repetitiveness of the pattern - ie the only common denominator in this pattern is us. The question to be answered is therefore - how are we contributing to the situation? 

Please note - I'm NOT saying we're to blame for the bullying. I'm simply saying we're responsible for not walking away - again. 

Solutions to releasing the patterns above might be found by building self esteem, confidence or assertiveness skills. Sometimes the solution can be found in the past when we learnt the pattern (ie a behaviour might have worked when were 7 years old. We therefore keep repeating it believing it still to be a great strategy). Other times it's a bit like we're enjoying the hamster wheel of repetitions and don't really want to stop (example here when adrenaline is fuelling the repeated pattern). 

Last night my client was in full swing complaining about the other person - despite this being the nth situation just like it - just involving other people. After a little while I realised the solution in this situation might be found with another pattern.

A majority of the time we judge and get angry about others due to one of our values being compromised. (See the blog on values to understand how and why this happens. It helps explain why not everyone gets frustrated at the same behaviour.)

A small minority of the time we get angry or frustrated because a part of us wants to be more like the other person (bare with me - it will make sense).

For example viewed from both these viewpoints someone's selfish behaviour might illicit anger because:
  • From a value of fairness: "it's not fair"
  • From someone who is not selfish at all: "why can't I be more like that"
The problem is - if asked - the last thing you think you want to be is more like them. Which is why it's easier to stick with pointing the figure at the unacceptable behaviour and other person rather than your reaction to it.

This is what was happening last night.

Obviously when I said "I wonder if you want to be more like them" I was met with a resounding "Are you mad!"

I persevered (I'm good at that!). Believing it to be about them needing to be more selfish, and to put their needs on at least an even footing with others, I used a metaphor, and asked her to imagine the needs of other people to be in boxes.

We soon had an imaginary room full of different boxes of different sizes, shapes and colours representing the other people in her life.

I then asked her for the size, shape and colour of her own box.

I also asked her to imagine how other people she admired might imagine their own box to be like.

The answer she gave enabled us both to understand how she might need to be a little more selfish.

Suffice it to say this week's homeplay is for her to imagine her own box - to perhaps even get one in reality, and to bring it into the forefront of her mind and to play about with the representation. To explore what might help the imagined box (representing her needs) to have an appropriate relationship to the other boxes.

To notice what she noticed as she did this. To notice perhaps how, as she played with the box, her relationship with the other person changed (ie how the repeated pattern changed).


Too soon for news on progress, but a great example of how recurring patterns can be explored using the internal metaphor we're using to represent the situation.

What recurring patterns might you want to release? What benefit would releasing it have on your life, and what step do you need to take to achieve that?

Alison Smith
Inspiring change inside and out

Previous blogs using nature to explore our less than helpful patterns have included:
More on the coaching I offer can be found here or call me on +44 (0)7770 538159 or email alison@alisonsmith.eu

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