Spotting Patterns Can Improve How You Make Your Decisions

Home Decision Making Spotting Patterns Can Improve How You Make Your Decisions

Spotting Patterns Can Improve How You Make Your Decisions

Here’s something to try. For a few moments, stop being an active participant in your own life. Instead, become an observer.

Which events occur in your life? How do you react to them? What sort of thoughts do you have? What type of people do you interact with?

Look closer and you’ll notice something interesting. To a large extent, each of these aspects works in predictable ways. Your thoughts, decisions and actions, your taste in people, clothes, music, and food… even how you get distracted and what you do after that — they all have patterns.

What are patterns? They’re series or sequences that repeat themselves. Patterns might become visible through results, but they’re actually made up of several elements that repeat in a predictable manner.

Patterns in your actions turn into habits and routines.

Patterns in your behavior turn into reactions.

Patterns in your thoughts turn into the voices inside your head.

The World Works in a Similar Fashion

Patterns of human nature dictate how the world that we build functions.

For instance, corporate culture is nothing but a pattern of how its people behave.

Software and algorithms are nothing but patterns. They even improve according to the inputs they receive: patterns of user behavior.

Tunes of songs in a genre of music are patterns of similar chords and structures.

Architecture and fashion are patterns of motifs and templates respectively.

Even massive events that disrupt the course of the world, occur in patterns too. If you deep-dive into history, you’ll notice that anything that’s happened now has occurred in some form or the other earlier.

“There are only patterns, patterns on top of patterns, patterns that affect other patterns.
Patterns hidden by patterns. Patterns within patterns.
If you watch close, history does nothing but repeat itself.” — Chuck Palahniuk

Mother Nature works in patterns also.

Change in seasons, how trees blossom, the food chain in the animal kingdom… heck, even COVID—19 is a textbook virus that’s following a pattern.

Patterns Can Be Good and Bad

Before going further, let’s quickly look at how and why the mind forms patterns.

The brain keeps looking for ways to conserve energy. One way to do this is to create patterns out of its surroundings because that’s an efficient system to handle information. The mind becomes quicker at recognizing, reacting to, and using, patterns.

And this is what’s good and bad about it.

Obviously, the good part is that the brain can reserve more energy for larger decisions and can work throughout the day. Without such a system, you would be already running on fumes by 10 in the morning.

The bad part is that patterns embed themselves so deeply in our minds that many people:

1. Become immune to them

People struggle to change counterproductive patterns because they don’t want to leave their comfort zone. They treat bad habits and behaviors like the weather. They know it’s bad, but shrug their shoulders and say, “That’s how it is. What can I do about it?”

Examples include a person who keeps eating unhealthy food, or a manager who keeps overloading his team with futile tasks.

2. Fail to spot them

When people tend to look at events in isolation, they can’t notice underlying patterns at play. As a result, they keep repeating the same mistakes and landing in the same mess over and over again.

Examples include a person who always gets angry while talking to his partner on specific topics. Or a person who keeps reverting to instant gratification at the slightest hint of stress while working on a task.

Many events—large and small—that disrupt us are also patterns; we just can’t notice them. According to Palahniuk, chaos is patterns we can’t recognize, random is patterns we can’t decode, and nonsense is patterns we haven’t understood.

But if we can understand patterns, we can improve our decision-making, become creative and spot opportunities, and design a better life for ourselves.

Here are three simple exercises to get better at understanding patterns in your life and in things around you:

a. Have a beginner’s mind: Such a state of mind is about being open, eager to learn, and lacking preconceptions. Explore life the way a small child would, full of wonder, curiosity, and amazement. Give your mind the freedom to ask questions like “Why…?” and “What if…?” After all, curiosity is one of the most underrated superpowers you can have.

b. Observe deeply: Do you remember how you spotted something new when you rewatched a movie or webisode, or reread a book? It was always there. This time, though, you noticed it because you looked closer. Likewise, if you examine anything more than once, you’ll find underlying patterns that were invisible until now.

c. Sharpen your perceptions: Seeing and hearing are not enough; you also need to perceive things differently. Seeing is the process in which photons of light enter the photoreceptive cells of the retina and get transmitted as neural impulses to different parts of the brain. Perception is the much more complex process by which the brain interprets these signals.[1]credit: Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently by Gregory Berns To sharpen your perception, expose yourself to diverse experiences. Your mind will begin to connect seemingly unrelated dots and unveil new ways of thinking.

Summing Up

Going with the flow isn’t always good. If you always accept everything the way it is, you cannot spot opportunities that could change your life.

Yes, things function differently in reality from how we think they should function. But none of it is rocket science; it’s just patterns.

If you can understand patterns, you can broaden your thoughts, take better actions, and design a better life for yourself overall.


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