The Incredible Power of… Patterns

The patterns we repeat create our lives.

Dr. Louise Rix
The Mental Game
5 min readJul 7, 2023

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Digital art by Dall-E 2, OpenAI

If you have any thoughts I’d love to hear from you! You can find my contact details here.

A quote from the book ‘The Art of Learning’ by Josh Waitzkin has entirely changed how I view the actions I take in my life. Waitzkin said, “If you could never make the same mistake twice you would skyrocket to the top of your industry”.

This seemingly simple sentence holds a lot of insight. We make the same mistakes over and over, and it’s blocking us from being successful.

“If you could never make the same mistake twice you would skyrocket to the top of your industry” — Josh Waitzkin

Why we repeat patterns

Our minds are programmed by our early years. Our lives from 0–7 years (give or take, according to various research) lay the foundation for an operating system that governs our lives unless we actively choose to change it. That means the same ‘bugs’ in the system will continue to repeat ad nauseam throughout our lives.

So, what does this mean?

We each possess a distinct set of subconscious beliefs that show up daily. Intriguingly, these beliefs manifest consistently across every aspect of our lives, if you’re open to examining them closely. For instance, the mistakes you make in work are likely to also be present in your romantic relationships, friendships and finances.

These patterns persist over years unless consciously interrupted. This is important because it means your past can show you where you’re likely making errors now. For instance, analysing the decision-making you used to decide what university to go to could be key in deciding what to do next in your career today. Analysing your historical decisions and decision-making process also brings the incredible benefit of hindsight.

Here are some examples of negative patterns that people may repeat across different areas of their lives. (I love a comparative overview!)

Some other common ones include perfectionism, victim mentality, imposter syndrome and avoidance or denial of issues and problems.

Excavating for patterns

Albert Einstein famously remarked “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. Yet, we witness and indulge in this repetitive cycle daily. Most of us can identify a friend who dates the same inappropriate partner again and again, oblivious that they are all exactly the same. The faulty operating system produces the same result. Therefore people become stuck in a cycle of reoccurring experiences, doomed to repeat them until they address the underlying issue.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” — Albert Einstein

What is needed in this scenario is to bring awareness to the patterns at play. Only once we recognise them can we consciously start to make better choices, and that is where excavation comes in.

When searching for repeated patterns, I find two approaches particularly beneficial:

  1. Observe your current actions and trace them backward.

Pay attention to your present behaviours and work your way back. Let’s say for example a colleague at work commented you tend to agree with decisions before fully understanding their implications. Log this as a potential pattern.

Next, delve into the emotions this brings up — confusion, fear of confrontation, or a sense of being overwhelmed? Next, try to remember moments in your life when you’ve experienced those feelings before. What does it bring to mind? Write those times down and try to spot the common thread between them.

2. Recall a specific memory and trace it forward to the present day

Reflecting on a memorable instance where you made a regrettable error or an excellent decision can help you understand the underlying mental model guiding your actions. Then, assess how these models affect your present life. For instance, you might realise that a wise decision you made in your early 20s was driven by intuition, which manifested as a gut feeling (more on this here). You might want to try to tap into that same gut feeling for the next decision you make.

Tools to consider

While journaling can be useful, I find crucial insights often get buried in extensive entries and are soon forgotten. Therefore, I have a note titled ‘Patterns’ on my phone where I list patterns, times I’ve repeated those patterns, and how I intend to alter my future behaviour. I have found this seemingly simple note taking exercise to be a significant driver of self-discovery and improvement.

A therapist or coach can also be a useful tool, offering an additional perspective to identify when patterns are looping.

Breaking the cycle

While acknowledging the pattern is the initial step; the real work lies in breaking free from it. This usually requires a great level of self-awareness, courage and persistence.

Once you’ve recognised a pattern, instead of ignoring or denying it, radically accept it as a part of your current behavioural makeup. Then, consider the opposite action to your typical response, which is usually where the medicine lies. For example, if you often procrastinate on important tasks, make a conscious effort to tackle those tasks first. Or if you often dismiss your achievements, take a moment to appreciate your hard work.

Summary

The patterns we repeat shape our lives. By examining multiple aspects and times of our lives, we can see how patterns stretch across space and time. Conscious awareness of patterns is the first step towards making more aligned decisions. Keeping a note of your patterns on your phone can be a simple but transformative exercise.

Remember to consider positive patterns as well as negative ones. Ponder how you can reproduce those positive patterns in the future. Embrace patterns, learn from them and then break the cycle to make room for growth and change.

If you have thoughts on the above I’d love to hear from you. You can find my contact details here.

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Dr. Louise Rix
The Mental Game

Female Health, Product, ex-Chief Medical Officer at Béa Fertility, Founder, VC. 🧠 Writing about health tech, female health and The Mental Game 💡 louiserix.com