On the cyclical nature of life

Life is a Mandelbrot Set

(Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandelbrot_set)

“Humans are creatures of habit” is the understatement of the century. Our brains prefer to do what they have always done. Whether it’s going for a run every morning or eating every time we’re upset, habits are a two edged sword.

We often think about habits in isolation. Write everyday, go for a run, call your loved ones. Observing the fractals in nature gives us a different perspective. In nature, items that looks simple and insignificant are part of a bigger picture, a grand theme. Can we think of our habits in the same way? By looking at our small habits, can we tell that they are part of a larger theme?

If you can, you have a valuable tool. This is because habits are like patterns.

If the small habits we have contribute to larger theme, it means that our life works in consistent phases. This means that the habits you have or are struggling to put in place show that you have entered a phase in your life. These phases repeat themselves. Proof of this is our emotions. You’re never happy, sad, tired, or motivated only once in your life. These emotions repeat themselves time and again. We all go through patches in life, some more enjoyable than others. This is good news. It means whatever you are currently struggling with, you’ve gone through. You’ve gone through it before and conquered before.

What does this mean for me?

But what if you feel lost right now? What if you feel like you’re stuck? The easy question to ask is: “what do I do NOW”, whereas the right question to ask is “what have I done BEFORE”. The former puts you in the frame of mind to solve old problems you’ve solved before but doing so from a space of no experience. In Big Data, this is called a cold start. You’re solving a problem with very little information available. So mentally and emotionally, you go through the same things you’ve gone through before. Yet, the latter question is more interesting. It puts you in a frame of mind to solve problems but not from a place of ignorance. In fact, the way life works, we don’t often get a chance to find the exact solution we’re looking for. But life is cyclical. This isn’t the first time you’ve felt tired or overwhelmed. This gives us the opportunity to improve. We can iterate through solutions of problems we face. When you ask yourself the latter, you learn to appreciate both the trees and the forest.

When the items that repeat are far apart, it makes it difficult to recognize a pattern. We have a similar problem. The more disperse our habits are, the harder it is to connect them to a larger theme.

Recognizing patterns is hard because we are not computers. We can’t keep all the information we need in mind. We cannot then remember every single aspect that is connected to another. We cannot remember why everything is connected. The simple solution here is to write things down, draw mind maps and review these as often as possible. Reviewing what you find is important. If you only jot down the location of every tree, you will never appreciate the shape of the forest. If you review your work you will find lovely surprises.

A word of caution: Bonferroni’s Principle states that if you have a large enough data set, you can find any event you describe. Sometimes the patterns we see are random, other times they are meaningful. Similarly, when we look for patterns we may find interesting coincidences. Patterns that exist because life is interesting, not because they mean anything. Be content with finding these. Even if the pattern is a coincidence, you learn more about yourself during the process. The exercise is valuable, regardless of the outcome.

We don’t just walk the maze

Life can be a maze. As we get older, we have to be less content with only walking the maze. We have to be a little smarter about the way decisions we make and the directions we take. Realize that you’re dealing with a familiar situation. It’s not the silver bullet but it’s a step in the right direction.

So pause. Think about what you’re doing. Have you done it before? If you have, you probably already know the answer you’re looking for.



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Limichilwe Simwanza

Limichilwe Simwanza

Developer. Dabbler in design, writing, and all things creative.