When I graduated college I found myself in a place of struggle. I seemed to be taking my life in the wrong direction. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something felt wrong.
It seemed like I couldn’t get myself to do what I needed to. I initially blamed everything outside of myself. But then I started to see patterns.
I would see patterns in my life that hinted at something more internal than the world is against me or that life in unfair. Over time these patterns revealed that I, alone, was the reason my life wasn’t going the way I wanted it to.
I told myself that I wanted to be fit and healthy. I told myself that I wanted to be successful. I told myself that I wanted freedom in life. But my actions weren’t following that logic and were doing everything contrary to obtaining those things.
It was through pattern that I started to gain this understanding. I started to see my behaviors and my thoughts differently. I started to realize that I was the one creating the hardships that I faced.
When I finally stumbled upon the idea of systems thinking and began studying the concepts I realized that this makes sense. In systems thinking we use patterns all the time. We are constantly searching for patterns, not one-off events that are often misleading. The patterns give us a better sense of the full system.
In I am a Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter, the author has a section called, “Where There’s Pattern, There’s Reason.” In that section he says, “The key thought in the preceding few lines is the article of faith that this pattern cannot merely be a coincidence. A mathematician who finds a pattern of this sort will instinctively ask, ‘Why? What is the reason behind this order?’ Not only will all mathematicians wonder what the reason is, but even more importantly, they will all implicitly believe that whether or not anyone ever finds the reason, there must be a reason for it. Nothing happens ‘by accident’ in the world of mathematics. The existence of a perfect pattern, a regularity that goes on forever, reveals – just as smoke reveals a fire – that something is going on behind the scenes. Mathematicians consider it a sacred goal to seek out that thing, and uncover it, and bring it out into the open.”
But we don’t have to be a mathematician to gain value from seeing patterns and working to discover the reason for their existence. The answers almost always point to elements of the system that we overlooked. They may even uncover a system we didn’t even know existed.
I learned though this pattern exploration that I was the reason I wasn’t having the success I desired in many areas. I sabotaged my ability to grow and improve because I wasn’t willing to do the things necessary to improve. Instead, I simply looked for confirmation that world was unfair and I didn’t have a choice.
It might seem like a scary thing to confront your own struggles as being fully caused my yourself, but it is actually quite freeing. This means that our own misery is due to us, no one else. So it is up to us, no one else, to change it. We have the power to change and improve. We have the ability to change the course of our life.
Then we can start to change our behaviors and our thoughts so that the patterns change. To do this we have to think about consistency and follow-through. Again, we disregard one-off events and focus on making consistent decisions that push us in the right direction, often against our gut reactions.
We start to break away from trying to always please our current self and start to sacrifice for a future self. This allows us to leverage time in a way that we can keep growing and improving and giving us a brighter future.
They key to doing this without constantly struggling is to learn to be content without becoming complacent. Being content means that we don’t need anything more to be happy. So we continue to do what we need to, knowing that we don’t need anything else.
Complacency means that we feel there is no hope to improve so don’t even try. Complacency keeps you stuck while being content means you remain calm and happy as you keep working towards your dreams and goals.
So by learning to be content and not complacent, and then working hard to create the right patterns, you can design the life you desire.