My tendency—as any parent’s would be—has been to ask: “What’s wrong?” I threw out all kinds of things: Is it this? Is it that?
Over and over again, he would say: “I don’t know. I just feel nervous.”
Finally, I realized that he actually doesn’t know. (I had a lot of random nerves in childhood, so I can relate.)
I can’t solve his problem. All I can think to do is to work with him on spotting the pattern of it.
So I say: let’s do a thing with threes. Number one, I ask him, is what does it feel like when you start to get nervous? His answer: like my heart hurts. Number two: when does the feeling usually go away? By the time we say the Pledge of Allegiance, he says. Number three: What does it feel like after it goes away? Like the day will probably be okay, he says.
There’s your pattern, I tell him. You know you’ll get to number three. No matter where you are in the pattern, remember that you will get to the third thing.
I think it helps. I’m not at school with him, so I can only go by what he tells me. But I do know that when you can recognize a pattern, it’s less in charge of you. It doesn’t mean it goes away. It just means you see it. Which means you’re not at its mercy.
Spot the Small, Change the Big
Pattern spotting is a fabulous coping tool for dealing with overwhelm. For example, a few weeks ago, I went to a conference. It was awesome. But in the middle of it, I started feeling extremely taxed. Like I wasn’t smart enough or magical enough to do anything as smart and magical as what it seemed like the people I was learning from were doing. By the end of day one, I felt like there was far too much in my head to process anything in real time. It was so many people and so much new information. Too much for an introvert like me.
This is your pattern, Judi, I had to remind myself. Complete overwhelm and thinking you suck because there is too much swirling around you, followed by a day or two of quiet pondering, followed by great realizations and action-taking. Stick with it, because you’ll get to number three.
So I kept taking notes, making small talk, and forcing myself to network. Halfway through the plane ride home, my head had settled down, and I was full-on in list mode (that’s my happy place). The next time I’m in the same situation, I expect the same pattern. I’m wired this way, and it’s okay. I’ll embrace my introversion. But I’ve learned to trust that I’ll get to number three.
Using pattern spotting to cope is originally what this whole newsletter was going to be about. But then I started thinking about other things that spotting patterns allows you to do, like connect smaller things to bigger things.
A pattern I’ve started spotting more is my fear of being dissatisfied pattern. Once I like something, I don’t want to stray from it—because if I try something else, I might not like it. Which means that it will feel like a waste—and something about the idea of waste really messes with me. The small ways the pattern happens are things like choosing a restaurant when my husband and I get to go out to dinner. If we are spending money on a babysitter, and taking the opportunity to actually have a nice meal together (which doesn’t happen that often), I don’t want to waste that on a restaurant or even a dish that I might not like.
That’s not such a bad thing. I mean, if I love pad Thai, I love it.
But the pattern replicates itself (as all patterns do). The bigger pattern relates to the kind of writing work I tend to seek. I know what I like and what I’m good at. If I stray, I might be disappointed. It’s not so much about the fear of failure—because I accept failure as a key part of creativity. It’s more the fear of wasted time. I wasted all of that time doing that and it didn’t get me anywhere.
There’s probably another pattern embedded in that, and another in that. I’ll never spot them all. But I sense that some are worth taking time to understand, because changing something small could change something big.
Pattern spotting doesn’t just get you over the hump: it can take you to new places. If you want to go, that is.
I’m pretty sure I do.