I was inspired to write this blog because of a post on LinkedIn by Anne Archer. She referred to listening as a superpower. As a coach and a Samaritans volunteer, I would definitely say that listening is a superpower. However, this skill that I have cultivated over many years is also an example of patterns and preferences that can be incredibly useful and powerful. They can also hold us back when used in situations when other actions might be more appropriate.
I have developed a skill in listening because I was so painfully shy, I preferred shrinking into the shadows and giving other people the limelight. I would ask them questions and deflect the attention away from me. As soon as they asked me anything, I would answer briefly, followed by another question. I didn’t want to be seen or have the focus on me, so I learned to listen and ask questions. This pattern has led to me playing small and not sharing my experience and wisdom with others. It has also allowed me to give time and space to people to speak about challenging life circumstances, discover insights about themselves, reflect on choices and actions they have taken and share intimately their hopes, fears and doubts. So you see, patterns and preferences are neither good nor bad. It depends when and how you use them and whether they serve you and others in the most appropriate and empowering way.
Patterns and Preferences
Listening is just one example of my patterns and preferences. I am also prone to worry and anxiety, saying “sorry”, even when it isn’t necessary, not resting and working long hours and eating when I am bored or for comfort. I do these things unconsciously most of the time. They are not bad in themselves. But when done unconsciously, we begin to lose choice, freedom and power within our lives.
Sometimes patterns and preferences have a positive impact. But the same lack of choice and control still applies. I am also prone to generosity, giving my time freely, I love to help others and cooking healthy meals. And of course, I love to listen. If you want to live a life of meaning and purpose, I think it is important to be conscious of your patterns and preferences so that you can be at choice. To live on autopilot or defaulting to your habits may be convenient, but it can lead to disempowerment and take you away from your purpose and power in life.
Patterns and preferences are a compassionate way of looking at your habits. No judgement about whether they are wrong or right, good or bad. It is about observation and awareness that ultimately leads to choice. It isn’t always the best thing to listen. Sometimes speaking out is important.
How can you notice your patterns and preferences?
By definition, patterns and preferences are so engrained in your mind and body, you often do not realise you are doing them. Your neurobiology lends itself to creating patterns and preferences so save on time and energy (you can find a past blog I wrote about this here. Recall your first few days at a new job. They are tiring and time consuming, learning new tasks and processes. Or learning to drive. Using all those controls and manoeuvring through traffic take all your attention. And then one day, those new activities are easy to do and you give them far less thought and energy. Your body is excellent at making regular activities economical, moving those processes into your subconscious so that they happen automatically. The challenge is they are often hard to notice as they happen below your conscious awareness.
Also, you may not connect your patterns and preferences to specific outcomes and therefore miss the impact you have on the people and the world around you. Getting regular feedback from friends, family and colleagues can be a useful tool. Make sure you can trust them to be truthful and kind with their reflections, otherwise it can become a painful experience that leads to greater resistance to change.
Do something different
Taking up new activities is a brilliant way to notice patterns and preferences. Or doing the same thing in a different way. Both will highlight what feels familiar to you mentally, physically and emotionally. As I mentioned in a recent blog, I have taken up Tango. What I require from my body is completely different to martial arts- Tango asks for freedom in the chest and shoulders while martial arts requires a more solid and rigid centre.
My mind set is totally different too- one of relationship, leading, following and passion in Tango rather than one of domination and control which martial arts can be prone to. The learning environment also exposes patterns- group classes give you a place to hide and be less precise and disciplined with technique, while private lessons offer greater feedback and focus. Conversely, group lessons give you a chance to dance with many people, while private lessons don’t offer that diversity.
Freedom and Choice
No one way is right or wrong. I mention them to highlight patterns and preferences. What do you prefer? What feels familiar? Think of something that you do regularly. Brushing your teeth? Dressing? Communicating with your partner, children, work peers, your boss, the checkout person at the supermarket? Are you quiet at parties or the life and the soul? How do you do it? Could you do it differently? What would it be like to do it differently? How does it feel to change it? What does it tell you about your patterns and preferences? How might the outcome be different if you did it differently?
The more aware you become, the more freedom you have to choose your actions and how you take action. Who are you being when you speak to people? And how are you being when you are doing it? Mind and body are one integrated whole. Mind set and how you are you in your body are intimately connected. You can use mind and body as entry points to developing that awareness. And with that awareness comes freedom and choice.
Over to You
What are your patterns and preferences? What could you do differently? Once you notice them, how do your patterns and preferences serve you? How do they not serve you? Do you want to make changes as a consequence? What would those changes be? I’d love to hear about your experiments and discoveries. Please post them in the comments box or if you prefer, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can explore your findings together.