Breaking any patterns? It’s a great way to deal with uncertainty

by | Nov 5, 2022 | Blog | 0 comments

What’s your take these days on breaking patterns?

The term “breaking patterns” traditionally has been associated with dangerous behaviors, such as taking actions to break the pattern of addiction and other bad habits.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You can intentionally break or just interrupt a well-functioning routine for a variety of reasons. For example, conventional wisdom says you may be…

  • Feeling trapped and want a respite to rest or try something new…
  • Sensing hesitancy about an action you’ve been taking with co-workers or family members and want to find a different path…
  • Craving novelty to ensure you’re not sleepwalking through life.

And in today’s more chaotic and uncertain times, you may find it hard to follow through on long-established routines, which makes considering new options for action more appealing.

Whatever the reason, give yourself permission to explore breaking an established pattern. Taking a break from a routine or mixing it up can be surprisingly invigorating depending on the behavior, your relationship with it, and what you do instead.

In the Before Times (before March 2020 when the pandemic began), “pattern breaking” was one of my go-to coaching tools to suggest to clients. It’s a simple, often low cost, low time investment tool for experimenting with a new way of doing things.

For instance, individuals experiencing overload often could get relief by switching out one behavior for another. This was especially helpful for those whose days were so packed with meetings that they couldn’t find enough blocks of time to get their “real work” done.

An effective pattern-breaking move was to be more intentional about their calendar. For example, if they intentionally started to protect one or two mornings as “meeting free,” instead of accepting every calendar invite that came their way, they now had four to eight hours of focused work time.

However, the sudden arrival of the pandemic shook up so many daily routines that many of us found ourselves with few dependable patterns to break. Having entered new unknown territory, we were instead figuring out if we wanted to create new routines to help us manage the chaos swirling around us.

Now more than 30 months later, we’re dealing with different types of uncertainty, much of it related to the aftereffects of the pandemic. The challenges include finding supplies and services, agreeing on work schedules with bosses and teammates, scheduling travel, figuring out how and when to get into overbooked restaurants with more limited hours, dealing with higher prices, etcetera.

This uncertainty is here to stay for the foreseeable future, according to Jim Tompkins, an expert in supply chains, a successful entrepreneur, and a best-selling author. He says we’ve entered the age of disruption, which has major implications for how we live and work.

In his new book, Insightful Leadership: Surfing the Waves to Organizational Excellence, Tompkins explains how disruption has become the new normal. His advice to leaders is to stop struggling to tame disruption and start welcoming, even embracing, it as a force that brings about innovation.

To succeed at innovation, Tompkins emphasizes that leaders must forget about optimally designing their businesses and instead identify and accept the best options. From his perspective, being content with options rather than driving for optimal solutions will allow enterprises to manage the chaos, make adjustments, and still achieve success.

From my perspective, individuals also can benefit greatly from embracing options, especially when disruption is swirling around you. Options provide a helpful, intentional way to break a pattern that you can’t easily sustain or don’t want to keep – especially when you’re seeing red flags ahead or other obstacles. Adopting a viable option may be much better for you and your situation than sticking with a routine for tradition’s sake.

For example, consider the upcoming holiday season. My husband and I decided a few weeks ago to break patterns for both our Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday celebrations, and we’re already relieved. Our new plans provide greater flexibility for us and other family members this year, which is helpful considering other obligations we have right before and immediately following the holidays.

I’ve also suggested to a few clients who are juggling a variety of commitments that we adjust the length of our upcoming individual coaching sessions. They’re appreciating the change of pace, which better suits their current situations. And for another client, we’re talking about structuring our coaching in a new way to be responsive to her and her staff as they launch a new team.

By being so open to breaking patterns and considering viable options, my clients, family, and I are also making ourselves more comfortable with iterating. Iteration–that is making frequent, slight adaptions—is another valuable skill for today’s chaotic, uncertain environment.

As the ground and everything else keeps shifting, we’ll shift too. How about you?



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