Breaking Patterns

I’ve just spent the last couple of days with Chris Corrigan, a pal among pals. We’ve done all that I’d hoped we would do. Take walks. Go to the soccer game. Have dinner with my 11 year-old, my daughter and her husband. We’ve wandered in our conversation. Some playful bantering. Some plain old good listening that sparks insight, and then another, and then another. It’s massively valuable and fun.

One of those insights has been about breaking patterns. I’ve seen Chris do this many times over the years we have known each other. Breaking patterns with how we convene people in learning. What if we didn’t set the tables this way (like we always do)? What if we didn’t start with introductions (like we always do)? What if we taught it this way (unlike we’ve always done)? There is a creativity in it. There is an honesty in it. And there is a value — breaking patterns.

Patterns can serve well, and they do. It’s good to notice. For example, using the same welcome letter for an event can be an administrative ease and an efficiency that can buy time for something else creative. It’s when pattern becomes unchallenged habit that there is more of a rub for me. “We’ve always done it that way” is a sure fire kind of trigger for me that I’m continuing to learn about.

There is something in the neural entrainment of habit that can make us rather rigid creatures, right. Neural entrainment as in ruts in our thinking, rigid, hard carved, stay-on-track routines that remind me of the ruts in the snow packed side roads that I used to drive in Edmonton, Alberta when I was an older teen. There was no real choice. You just followed. To be clear, I would say that though it is easy to become rigid creatures, most of us are well-intended rigid creatures.

Pattern breaking isn’t about pouting for the ever new, though I have done some of that. It is about recognizing that even the best of us have many ways in which new habits become congealed into mono vision and action. It’s not just a thought laziness. There is physiological rut making. Once upon a time, I suppose we as a human species survived because of this entrainment. I suspect the how-to and how-not-to hunt a woolly mammoth was important information.

I’m imaging some exercises that I might create on pattern breaking. Start simple. Fold your arms. Now, fold your arms the opposite way. That’s enough to see how such an easy act can be entrained so deeply that a simple shift is awkward. I can imagine some followup conversation in small groups. “When have you experienced a need to unlearn something?” “Is there some important unlearning that you feel we need to do here?”

Part of the job, as I see it, behind our good process and content, is pattern breaking. I’m looking forward to this kind of exercise. Well, in part, because it feels new.

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