Embracing the Patterns

Somewhere between the idea that everything in life is preordained and the idea that everything in life is random is another idea — that life is built on a series of patterns. The patterns can be simple or complex, but if you are smart enough, patient enough or creative enough, you can see them emerge. That’s the life I believe in, one in which both DNA and behavioral economics co-exist and can be understood through their patterns.

When a new pattern comes into focus for me, it’s a lot like when I got my first pair of glasses. The blurry edges sharpen and a picture comes to life. New understanding forms and another part of the universe is understandable. Ahhh, that is why. That is how. I am not sure there is a purer feeling to me than learning a new pattern — it’s a big part of why I’m a learning junkie.

And no patterns are more interesting to me than patterns about myself.

One of my least favorite patterns emerged this week. I call it, “Sunday Night Sweats”. The SNS pattern has a number of tell-tale signs, including:

  • A gnawing feeling at the end of each workday that the pile has grown insurmountable
  • A steady uneasiness, including difficulty focusing on complex tasks
  • A short fuse and inability to laugh at myself or my failures
  • Great relief on Friday and an inability to fall asleep on Sunday night

Early in my career, SNS used to scare the crap out of me. It triggered feelings of ‘imposter syndrome’ — clearly, I was not capable and I was in the wrong job. I used to let SNS run roughshod through my brain, setting up camp in the part of my insecurity reserved for my teenage years. I used to fight it hard.

Not anymore. Now, I see SNS for what it is — my early warning signal. It tells me that my natural tendency to take too much on, to default to yes, has reached a limit. I know that when SNS hits, I need to regroup at work and at home. I need to comb carefully through my to do list and purge, delegate and prioritize the work. I need to focus on critical tasks, sequence large assignments and back burner good ideas that just can’t be done right now. I need to enlist talented colleagues. I need to listen to my pattern and respond.

So, this week when I felt SNS coming on, I was capable of talking about it without panic. By learning the pattern, I knew what to expect. The symptoms were neither random nor preordained, they were just me. Suddenly, I was able to move myself past the mental anguish and into action because I knew that I would recover. Years of repeating the same steps told me that I would climb out of it — I would self-correct and pull myself back from the the edge.

Guess what? This Sunday, falling asleep will not be a problem.

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