Monday Musings: problematic patterns

I recently wrote about how wherever you go, there you are. That post and its sentiments have followed me around like a dark cloud since putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard, as the case may be). At its heart, that post is about patterns. This past week, I attended a Neuroleadership Institute Summit and, as one would expect with a conference about neuroscience, I heard a lot about how our brains form patterns, and how challenging it can be to reprogram our brain to form new patterns.  For the record, patterns aren’t always a bad thing. In fact, many serve us well and free our mind from needless clutter. It’s just that not all of them do.

Herein lies why that post has sat so heavily with me. Among my many patterns, one is continuing to move into new jobs only to become quickly and intensely frustrated, at which point I become incapable of seeing anything beyond the negative. I get the flight syndrome, the sudden urge to escape and move on to greener pastures. And yet, when I start to look elsewhere, I look at the exact same types of roles, as though somehow a new organization or new colleagues or new mission, vision and values will somehow change the work itself. It makes no sense.

Except that it makes perfect sense. Because our brains are wired to keep us in a state of homeostasis, we will automatically choose the path of least resistance when faced with the discomfort of change. Change is perceived as a threat by our brains, and our brains cannot actually distinguish between real and perceived threat.  It’s fascinating, until you’re the one stuck in the pattern and seemingly unable to kick yourself out of the rut. Then it’s a pain in the ass, and then I get stuck in yet another job that frustrates the hell out of me and I’m left asking myself why I keep falling into the same pattern when I know it yields the same troubling results time after time.

I’ve broken problematic patterns in the past: the urge to pick up and move as a means of changing who I am (yes, I’m moving again in a few months, but no, this time it’s not to be a different me in a new place), dating essentially the same (wrong) person over and over again, or continually making friends with flaky people who aren’t there for me the way I want friends to be. I’ve broken all those patterns over time. What I’m not clear on is what was the impetus for change in those scenarios? Was there a straw that broke the camel’s back or was it just the recognition that the pattern needed to break and a willful intention to make things different? I suspect it was the former, which is troubling because it seems the more emotionally exhausting and less direct way to break a pattern. Either way, this current pattern needs to be broken. I need to trick this little brain of mine to stop sounding the alarms every time I contemplate a career change. I don’t know how to do that yet, but when I do, look out world.

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