Recognizing Our Patterns and Learning How to Change Them

“What we call chaos is just patterns we haven’t recognized. What we call random is just patterns we can’t decipher.” ~Chuck Palahniuk 

Life has a funny way of teaching us lessons. When there is something you need to learn, something that you need to work on, the same situation will continue to repeat itself until you either learn your lesson or find a healthy way of dealing with that particular issue.

Think of the movie Groundhog Day. It was one of my favorites. Once Bill Murray realized that he was living the same day over and over again, he came up with ways to fix the things that went wrong before.

He learned how to fix the relationship with the object of his affection. He even learned to deal better with the annoying insurance salesman who approached him every morning.

It wasn’t until he learned to accept his fate that the cycle of reliving each day ended. He also became more compassionate and more sympathetic—an overall better version of himself.

I hear people say: Why do I keep going through the same things in relationships? I’m with different people, but things always end up being the same, or they act just like someone who I used to know.

Some of these people give up, some get stuck in a vicious cycle of their own making, and others don't even realize that they are basically chasing their tail, repeating the same situation over and over.

Recently, I found myself in a pattern of attraction. It took some time for me to understand it. I had a hard time coming to terms with my divorce, and for years I wanted a second chance in that area of my life. A new start. A new marriage.

Only problem was that when I did come across someone I liked, he was unavailable—already in a relationship or emotionally unavailable to me, and therefore, unwilling to participate in a relationship with me.

I went through a period of time when the only guys who asked me out were either married or in a relationship of some type, live-in or on-and-off with a current girlfriend.

Instead of pursuing those situations (for obvious reasons) I would instead go for the single, yet emotionally unavailable guy. And I would try to win him over, to no avail, trying to prove that I was “good enough.”

It wasn’t until recently that I had an “a ha” moment, in which I realized that the critic I was trying to “prove myself” to was not someone else. It was me—the inner critic who still had not come to terms with the dissolution of my marriage and considered it a complete failure.

My thought process was: If I could turn this person around or make this person change his mind and love me, then I would be worthy of love.

It was an erroneous way of thinking. Had I not done the emotional self reflection I would probably still be in a pattern of trying to win someone’s love, or what I like to call chasing my own tail and going around in circles.

A good question to ask is: Am I reliving the same scene, over and over again? What’s my part in that?

It might not be in relationships, but in different situations, like at work for example, when the same issue comes up disguised. If you work with the public it could be the same issue with different customers, until you find a way to deal with it or until you learn the lesson.

While working with the public, I have noticed times when every single person I come across is upset, angry, or annoyed, and at first I would react in a similar way. We are all mirrors of ourselves.

After a number of people with the same, or similar issue, came up to me, I started to try to find different ways to resolve the problems—for example, not taking things personally and showing empathy to the person I was helping.

Around that time in my life a pattern, or lesson, I was in could be described as: How to stop taking things personally and how to view problems as opportunities.

Had I not experienced the same problems with customers and made the necessary changes, I would possibly still be in the process of learning that lesson.

I'm still working on this; some lessons take longer than others. Instead of reacting to situations, when something comes up and seems familiar, I try to stand back—if even for a second—to think.

For a while it will seem like coincidences playing out, but over time the pattern of your lesson will come up. This is the lesson you need to learn at this time.

It could be a lesson in humility, or a lesson in gratitude, or maybe you may need to learn empathy to see things from the other person’s point of view.

Instead of reacting all the time, every time something challenging comes up it could be an opportunity to learn.

One lesson I’ve needed to learn recently can be summarized with a Shakespeare quote:

“To thine own self be true.”

I’m realizing that, no matter what other people say, do, or think about us, it is our opinions of ourselves that really matter. And, when making decisions, sometimes it is good to question our own intentions. Think: What am I doing here? Or what am I up to?

Ultimately the question I’ve needed to ask myself is: Am I being completely honest with myself? What is the particular reason why I’m scared of change?

There are times when opportunities have come up for me to change my residence, or my place of employment, or even my car, and I haven’t seized those possibilities. I’ve stayed in place. Why?

One particular opportunity entailed moving out of my city to live closer to my family. My family members have offered to help with an out-of-state move, including offering me a place to stay with my children. But still, I haven’t.

I’m still here.

When I started being honest with myself, I realized that this fear of change was a big issue for me. I needed to handle it because, if I did not, situations would continue to come up where I was forced by circumstances to make a decision involving a change.

I learned that not making a decision is in itself a decision—and that my fear of change was actually a fear of failure. That was when I noticed the pattern of things breaking, or circumstances changing, forcing me to deal with my inability to make decisions.

Find your pattern. Find your lesson.

A good way of recognizing patterns in your life is by listening to your feelings, your intuition. I’ve found that when I am involved in a pattern, my emotions run a bit stronger, kind of like a warning from my subconscious mind to pay attention to what’s happening.

More often than not, I recognize the pattern when the situation has ended, or changed. Hindsight is 20/20 in this way. It can be difficult to recognize a pattern while it’s playing out. So, usually we realize what happened afterward. And that is okay.

In turn, life will continue to send us ways to overcome our patterns and learn our individual lessons.

The key is to be alert. When you’re open to recognizing a pattern, you can change it by learning the lesson, and in doing so, change your life.

Photo by sunsinger

About Maria Cristina McDonald

Maria Cristina McDonald is a writer from the Dominican Republic living in Pittsburgh. She is currently working on her first book, a collection of short stories, which she started this year. A mother, she’s also a store manager, a mom, and a dreamer. Email her at starchick77(AT)gmail(DOT)com.

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  • Yvonne Mukherjee

    An excellent post. However HOW does one identify the pattern? For several years I have been aware of being in a horrible cycle of feeling like I’m responsible for ruining perfectly good friendships with other women. It’s something I’ve realised has happened for many years (since childhood i believe) and I am the common thread. But how it starts I do not know (low self esteem, lack of trust). As I can’t identify the start, I can’t identify the pattern – or is it that I can’t identify the pattern so can’t identify the start?

    Either way, it’s a very tiring cycle and one that has now led to me avoiding making friends to avoid the cycle starting in the first place I’m not convinced that that is the solution, but I am literally at a loss to know how to proceed. does anyone have any tips or advice?

  • I really liked this post and felt like I could apply it directly into my own life.  I love when you said “no matter what other people say, do, or think about us, it is our opinions of ourselves that really matter.”  Usually I base my own self-worth on what others think of me and my achievements, so when I am successful I feel good because others think highly of me.  However, throughout the hard times or the less successful times I find it harder to be motivated, happy, and optimistic because I am not receiving the validation from others that helps me feel good about myself.  I don’t think it has to stay this way though.  If I can develop a good opinion about myself it will help me out in the hard times.  Thanks for the great post!

  • You’re welcome! I have also gone through that; The almost constant need for validation from others. It hindered me in so some ways because for years I was afraid of publishing my writings due to fear of what other’s would think.  

    My advice on developing a good opinion about yourself is to retrain your thought patterns, try to identify the thoughts that come up when you are feeling down on yourself and change them, turn the thought around.  Also, positive affirmations have worked for me.  Hope this helps! 

  • I enjoyed this piece a lot – I’m grateful you shared it!  There is a lot of wisdom here.

    I have worked in customer service-related jobs for a majority of my life, and only last year did I finally learn that I didn’t have to take it personally when someone is upset.  If I deal with angry/upset customers from a place of calm, and purposeful detachment, I am able to try to help them and not escalate the situation.  That was a pretty big revelation for me, and it is something I also apply to disagreements with friends or family.  It’s an enormous feat to be able to hear someone’s anger, hurt, or resentment without taking it on and it’s amazing what a difference it makes during a personal disagreement or work-related interaction.

    Best to you!

  • Francone

    i like very much grazie

  • This is a beautiful testimony of self realization and growth. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I look forward to one day reading your overcoming fear of change. Hugs & Blessings!

  • Paul_richards63

    How very true of me. Have we meet?

  • Dshort2010

    This is the number one best lesson to learn (well forgivness is #1).  I can’t even remember when i finallly got this one, but it’s been a blessing over and over. Recognizing what I can do differently…Everytime I hear someone say “why does this always happen” I say the same thing, when you get the lesson!!

  • It took me a while to learn the lesson on forgiveness, that has to be one of the most difficult ones. And, like you said the #1 best lesson to learn!  

  • Rachel Wahito

    EXCELLENT article!!! It positively resonates a lot with me 🙂 I absolutely love Shakespeare’s quote: “to thine own self be true”!! 
    Maria, thank you for choosing to share your brilliance in this way. May the work of your brilliantly gifted mind and hands be continually and abundantly blessed 🙂

  • Thank you!  Another Shakespeare quote I like is:” All the world’s a stage”

  • Roshni Behal

    Hi Maria,
    I really liked your article. It made me aware of certain patterns in my own life and hopefully will help me overcome it. I wanted to ask you if you have any idea why some people have this susceptibility to having minor accidents quite often. This is something that happens to me quite often and I cant decipher it.

  • I was thinking about your question for the last day or so…and a couple of things came to mind…questions like: are you focusing on what you are doing?

    I personally find that I am more accident prone when I’m unfocused, have too many things on my mind at the same time.  

    Another thing that came up is fear. Are you afraid of something, like failing or coming up short in some way and maybe that fear is making you prone to accidents?   I’m not expert just wanted to share my thoughts with you :)Hope it helps and I”m glad you liked my article!Maria 

  • missinggirl

    What a terrific article! Wow, I couldn’t have read it at a better time too because I was actually thinking (just a few days ago) that my life felt like Groundhogs day. I was falling in the same pattern weekly – started the week on a high note, depressed by the weekend. I recognized the pattern but was having trouble breaking away from it. I now see that it’s time to let some problems go and allow them to work themselves out rather then struggling against them and to face the fear that by doing so, things will fall apart. I guess I was slowly coming to this conclusion with each passing week, but this weekend it seemed to really hit home. I also relate to your issues with customers, I used to work in customer service and I DID have the same issues again and again, with different customers:-) Thanks for the great (and relatable) article! 

  • Dreamspell

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the matter, reading this article was very appreciated. I am still struggling to understand some of the meanings behind some of my patterns… wondering where the patterns stem from, what my ego is trying to make me learn or protect me from… staying open-minded and acknowledging the presence of the pattern is the beginning of finding inner-peace and realigning yourSelf.

  • theariesnme

    This article rings close to home for me. I always seem to get involved with the “unavailable guy”. Looking back, allll of them have been unavailable, but for some reason (the fact that I haven’t learned the lesson) I percieved them to be a certain type of guy–cool or the bad guy type. I wouldn’t give the “corny” ones a second look. Though I am generalizing (because all “corny” guys won’t treat you well and vice versa), I need to be more aware of their character & values- first. Recognize the signs early on and let it go. Three years later, I’m with someone who is emotionally unavailable and in the beginning thought trying something different would be better for me. Like Dr. Phil says…”how’s that working for you”—uummm it’s not. I had serious reservations, but went along with it because he was interested in me for years. Wrong mistake. Should of gone with my gut feelings in the first place.

  • kavin paker

    Never liked them, but that is what I had to study in school in Singapore since Science stream was the way to go.
    Hotel Lubeck

  • Iman

    Thank you so much. This article touched me on so many levels.

  • Shanker

    I need this article very much. I wish, I could have read this, years ago. Mmm… Better late than never.

    Well written article. Thank you Maria!

  • Maria Cristina

    Hi! I just happened to read this blog again and after reading your comment wanted to respond with something that I found..something I have learned recently. In the “unavailable person” pattern, I think it may relate to how available *we* are. And this may seem hard to understand because we know we want to be loved, we want to be in loving relationships. But there may be another, more instinctive part of us at play here, could be our subconscious but think about it like this: When completely honest with yourself are you afraid to be vulnerable again? are you afraid to get hurt again? What I mean is that the unavailable pattern is a reflection of our fears regarding relationships.

    Sometimes we go into situations that may seem like a challenge, or romantic in a movie story type of way, that really are challenges because they are impossible, and then we try as hard as we can, but get the same result. Your gut feeling was right. It was an “unavailable” situation. But it has to do more with your feelings and fear regarding romantic relationships. Are *you* unavailable? because of a fear of being vulnerable? Just a thought. I know I have been, and quite possibly may still be. Work in progress.

    Love and Light,

  • Katy

    I am living the same day over and over for the last few months, maybe last two years. The consequences have been made clear to me both physically and mentally. This article was a helpful start to brainstorming with these questions. Thank You Maria! From one Dominican girl to another. Katy, katyjbatistaATgmailDOTCOM

  • Lisa

    Not to be a buzz kill but there is a situation that does not apply to this philosophy, it is great injustice in a country where justice is imperative to be free. Many of these perspectives do not work because justice is needed in situations where great injustice exists, justice first, the truth out leads to healing and compensation for victims of injustice and to not acknowledge this is to further burden the victim(victim of crime).

  • truestory

    I found this article by googling: ‘change of patters’. And I had a great read! But it brings me to a consequent question… When we get out of one pattern, we simply jump into another, isn’t it? Everything is a pattern: a habit, your personality, those brinks in the wall.. This is how we give ‘things’ their names. Anyway, I really love the change and new things in life, but the thought that we might have ran out of them, it terrifies me.

  • Holly

    The article is good but doesn’t give me any direction what to do once I identify the pattern in my life. I have a mother who is in clinical depression who is gone through divorce when I was 10. It seems that I followed her in this pattern as I had chosen the wrong person to get marry in the first place and I got divorced in the end. I am struggling to not to be depressed by seeing my mum being in a terrible state and its also hard to keep up with financial difficulties etc. Therefore I can not see how to come out of this circle and make myself free as well as helping my mum to over come with her depression.

  • troy ruth

    My lady tells me I say the same thing to her every day and it’s tiring and getting old. What does this a mean and how do I fix this. I’m totally in love and want to marry her she means the world to me.

  • Shea D.

    I am in the same state….answer….you can NOT help someone else if you are in a confuse state yourself….(two confuse state of mind can not give a clear answer).

    Take care of yourself….mom is a big girl…she made it thus far and she will continue to make it…mom is stronger than you think…the inner strength.

    Once you recover…you will be a different person and will be able to do the same towards her…God Bless and Take Care.

  • ashley reis

    Hi Maria, This is an amazing post! I relates so much to my life. Having reoccurring relationship problems. All broken souls with childhood sexual abuse and daddy issues ( I was never abused as a child ) and partners asking to borrow money/ financially unstable . I’ve tried sitting down and reflecting on what my lesson is supposed to be. But every time i feel like i’m getting close my mind wanders or i get distracted. Quite frustrating. I just cant figure it out 🙁

  • Erin Smrekar-Plier

    Thank you for the eye-opening post about stopping reoccurring patterns! It’s interesting you mentioned the movie ‘Groundhog Day’; I say all the time that “that’s My Life”. I’ve got a very damaging reoccurring pattern regarding my family going back Decades, & I don’t know how to stop it. I was wondering what lesson I was supposed to learn from this really bad situation, & I think Copping is what I’m supposed to learn, not a ‘lesson’, per se. I never thought of that; I thought there was always a karmic/school-like ‘lesson’ attached to these patterns, but maybe it’s Dealing with them that’s the ‘lesson’. Your post came about the same time I started thinking heavily about repeating patterns & why, why, & how to make it stop, which is a weird coincidence. I hope I can apply this revelation in my situation whether my family wants to help break these patterns too or not. They don’t have to, but I Gotta. Thank you so much 🙂

  • Erin Smrekar-Plier

    I understand your situation Holly, very well. I was thinking the same thing; as in, some of the situation/patterns aren’t of our own doing. So how do you break a pattern of someone Else’s doing, that’s greatly affecting Your life?? How do you stop something you didn’t cause in the First place?? This article mentioned that one of the ‘lessons’ you might need to learn to stop a reoccurring pattern is to learn how to Cope with it. Maybe the lesson is you need to put You First? Or, be there for your mum, but you can only do so much. Sounds like your mum is lucky to have you, & you’re helping her with Her struggle. So you’re doing your job; & maybe your ‘lesson’ is to move into acceptance of the situation & coping, so you can be happy & have energy to deal with helping your mom & to do something fun for yourself. Good luck Holly, I hope we can learn our ‘lessons’ so our situations will change for the better.

  • Lightseba

    Every thing Seems Repeated in my life , it’s driving me insane! , even accidents!!!! I started to predict what people gona say and do , . . Is this something to do with the planets repeated patterns!!!! , cos I read the same horoscope every Year , . . For example mercury retrograde 3times every year, moon visits all houses every year . . Etc