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A door is a door? Pattern-matching revisited

As some of you will know from my past articles one of the key elements to human learning is through association and matching to previous experiences. This is, in most circumstances, an extremely helpful mechanism that allows us to manage the huge amount of information that we are constantly absorbing through our senses. In practical terms it means we can go about our daily lives without too much stress; when we come across a situation that is the same or similar to a previous one, we know what to expect so we can react and then respond quickly and efficiently, affecting the way we think, feel and behave. Each time we have the same experience the stronger our response is and the easier it becomes.

Unfortunately this highly developed feat of our evolution does also work against us. One of the reasons for this is because as we build these associations we start to actively anticipate and look for signs that confirm what pattern to use in relation to what our senses are picking up.  In effect we will start to develop trigger points which will then make it easier for us to fire off the pattern match behaviour. And the more practised and experienced we are at recognising these signs, the quicker we are at triggering and moving into the “appropriate” response. As an easy example; just before you open a door your arm automatically extends to grab the door handle, you twist your wrist, and then open the door. All in a matter of seconds and, for the most part, completely unconsciously. This could even be a door you have never seen before. Yet your sense of sight immediately knows through many past experiences to reach out and touch the handle, and upon grabbing the handle and feeling it is as it should be, enter the room. Of course if the handle was hot your reaction would be different, and if you came across another hot door handle you would eventually adopt a different approach!

Now consider how we use this same process when our senses anticipate and react to a situation that causes us stress or anxiety. And this can be just everyday stress and anxiety, yet we will probably be unaware of what signs we might be looking for and the triggers that set off the response. It means we are conditioning ourselves to make being anxious or stressed very easy!

Of course sometimes we find ourselves in unchartered territory and need to develop a template of how to react in future scenarios. So for example starting a new job can feel very alien and strange for the first few days as our mind is literally processing every new sensory experience. It’s not surprising that at the end of the day we might typically be feeling quite exhausted! By the end of the week however, if it is going well, work starts to feel far more comfortable because we have started to set in place an expectation and framework for how to act, feel and think in that environment.

The other important point of relevance, that I alluded to earlier, is that most of this learning process is happening via our unconscious. This is due to our ability to only consciously process up to about eight bits of sensory information at any one time, compared to the thousands of bits of information our senses are being bombarded with.

With all this understanding it is easier to see that most “problems” including anxiety and stress have been carefully created by us as an attempted solution and are primarily fixed both in the way we view them and the expected outcome, which also usually ties into a belief we might hold about that experience.

So if we have “learnt” how to feel anxious or to feel, think or behave in a particular way, we need to unlearn it. You can see now why this may not appear to be as easy as it sounds, based on the knowledge above.

The key to successfully doing this is to know the triggers and then break the pattern, before introducing a far more preferable pattern that positively alters how you will be thinking, feeling and behaving. This allows the mind to see and most importantly experience another option. Of course because you have learnt your “problem pattern match” through repetition and use of your senses it will usually need lots of sensory repetition of the preferred response to really get the new learning in place. For some, just interrupting the pattern is enough.

Just like getting a dog to learn to heel or sit he will only really get good at it through lots of repetition and the sensory association he has with you.

So for a relatively simple pattern you want to change have a think about this article and see what alternative you could introduce and when!

Click to read my previous article about changing your behavior or contact me for your free consultation


By Lawrence Michaels


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